You probably don’t remember, but once upon a time feminists were encouraging women to get divorced. They declared it to be liberating.
What could be more liberating than escaping from a patriarchal institution like marriage? Once divorced, a woman would be better able to develop an independent career.
As most people know, divorce is a painful experience. When women are lulled into believing that it can be liberating they are unprepared for the wave of negative emotion that descends on them after they get divorced. The emotion becomes even more painful when you believe that it is unintelligible or abnormal.
Writing on the Huffington Post Carissa Henry offers a harrowing portrait of what happened to her after her amicable divorce.
After explaining that there is no such thing as an easy divorce, Henry renders her emotional state in lines that offer a brilliant description of anomie:
I didn't realize how much of my identity was associated with being married, nor did I realize that I would suddenly feel like a stranger in my own life. Most of us are dedicated creatures of habit and the drastic change that divorce brings to our lives is shocking and disconcerting. Friendships change. Holidays change. Paperwork changes. Everything changes. Amidst my naivety, I was oblivious and unprepared for how different I would feel, how utterly uncomfortable in my own skin I would become. Order and routine were replaced by uncertainty and chaos, and I felt lost without the habits and rituals we had established as a family over the years.
With all the talk about marriage being an expression of love we sometimes lose track of the monumental social-psychological consequences of being married. Henry's lines correct the mistaken belief.
As her mind went to war against itself, Henry found a limited consolation in the eventual realization that her emotions fit her circumstances.
If you expect to feel liberated and end up feeling an anguish that goes well beyond anything you can imagine, the pain of divorce is going to become excruciating.
Our culture is so thoroughly involved in the business of eliminating all negative emotion, numbing us to it, that we often forget that sometimes anguish shows that we have grasped the reality of our lives.
Note that it was not anyone's empathy that helped her. She did not find consolation in the fact that someone else could feel her pain. She found relief in knowing that hers was a normal, albeit painful, reaction.