Late Life Heartbreak, Part Three: Refusing stereotypes

I received many e-mails regarding Part One and Part Two of posts on surviving the first months of a post-50 breakup. 

One reader offered her experience, which she has permitted me to post. Writing some years after those first months, she provides a longer-term perspective, for which I thank her deeply.
Refusing a Stereotype:

When I read through your list of things to do after a split, this was the one that struck me most, perhaps because it is the most insidious and because I honestly believe this is something one truly can control. I have also seen others who have fallen prey to it - it is unpleasant and I refuse to have anything to do with it or them. In fact I had to cut off a relationship with an old friend who was also divorced - I refused to join her club of anger and self-deprecation.

I am a fortunate woman. I have a career that I love and could never have imagined the level of success I have achieved. I have always had friends but now I have friendships of a depth and importance that I would never have imagined. I have terrific kids who are turning out pretty well. I have serious interests that I have been able to pursue. Shortly after my marriage broke up I entered into another relationship which was not meant for the long-term but was loving and meaningful nevertheless.

There is a Jewish philosopher named Abraham Joshua Heschel who said something to the effect that one should create their life as if it was a work of art. The psychiatrist Victor Frankl said that one of the few things we can control in life is our attitude. I thought about these ideas a lot - I realized that with the divorce I had been given this opportunity to create the life I wanted - that was, the inner adult life I wanted - certainly there are many many constraints on what I can do, but at the same time I realized it was an opportunity that I had not had before. It sounds a bit simplistic but something worked. I think that one of the biggest aids was surrounding myself with people who had a creative and positive (although realistic) outlook. 

If I sound like Pollyanna, you should know that I am not. I am a critical thinker, have serious responsibilities, and refuse to sugarcoat what is in front of me.  At the same time, I refuse to let anyone else write my story for me - it is my story, and to the extent that I can write it, I will insist on that."

What began as two posts drawn from the experience of friends and acquaintances has grown, and I appreciate each comment and e-mail. 

Living through the end of a long relationship is like walking a maze. You may not know what direction to take; the only thing to do is slow down, set out, choose the next few steps, and trust yourself to end up at the center, in the right place.  

The reader who wrote the above comment mentions philosophers whose writings helped her; a book I found invaluable is "Nonviolent Communication, A Language of Life" by Dr. Marshall B. Rosenberg. One of the women who contributes to the first two posts likes Byron Katie's books, especially "I Need Your Love–Is That True?"


Anonymous said…
Easier for those who have a career and who have had a life outside the home. My friend did not and I think that greatly contributed to her suicide.
Duchesse said…
Anonymous: My sister was a suicide at 42, in the midst of a toxic marriage. She did not work outside the home, but wished to. Would a carer have saved her life? I am not sure and mourn her to this day.
Une Femme said…
Though not a late life divorce, watching the process of my parents' divorce and seeing my mother unable to take care of herself financially influenced me greatly. I've always worked (have been lucky during recessions too) and have maintained the ability to provide for myself financially. It gave me the ability to walk away from a bad marriage with my clothes and car and start over.

I agree with your contributor (and what a great contribution!) that attitude can often make of break our lives.
Anonymous said…
I am in a long and mostly happy 36 year marriage, marred greatly by infidelity on the part of my husband (twice). Lots of counseling for both of us, and the upshot seems to be that he was struggling with his own issues of repressed grief, insecurity, and unhappiness in his career (which has been a very successful career). I seriously considered divorce for over a year. The realization that our long and mostly happy relationship had been the very center of my life (no career, but lots of support of his career) made me choose to stay married. And yes, I thought a lot about a life of my own and relished those thoughts. I also considered our family and that an intact family is even important to grown children. Through all of this, I did come to know myself better and recognize my inner strength. It has not been easy. Over the summer, we remarried in the church--a private and meaningful service. Nonetheless, I sometimes feel off balance and hope that time will change that.
Duchesse said…
Anon@3:25: With one exception, the women whose experiences contributed to the posts had partners who announced that they were leaving, no second (or further) chances.

Every long-term relationship has its ebb and flow, and after decades together, there is usually some kind of challenge, often of the sort you have lived through.

Thank you for your comment, which reminds us that partners who stay together (whether recommitted or still working on things) can reach a new appreciation of their bond.

Perhaps I will write about those situations, too- but for now, your comment is an important and moving an testimony.

Duchesse said…
Pseu: Financial resources are essential to a woman having choices. (Some assistance is available, but that depends on where she lives and her ability for find it.) Young adult daughters of friends of mine might tire of me harping on that, but I do!
While a lot of worthy thought went into the letter you quoted - and I could almost understand her attitude to her old friend when I encountered an old university classmate in another neighbourhood and she started (as usual) moaning about her life on a beautiful day - I am taken aback by the refusal of anger.

