Posted By Mrs. Eva H. on December 12, 2011
I first noticed it on the entertainment pages of CNN. I keep up with showbiz, because I work with teens, and whether we want to admit it or not, current culture has a huge influence on them. Since we can’t lock them up, it’s better to teach them to interpret and put things in a context of values. But I was not sure how to approach this. Some rock star was holding a party to celebrate his divorce. With his ex-wife. They were divorcing, and a number of friends were invited to join in the celebration of how they wished one another well in the next part of their lives and how they would always work together for the good of their children. So many people in the comments were indeed congratulating them, sincerely, on how responsible they were, and how happy they were to see such good examples. I do not remember who that first star was, but then I found it happening again. And again. Divorce parties and amicable split ups with people saying how wonderful their now ex-partner is, are in. People proclaim themselves not a failure in their marriage, but a wonderful person in their way of divorcing. It sounds so much better.
And not just with celebrities. I have seen several acquaintances recently who in one sentence announce their divorce or split with the father of their children and in the same breath assure us that everything is wonderful and that they are dealing with this like mature adults who like each other and want the best for the other and for their children. And children want their parents to be happy, of course!
Really? Have you ever tried to finish something, a book, a chore, a bit of work, while your child wants you to refill their juice or read a book for the fiftieth time? Toddlers don’t care about your happiness, unless it affects them. They are not supposed to worry about your happiness, but you about theirs. When they grow and become more mature, they are supposed to grow in care for others. Because care and self-sacrifice is what they have seen modeled all their lives before them. The problem is that this generation of children has not seen that modeled to them. They learn the lesson early that if something makes you unhappy it is your responsibility to change it, no matter how it affects others.
People who divorce, especially amicably, quite often say that it would be a horrible thing to ‘live a lie’ in front of their children. The implication, of course, is that ‘pretending that they still love their partner’ would be the lie. It sounds so rational. So good. We do not want people to lie. Lying is bad. Your life, however, would only be a lie if love is only a feeling. Even when you do not feel in love anymore, love can be a decision. You have given your word to love that person. That doesn’t mean you will feel deliriously romantic every day. It is hard to feel deliriously romantic, serene and blissfully happy when you have mashed banana in your hair, when your spouse came home late after a hard day while you were counting the minutes, and when he doesn’t get the fact that you just threw him a ‘look’ that should have said everything. You were biting your tongue, and he didn’t even notice. Or your job takes you each away from home every day, and between getting your child out of daycare, off to music class and soccer practice, you barely had a chance for a conversation and when you have it is awkward because you just don’t know what to say to each other anymore. You just…drifted apart, and it is all good. Clearly this wasn’t meant to be, so let’s celebrate that you are good and responsible adults who do not try to kill each other and move along. After all, it is better than ‘lying’ to everyone and pretend that you still are in love.
But love is not an emotion. It is a decision. A choice. Divorce is the lie. You make a lie out of the vows you have made, and you tell your children that nothing anybody says can ever be trusted. After all, if even words said as solemn as we can say anything–with money spent to make the occasion as memorable as it could, with people to witness them and photographs to keep the moment saved for eternity–if even those words can not be trusted, what can? If lives can be uprooted, not because of horrible situations, but because people have ‘grown apart’ or ‘are no longer in love’ and are ‘no longer happy’, then what can we not sacrifice for our own happiness?
Divorce, even divorce of people who were never formally wed but bound themselves to each other through children, teaches everyone around us that there is nothing that we can hold on to, and nothing that is more important than how we feel. We, and our own feelings, are the center of the universe. We are victims of our feelings. We can not help them, train them, or put them in their place. Which means that if I am angry, I have the right to lash out, to become violent, because that is how I feel. If someone does something, I have the right to laugh at him, make him feel stupid, or to be rude to him–because I feel he is stupid and to pretend otherwise would be a lie. In laying off the restraint that generations have put on feelings–not to suppress them as unworthy, but to channel them into something better–we become as immature as the toddler who did not want to let us finish anything until his own happiness was secured by way of a refilled juice or a book or whatever he desired at that point.
In divorce, without the grounds of adultery or abuse, we have reduced our maturity to the immaturity of a child, and we reduce the chance for our children to grow up with the knowledge that maturity is a matter of growing in happiness, not by the immediate gratification of our wishes, but by the channeling of our feelings into becoming better human beings.