While on Facebook a week ago, I came across a post that one of my friends had commented on about happiness and relationships. His post, cited from some statistical blog (I don’t even have the source, so I can’t cite it – not that I would, I don’t put much faith in the relevance of statistics when predicting human emotion), declared that when it comes to general life happiness, married people are the happiest, followed by single people, and then trailed, last, by those who are divorced. Now, being a divorced woman who prefers to call herself single, I took issue with that. I didn’t comment, but it did make me start to think about those happiness levels; how true were they? Can statistics really say for certain that married people are happiest of all? Can statistics really suggest that we divorced folk are really THAT unhappy with our lives?
Now, truthfully, all I have to go on here are my own experiences. I can’t suppose that mine are anywhere near normal – nothing with me is anywhere near normal – but since the blog is about being thirty (and on some level, a divorced thirty year old), my experiences here are the only ones that matter at this point, no?
I can admittedly say that there wasn’t a lot of time that I spent single, before my marriage, as a legal adult. But I can tell you that those were good days. I was at college, living on campus. I had friends that lived in the dorm across campus. We spent our days in class, we spent our evenings creating a ruckus around Louisville, Kentucky. Sometimes we’d take evening trips to grocery stores, pushing each other around in carts. Other times we’d tie ourselves to each other with shoelaces and go into Waffle House like this, one of us speaking in nothing but German until the check was delivered. Some nights we’d sit in a dorm room watching goofy things on television or on the internet.
I dated some. My relationships were serious, for their time, but they didn’t last long. The breakups were just as superficial. I lived a soap opera, and I didn’t care. I was experiencing things and as soon as that one ended, I’d just go find another one to play with. It was nothing to drive two hours in the middle of the night to visit my boyfriend who was a graduate student at Western, even if I had a class at eight the next morning. Life was fun. It was crazy. I enjoyed it.
And then I met the man I later married. Things got serious. Things weren’t so much fun anymore. We moved in together. He had a temper. He didn’t hit me, but he threw things. The furniture would get broken. The walls would get holes in them. He’d tell me he wanted to marry me, then he’d back out. My parents couldn’t look at the situation I’d gotten myself into, so they stayed away. If I wanted to see them, I could drive. It wasn’t so much fun to be single anymore – not if single meant this bad relationship. So I did what any normal, sane person would do. I married the guy.
I can look at my own marriage, if I want to. I rarely want to. It was a horrid, disfigured thing that still disgusts me when I look back at it. Entered into in a large amount due to pressure, and in a larger amount due to the absence of other viable options (for living situations, not marrying partners), it started off badly. I sat in that hotel room across from the wedding wishing I had a way to leave, not wanting to embarrass my parents who had put together a large, large wedding for me. Repeating the nuptials, a voice in the back of my head echoed, “Well, I can always get a divorce.” A stronger, braver Vic would have gotten out of there pronto. I went through with it anyway.
I cried all the way home. I cried in the shower during my honeymoon – my unconsummated honeymoon, if anyone cares. Coming back home, I consulted with a friend who was also a lawyer about filing for annulment. I didn’t go through with it. I stayed because it seemed to be the right thing to do – might as well give it a chance. Might as well try to make it work.
A year later, we had argued more times than I wanted to admit. Every day, waking up, it seemed that it was simply a countdown to a shouting match, a screaming match that left me running up the stairs, trailed closely behind by my husband who wanted to “talk about it” but whose idea of talking about it was screaming about it some more until I simply gave in so that he would shut up. If I locked the door to my office, he simply broke it down, to shout at me some more. If I had to pee during these often six hour long shouting sessions, he’d stand outside the door and scream at me while I did. Come to think of it, this probably explains why I now have a shy bladder.