If someone treats you like shit, anger is a healthy response, and denying it can have a serious impact on psychological and physical health. I had to be allowed to feel anger and rage after a relationship with someone damaged by "institutionalised violence" and abusive as a result.

(Institutionalised violence means war, torture, post-traumatic-stress among combatants and civilians, racial, ethnic and other persecution, rape as a weapon of war ... you get the picture).

Anger can be a very positive thing and lead women who have been ill-treated to help others who have experienced similar misuse.

Not everyone has the same resources to protect herself against the impact of patriarchal violence (physical, economic or psychological), even if we have always been in paid employment. I fear that the recent generalised slump will mean an upturn such distress, worldwide. I'm sure Barbara Ehrenreich would have a lot to say about this.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: What she says is that she has refused to be locked down into permanent, soul-corroding stereotype. She is is not denying anger or other deep feelings that arose at that time, but has rejected letting them run her life.
Anonymous said…
I disagree with your take on Anon at 3:25. The poster had her husband over the proverbial barrel, being dependent on him so many years means that his standard of living would go down by half, with alimony payable for life and that's very likely why he did the good old "remarriage" and therapy and all that stuff. No male goes to therapy willingly.

No, your grown up kids do not need you to stay in an "intact" marriage, you like the status and trappings c'est tout. Your husband fell out of love with you years ago when he had his affairs and he very likely is still at it unless he has ED or health issues like so many older men do. You are just too blind to see it that's what she refers to as feeling "off balance". It's knowing something is not right but she values "appearances" above all else and being an older divorced woman is right there at the bottom of the societal barrel only slightly above being a crazy cat lady or whatnot.
Duchesse said…
Since I don't know this couple, I wouldn't presume to make assumptions about their motives, feelings, values and needs. But you do- and from behind the screen of anonymnity.

FWIW, I have seen men enter therapy or counseling willingly- and also initiate it. My experience is different than yours.

And, I too feel off-balance some days.
Susan said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jean S said…
Duchesse, your sister....such suffering. I am sorry.

And Anon @7:32? "Each to their own," as my husband's grandmother used to say. You can't possibly know what's going on in another person's marriage or soul.
Duchesse said…
Woman who removed her comment: Anonymous comments made with *no associated e-mail account* leave the person who is addressed (you) no option to respond privately, should you wish. It's a troll move.
Susan said…
Duchesse, It appears you have really found a topic that can be controversial. It's a shame that an anonymous poster saw fit to make assumptions without personal knowledge.

And I want to add my condolences upon reading about your sister.
Duchesse said…
Susan: This is the kind of writing that engages me most, and I enjoy controversy. However, I am less likely to respect a point when the commenter addresses an issue from position of attribution and assumption. I have noticed, after nearly five years of writing this blog, that comments in this tone are nearly always made under the veil of anonymnity.

Jean S.: Thank you; I speak out about her when the occasion arises, as suicide casts a permanent shadow on a family. Any opportunity to prevent it, I'm going to do what I can.

pinkazalea said…
I have enjoyed reading all the comments and feel sympathy for any woman having to go through such a difficult transition. Like your author, I once had to distance myself from friends who made it hard for me to move on, to grow and change. Thank you for sharing her story and yours about your sister. One thing I have learned in life is not to make too much in the way of assumptions about other people. It is quite possible to be completely wrong! One of my dearest friends told me once that she had confidence in me (to handle whatever crisis it was) and she would support me in whatever decision I made. I still love her for that.
Duchesse said…
pinkazelia: When we receive acceptance and confirmation from those who really know us, that lends strength and confidence. Thanks for reminding me. A friend has reversed a serious decision, rattling all of us close to her. Your words mean a great deal to me and came at the perfect time.
Anonymous said…
Such a heartfelt post and really adds to the honest exchange of information.

Let's be kind and understanding. There is nothing sadder than suicide.

All the best
Anonymous said…
As the poster at 3:25, I have certainly learned my lesson about sharing anything about my own life on this (or any other blog) and opening up myself for hurtful comments by anonymous posters whose real aim is to hurt others. I will add that the poster has NO IDEA about situations in our family which may have caused grief or added to the need for parents to be there to support grown children. I am really reminded about how some people must have such venom in their hearts that they have to strike out at others without any knowledge of their own.

In my post, I have only the barest description of my life, without details.

Duchesse said…
Anon@ 7:31: I could censor such comments, and have done so when they cross the line into hate or personal insult (admittedly a judgment call on my part). But sometimes the best strategy is to let the person face censure from the community. Several commenters, including me, have said (to paraphrase),"Hey! That's not fair."

Anonymous said…
Don't worry Duchesse, I'm tough and can take purposely hurtful comments. I would even venture that my marriage may be on more solid ground than that of the poster!
Duchesse said…
Anon@ 7:56: For anyone dealing with difficulty or reconciliation, I highly recommend the books of Dr David Schnarch, especially "Passionate Marriage", (which, despite the title which suggests the sexual aspect)is about the growth possible during crisis.

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