“What do you think makes a divorce contentious?”
As the professor waited for a response I looked around the room to see what anyone would say. I knew that I was going to be the only person who would really know the answer. Most – if not all – people in my class had probably never even gotten married, let alone divorced. I was the odd duck out, for sure.
I saw her glance towards me. In class I am usually pretty quiet but the week before I had actually contributed to the class discussion. She knew from the previous discussion that I was divorced, and likely had something relevant to share. Before I could say something, the woman seated next to me chimed in.
“Emotions,” she said. “People can’t get past the emotions.”
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. We had been discussing divorce for the past few days and the topic just hit way too closely to home. Just talking about it gave me an anxious feeling. I started thinking about all the ways our own divorce became contentious, and all the ways others’ divorces became contentious. Yes, emotions were a big part of it. All of us contentiously divorced people obviously had a hard time letting go. Or at least a lot of us. But it’s so much more complex than that.
The professor seemed satisfied with my classmate’s answer and steered the conversation in a different direction. My mind drifted away from the class discussion and back into the past. Some years back, when we were still married, we had run into the priest who officiated at our wedding ceremony. Father Tim seemed both surprised and delighted to see that we were at my sister’s wedding rehearsal dinner, together. “Oh!” he’d said, “you’re still married,” and all of us had just stood there and laughed.
(I wonder what Father Tim would say if he saw us now).
During his sermon at our wedding years ago, Father Tim had compared marriage to walking across a highway. “Imagine that you are with a group of people standing on the side of highway 65,” he’d said. “You all have to cross; but only half of you will make it. One by one, people start to cross. You see some make it across safely; others do not. Then someone turns to you and says ‘it’s your turn.’ What do you do? How do you make it safely across, so you’re in the fifty percent that makes it?”
Towards the end of our marriage, our last session of couples therapy had been disastrous; so disastrous that I had fled the room and had started running, with no real destination; only running, a lot of running. I had found myself at the side of a busy freeway. I knew I needed to get far away but crossing the freeway seemed like the only viable option. So I had kept running. And I tripped and fell halfway through and ruined my favorite pair of jeans. But I had picked myself up and had made it safely across.
By then the police had been looking for me, and without any real plan, I’d gone to Target and grabbed a purple sweater. I had gone into a fitting room where I’d put it on and contemplated my next move. After a while I had calmed down, so when my husband called me, I’d finally answered. After I had paid for the purple sweater he had picked me up a few minutes later and we had gone out for ice cream. The following week he had bought me a new pair of jeans to replace the ones that had been ruined. We were divorced 8 months later.
My mind went back towards class, where the professor was wrapping up the discussion, and everyone was putting their books away. As I got up, I glanced over towards her, and she smiled. She knew that I knew the answer to her question. What makes a divorce contentious?
I paused, and wondered if I should ask the professor if I could earn extra credit by spending a whole class session talking about my contentious divorce. After all, I am kind of knowledgeable in that area. I could tell everyone about all the things that he has done, the ways that he’s tried to hurt me…and the things he has said about me to other people. I could tell everyone about how he’s even tried to turn even my own family against me. But all that would do is affirm why we are in a certain fifty percent.
I shook my head with a sigh and walked out.