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“Why Did You Get Divorced?” The Dreaded Question

Recently a fellow tweeter had lamented about  having been asked the question, “Why did you get divorced?”  It truly annoyed  her, being asked such a personal question.  I came up with some snappy comebacks but admitted that I am rarely asked.   I’m not sure why this is so, but I live in a small suburb and it was big gossip for a while, and I think most people my ex-husband and I know already have heard some version of why so there is no need to ask.

Just the other day, though, while I was getting some cold cuts at the grocery store that I stop by two or four  or five times a week,  the counter person, a woman maybe in her 60’s started chatting away.   By the way, I hate guessing ages, so much depends on factors other than the number– hard living, for example, can make a person appear older, she very well could have been younger.   I see this woman regularly, she knows my kids and she’s commented on the twin thing and always has a kind comment or pleasantry.

On this store visit, I only had one kid with me.   In our house we call that — pretending to be an only child — but I digress . . .    The Deli Lady, whom I’ll call Marla, saw us and immediately gave a loud and sweet hello, like we were old friends.  Nice lady.   Then she remarked that she saw my “hubby” with the kids a few days ago, that he must have been giving me a break.  I may have shuddered a bit, feeling the ick.

This remark was icky and  irksome to me for many reasons.  First, he’s not my husband,  no, he most definitely is not my husband.  I have papers and forcibly  spent $35,000 and counting in the process of making him  not my husband.  Second, the cutesy term of endearment “hubby” is antithetical to this man to whom I am decidedly not endeared and I no longer see as “cute.”  Third,  my “hubby’  wasn’t giving me a break, he was seeing his children pursuant to a court custody order and  he was shopping at “my” store — most likely  picking up food to take home to his new wife  for her to prepare and serve to my kids.  So, no, my hubby didn’t have the kids to give me a break.  See Weekends Off.

Understanding that these are my issues and not hers, I was going to just let it slide, as I often do with people I don’t see often, but she continued to talk, asking where I was when he had the children.  Considering that I see this woman a few times of week, that she knew me by name and was trying to learn the kids names, I might as well stop the happy marriage train.

“Well, he’s actually my Ex-Husband,”  I offered.

“What?  He’s your Ex? You’re Divorced? ”  She said, shocked, truly shocked.   Leaving me to wonder, had he allowed her to think we were still together?

At this moment, I wished I’d said nothing.  The one kid I had with me was the one who had the most lingering hostile reaction to the divorce, and didn’t like to hear about it or talk about it.  I sometimes refer to this kid as The Angry Child, i.e. She Wants To Break Me, but she’s been so much better these days.  She really has.  As luck would have it, as I turned to see if she was listening, she’d flitted off,  probably to find her favorite snack to throw into the cart.

Good, I thought, I can get this conversation over with.

Marla, was shocked, still,  by my revelation.

“Divorced? . . . . Why?”

And there is was.  The question I am rarely asked.   I thought of my Twitter friend, and wished I could channel her support in my head.  But, I was In Real Life (IRL if you only have 140 Twitter characters) and I didn’t even have my phone out. Plus, Marla was waiting for an answer.  She wasn’t even slicing my meat.  She was waiting.

The Million Dollar Question

I think I kind of stammered and shrugged my shoulders, rolled my eyes,  and said, “Well, you know.”   I understand that this is not a definitive answer.  But I thought my body language and facial expression would have been enough to change the subject.

But Marla apparently needed a real answer, in real life, right then and there.

She asked again.

“Why did you get divorced?”

Now all the snappy comebacks I’d joked about had left the building like Elvis.  I had nothing.  Actually, my snappy comebacks were mostly to put the other person on the defensive.  I figured it they can ask me something personal I should come back with something just as personal, like,

“Well it’s a long painful story.  How much did you make last year? And are you having regular sex?”

But I didn’t want to be rude to Marla.  And I couldn’t even come up with, “I don’t want to talk about it.”    It was a deer in headlights situation, for sure.

Marla is good people.   I like the banter I have with her and many of the people I see in stores while carrying out mundane tasks.   Marla is funny, friendly and compliments my kids.  This makes her royalty in my book.  I didn’t want to insult her or put her on the defensive.   And, unlike my snobby ex- neighbor, see  Holiday Party post, she wasn’t judging me because I am divorced.  Marla was  genuinely surprised, really surprised.

