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Dear Miss Lonelyhearts…

April 6, 2010

Three tidbits of advice to those presently contemplating separation:

1. There is simply too much to think about all at once. If you try to make plans for the rest of your life, when you can’t even figure out what tomorrow might bring, your head will explode. It’s imperative to break things down into palatable portions: What will you do today (which may best be phrased as: What can you do today? or even What do you absolutely need to do today?) If the image of baby steps comforts you, use it; I myself prefer to think of life’s little challenges as beads on a string. One by one, add them and forget them. The string will hold.

2. Abstract thought is strengst verboten. That way madness lies. If you permit yourself to dip even a toe into the mire of sentimentality, you will flounder and sink. Dragging out old photos, the better to moan “But we were so HAPPY once!” is quicksand–you must avoid it at all costs. Toss your head and tell yourself you will, as Scarlett did, think about it tomorrow. (After all, tomorrow is another day!) Believe me: pondering the philosophical ramifications of your lost love is better done from a distance. And remorse is a dish best served cold.

(The point can’t be made too forcibly. I wrote a post about how I could work myself up into quite a tearful frenzy over–well, over an idea. I will hereby confess something even more embarrassing: I cried during “Corpse Pose” in yoga. Fully cried, with tears running out of the corners of my eyes and into my ears, all the way onto my mat. I may even have sobbed, discreetly, once or twice.

Well, but isn’t yoga supposed to unleash one’s inner emotional wreck? I have seen the loveliest girls of my generation, svelte vegetarians weeping attractively as their heart chakras apparently opened. But I did not cry because I had managed to align myself correctly and was experiencing a happy physical unblocking of chi. I cried because my yoga teacher, a soft-spoken, amiable hippie, had put a fucking FLEETWOOD MAC song on the stereo. (“That’s not a thing you really have to admit, you know,” my boyfriend said, kindly, when I admitted it to him.) I am a cynic. I am hard-hearted. I hate Fleetwood Mac. I will spare you the title of the song.)

Anyway, my point is simply this: Do not torture yourself with Tragic Thoughts about what is happening to you. Don’t borrow trouble. Practice a little bit of healthy repression–the big picture will keep. I promise, no matter what happens, no matter how long you wait or how rosy your future becomes, no matter how much distance you eventually put between yourself and the dreadful early days of splitting, you will not–mark my words–accidentally forget to grieve.

3. At every turn, remind yourself that you are ordinary. The divorce rate hovers around fifty percent, I believe. That means that a whopping number of people walking around upright in the world–buying milk, taking the car to be serviced, waiting in line for stamps, carrying trash cans out to the sidewalk–are, or are getting, or will get divorced. They aren’t special, and neither are you. Taxi drivers get divorced. Movie stars and European royalty get divorced. Street cleaners get divorced. Your problems are not insurmountable, because people with far fewer resources than you have managed to get divorced. They were sad, as you are sad, and yet their lives went on. Yours will go on, too.

There are more, lots more. I’ll get to them tomorrow. In the meantime, feel free to chime in.

14 Comments leave one →
  1. Jen permalink
    April 6, 2010 11:04 pm

    Thank you for this. I have fallen into all 3 of those traps too, too often recently- I am going to bring this post forward in my thoughts, so that I may move forward in my life.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  2. April 7, 2010 8:06 am

    A friend forwarded me a link to this post, thinking it would help and it definitely has. My husband and I just split up on Monday and I find myself fretting at night, like an old woman with worry beads. It doesn’t help that my husband is pushing me to make decisions and Get Things Done NOW. I can’t do that. Reading this helped me realize that that’s ok.

  3. Bethany permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:37 am

    Thank you for writing this.

  4. Libby permalink
    April 7, 2010 5:20 pm

    You are very wise, and very hilarious as well. Love the Howl reference about the svelte yoga girls, and great advice about the beads on a string. Found your blog a couple months ago and am now a fan.

  5. April 8, 2010 12:05 am

    Strengst, yo.

    (Not intended as derailing or snark, just my obsessive editing compulsion. Feel free to delete with extreme prejudice. 😉 )

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      April 8, 2010 7:22 am

      Oy! You’re right! But now that I’ve actually looked it up, should it be strengsten? (German is the best language for PROHIBITING things, isn’t it?) Vielen Dank!

      • April 13, 2010 6:55 am

        Ok, continuing the sidebar diversion – yes, I’m totally sure it should be strengst, but alas, I no longer know why that is. I think maybe strengst is the adverb and strengsten is the adjective?

        Anyway, other useful German terms: ACHTUNG! (stern intonation mandatory; often followed by Strengst verboten!;), beleidigt ( = hurt / offended / wounded all in one; v. useful for describing children whose will has been thwarted).

  6. April 8, 2010 12:22 pm

    i haven’t gotten divorced, but i lost someone i loved very much almost two years ago and i STILL cry at the end of almost every yoga class. it’s not just the fleetwood mac, it’s the damn trauma! but the worst nights are the ones when my instructor plays this particular enya-esque yoga music that sounds like the background music to (of all things) nicolas cage’s dream scene in “raising arizona.” THAT’S what makes me break down. i have yet to admit this to anyone personally.

    i think your advice applies to any life-altering loss. thanks.

  7. irretrievablybroken permalink*
    April 13, 2010 10:24 am

    To RR–I lived in Germany when I was in kindergarten (that’s the REAL kindergarten) and only remember wee bits. I do remember (and often say) “Was ist los?” and my mom learned how to say “Ich bin heimweg,” which she was. Of course, there’s always “Ich möchte ein Bier, bitte,” and “Noch ein Bier, bitte.” Not that I said those things when I was five years old.

    I actually thought I was quoting Nabokov, (he has it as “streng verboten under Humbert the Terrible”, when he goes back to visit Lolita, all grown up). But I misquoted him as well, turns out. Should have checked. Streng, strengst, strengsten. Hmmmm.

    I’m delighted you corrected me. And will bellow “DAS IST STRENGST VERBOTEN!!!” at my children from now on. Thank you.

  8. April 14, 2010 12:10 pm

    It was “Landslide” wasn’t it. It so was.

    Thank you for #2.

    • irretrievablybroken permalink*
      April 15, 2010 8:50 pm

      It so was NOT “Landslide”. What do you take me for?

  9. Apple permalink
    April 21, 2010 1:32 pm

    your link was forwarded to me by a mutual professional contact. my complements on your writing…i love your style…honest and dead on. i have been divorced almost a year and half, and i know it doesn’t seem like a long time, but sometimes it feels like a lifetime has passed since separation. i still have to remind myself constantly of the three rules you wrote about, especially #2. i know i will be referring to them over and over (in fact, i had to just yesterday). thanks for writing and keep it going!


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