There were all kinds of questions asked whenever I told people I was separated or divorced. Younger women (meaning women my age because, you know, I’m young) would usually ask “did you see it coming” and “why?” Older women would usually ask more specific questions like, “what did he say when he left” and “what did he take with him?” Younger men wouldn’t usually ask questions, but if they did it was “why?” And older men would ask “so is there any chance you’ll give him another try” or “can you forgive him?”
My reaction to these questions has changed as time has progressed. When I was first separated, simply hearing these questions was like a dagger to the heart. I couldn’t believe I was even having to have that conversation, let alone providing answers I didn’t have or understand. The whole conversation would make me flustered, sad, and embarrassed. But mostly, it would make me incredibly annoyed that the asker was so insensitive to be asking such private questions.
It took conversations with my parents and therapist, and a bit of time, to realize people weren’t meaning to be insensitive or intrusive. They were intending to be caring and supportive. You see, for hearers of news like “my husband left,” it is baffling! I’ve learned this is even more so the case for married people experiencing trouble or single people really wanting to be married. That sort of news has the ability (but not the guarantee nor intention) to shake their ideas of marriage and commitment. So they’re asking because they want to know if you’re okay. But they’re also asking because they really need to make sense of what they’ve just heard.
So now, with my divorce being final and my life being stable, hearing these questions gives me an opportunity to tell someone how I’ve overcome a huge hurdle, and to encourage or inspire others facing that same hurdle. I’ve also had to answer the question so many times that I’ve even come up with humorous responses. I had a bit of fun, and maybe unfairly so, trying out different variations to answer people’s questions and stop the conversation.
With that said, I wanted to talk this week specifically about the question, “did you see it coming?” This question, no matter how often I got it or who I got it from, always stumped me. I understood that people were asking it in order to understand why this happened to me, and ultimately, why it would happen to anyone. But I was never quite sure what the question meant. Were they asking “had my husband said he was going to leave me before?” Or “had my husband been unhappy and I opted to do nothing about it?” Or “did I know my husband was the ‘leaving kind’?” Or like “did I have everything ready because I was prepared for this?” I just didn’t know their reason for asking nor their motive.
And often, depending on who was asking and the course of the conversation, the question could have meant any of these things. Sometimes I’d ask for more information, for them to elaborate. And sometimes, I’d just say “no.” But when I just said “no,” I always felt like I was lying. You see, I knew my husband was unhappy, but I didn’t expect him to leave. I thought we were experiencing a valley in our marriage, primarily because of our life’s circumstances at the time. So I wasn’t surprised by the feelings that drove him to leave. But I was most certainly surprised that his response to those feelings was to leave… And providing that answer has taken me the 2 years we’ve been separated (since this is literally the first time I’m answering that succinctly).
Additionally, that question is ultimately, completely irrelevant. What does it matter if I saw it coming or not? “Seeing it coming” doesn’t lessen my trauma, embarrassment, or life changes. It doesn’t minimize my feelings of sorrow or loneliness. And I’d wager it doesn’t mean I’d have an easier or lesser divorce than someone who “did see it coming.”
So if you’re separated or divorced, have patience with friends and family who ask questions like this. Respond with kindness because they usually mean well. But on the off chance they don’t, respond with a nice little mixture of kindness and firmness. If you’re a friend or family to someone who’s separated or divorced, let them tell you what they want when they’re ready; save the questions for later in the healing process. And thank you for being there for us.
Also, have you signed up my newsletter? In this week’s, I’m going to reveal the various ways I answer this question!