So, I finally answered, leaning close to the counter, “Well, he was a bit of a player.”

This isn’t exactly true.  There weren’t a lot of other women, to my knowledge, but you know, there were more than there are supposed to be, you know  . . . when you’re MARRIED!    Still,  I figured this shorthand answer would do the trick  and end the topic of conversation before my kid got back.

But it didn’t.

It actually opened an opportunity for her to share  her own personal life which included two husbands and four children and the proclamation that she will never marry again, which, had we been in a coffee shop or at a bar would have been good girl talk.  But we were on opposite sides of a deli counter in a grocery store in my hometown, and where, apparently, my Ex-Husband still shops — while on his visits with the children.

I added with another shrug while I perused the meats that, “Yeah, well, he’s remarried now, so . . .”   I don’t know why, but I thought that information would help end the conversation.

But it didn’t.

Marla shared more about her life.  I found out about her ex-husband’s new ex-wives, and how one of them told her what he’d said about her,  and how his other children are no good, etc.   Then, the conversation turned back to me, as I hoped it wouldn’t, but feared it would.

“Divorced? Really?  And you’re so pretty . . .  and smart . . .”   Now, I’m not trying to blow my own horn here or provide self-gratuitous comments, but Marla went on to compliment me very highly, noting that I am slim (not the healthiest comment for me to hear, see  Confessions of a Skinny Mom  and Angela Jolie  posts) and she thinks I’m  brilliant, which, considering our only interaction is at the meat counter — I find to be very astute — heh heh heh.   I took her compliments in kind, though a little embarrassed, being at the deli counter and all.  But, hell, it’s nice to be appreciated.

While finally cutting my meat,  Marla added, “Leaving a girl like you. . . . I don’t understand it.”    And she just shook her head.  “I just don’t get that.  You are something.  I think you’re great.”  And she smiled, looked me up and down,  and shook her head again.

Now this tugs at my insecurities.

In my tortured mind Marla is thinking,  “There must be something wrong with her that I can’t see.”

My damaged self asks: Is Marla  trying to figure out what dark secret or hidden insufficiency I must have which  caused my husband and father of my beautiful children  to leave me?  Is that what everybody thinks —  that  there must be something wrong with  me that they can’t see?

I wanted to scream, “I’M GOOD IN BED — HONEST!!!”   But that didn’t seem appropriate.

So there it is, my problem.  And it truly is my problem.  Not Marla’s and not my Ex-Husband’s —- and I’m working on it.  I need to slow down and control those ill-informed, overly chatty  people  — not the ones in the grocery store —  the ones in my head.

It’s simple, really.  I don’t like being asked why I divorced  because it’s personal and I don’t like to talk about it unless I bring it up.  But more than that, I don’t like being asked because of all the time I spent crying on the kitchen floor Amy Winehouse style wondering why I wasn’t enough for him.  

Truth is.,  he was done.  It really doesn’t matter why now, and it shouldn’t matter to my lunch meat friend.  After a excruciatingly painful period in my life, I’m done analyzing why and I’m done, too.  Unless I have brought it up and I am in a place mentally and physically where it is appropriate to talk about it, my final answer actually is, “Well, you know, whatever.”

(In my head I’ll say it’s because he’s an asshole.   I’m not a saint.)

My daughter eventually flitted back with her cheese sticks and Marla had the good sense to change the topic, asking my daughter if she helps me out at home, which,  I pointed out,  she does not do nearly enough, prompting a devilish smile from my girl.  A smile, not a denial, mind you.  That kid is lucky she’s cute . . .  but I digress.

Just Me With . . .  American Cheese,  ham off the bone, Southern fried chicken breast and some discomfort and insecurity . . .  sliced thin.

Special thanks to  @CRobbieLV for inspiring this and sharing her experiences with  — The Dreaded “Why?”

Postscript:  See Good Fortune and the Dreaded Question,  Part II

For the best responses to finding out about my break up see, “When I Needed A Helping Hand”   and “Riding With My Boss” and “Six Days of Separation