I couldn’t please him. The food was never to his liking – the gravy was called “orange stuff” and to appease his six year old palate, he’d scrape it off and take the chicken plain. My $25 a week allowance was barely enough to make my own ends meet – yes, all my needs were provided for. But there were no extra shoes, no new clothes. My things were dreadfully out of fashion. I was too smart, I read too much, I wanted to go to school, to get a graduate degree, and that was unacceptable. I wasn’t going to get a job doing what I wanted to do anyway – there were likely no casinos nearby. And kids? Whatever kids I was crazy enough to want to bring into that house, I wasn’t going to get to have them. His kids would not be “booksmart” like me, he said. “Yeah, you want them to be a dumbass like you,” I’d retorted. That turned into another shouting match. I probably deserved that one.
Anyway, bottom line, by the time the marriage was over, I was exhausted with it. I’d grown exhausted with it long before the end, relegating my ex to the basement for sleeping while I kept the bed upstairs, shared with the three cats who were preferable companions to the monster I’d married. I was tired of feeling badly about myself, tired of feeling like a substandard human being, tired of being with someone who seemed only to want to be with me because of the deduction he could take on his taxes. When the opportunity presented itself to leave, I took it. We divorced six months later.
I can honestly say that the divorce itself, while it made me sad – I hate failure, and I couldn’t help but feel, just a little bit, like I had failed – was a moment of celebration. I was free. And I was living a new life, a life full of parties and friends, and music, and dancing, and fun. I was exploring Columbus, getting to know people there, making a new life. I was in graduate school, exactly where I wanted to be, and was doing well. I was playing World of Warcraft and having fun learning the world I was spending a large majority of my time in.
I was ME again. I had grown up – I was eight years older than I had been the last time that I’d been single. And I was happy. I was alone. And it was hard, being alone, having to pay all my bills, having to budget my own money, having to make ends meet. But I was happier doing this in peace. I was starting to see myself the way I had seen myself prior to the marriage. I was independent. And it was a good thing.
I suppose, compared to being married, I am happier divorced – even though, most of the time, I don’t even think of myself as divorced. The marriage was so awful, and lasted for so short a period, that I don’t even like to count it as a part of my life. I have to claim it, yes, when dating. But to get out of something like that, with no joint debt, no drama, no children… I realize how lucky I really was. I guess if I owe him anything, it’s that I didn’t have those non-booksmart children, after all.
Life now is, well, blissful. I moved. I relocated to Florida about two years after the divorce was final. I got a job – a really good job – that spun into an even better job. I have my own apartment, I am comfortable, and I am happy. I can go where I like, do what I like. I can play video games as much and as often as I’d like without being yelled at. I can write my dark and demented literature and no one can tell me they don’t “get” me. I can cook my food and no one asks me what this “orange stuff” is on the chicken. I get up, I go to work, I come home, and I live my little life – the things, and even moreso, the people that I have chosen to let into it make me happy. And if they don’t, I can choose to make them go away.
I realize that my experience probably isn’t something that is common. I’m sure there are very happy married couples out there – my parents being one of them. And yet, all the while, I can’t help but still get angry about those statistics. Who are they to say that divorced people are unhappy? How can they assume that divorced people are unhappier than single people? And in fact, how can they really say that any one of us, divorced, single, married, are really happy at all? To assume that assumes that you know at the onset how people feel – and numbers and statistics don’t have the capability to get into your head. How can they be sure that the married people, or the divorced people, or the single people who are filling out these surveys are really speaking their true minds? How do they know they are not catching these people on a bad day? They don’t. I’m not saying all statistics are bullshit, but for crying out loud, we should stop using numbers to justify where we are or where we’re not or where we are going in our lives, and especially in our relationships. We should stop using numbers to tell ourselves that we have to be in “this place” to be happy.
Because the key, I think, to all of this – at least it was with me – is to learn to be happy with ourselves. I had it when I was single. I lost it when I was married. I found it again after the divorce. If we can be happy with ourselves, then we bring that into whatever situation we’re in, whether it’s the satisfaction of being single, the strength of the marriage, or the recovery after it just doesn’t work out. Being happy with yourself is half the battle. Once you have that, then everything else will follow. And if it doesn’t, well, then you have the strength to take out the trash.