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What Is It Like To Get Divorced?

The Aftermath of Separation

By Jamie JacksonPublished 2 months ago 14 min read
What Is It Like To Get Divorced?
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Divorce is a violent act.

Even amicable divorces are violent and disruptive. When you get divorced, you don’t just give up a marriage, you give up an entire life; a home, friendships, a routine, and the emotional anchors that had previously kept you stable are all destroyed in a roaring tsunami of change.

I got divorced in 2014. Well, technically it was in 2015, but we separated the year before. Everything else was legal formality.

She wrote me a letter and left. It was painted as, or at least I assumed it was, a temporary break up, a serious hitch, but a hitch nonetheless, and we were looking to resolve the issue and perhaps get back together.

No big issue, I thought. No bigger than we'd already encountered in our shaky marriage.

We met a couple of times after the letter after she had extracted herself from our marital home. These were stunted, awful meetings where I failed to understand what was happening, I failed to grasp her agenda, I failed to grasp anything of importance.

Truth be told, years later, I still don’t know the point of those meetings. She had made up her mind and was leaving. She had also met someone else (though I didn’t know it at the time), so why was a false pretence maintained? Why prolonge the suffering and ambiguity?

She declared everything was my fault. I didn’t even know the “fault” to which she was referring. My fault for what, exactly? There wasn't a list of crimes, just a vibe, it was off and it was because of me. It felt like a Kafkaesque trial where I didn't know what I was being accused of, so mounting a defence was impossible.

I remember trying to negotiate through these talks, reasoning that whatever problem we might have, it can’t be the sole responsibility of one person. We could share the burden and work it out.

But she insisted it was indeed solely me, that I was the issue. Though she couldn’t pinpoint how, or why.

I now understand she meant she didn’t love me. I doubt at that time she explicitly knew it either. The vibe, as mentioned, was anything but on.

It was mid-November when she left. By mid-December these odd rendezvous had ceased. It was over as Christmas rolled in and the air grew bitter.

It was difficult to accept, our last meeting ending in a hug, a hug that had been withdrawn from me for weeks.

“That feels good,” I said as we embraced.

She looked at me blankly.

I didn’t want the marriage to end, even though deep down I knew we were never meant to be together and in one weird way or another, I wanted it to end too. It's taken me years to guiltily admit that. To accept I am part of its destruction. She knew it too. I know because I knew her.

We all knew everything and said nothing for the longest time.

There was an awful day shortly after she left when I came home and she had removed all of her belongings. Her cupboard was empty. Her toiletries were gone. It was then, and only then, it hit me. A clear, physical indication that the life I once had was over.

I cried hard, like a child. I cried like I hadn’t cried for decades. It poured out of me as I lay on the bed in the spare room of my now half-empty flat, and sobbed heavily into a pillow.

If I look back at that moment, I was crying not just for the lost marriage but for the lost life. I was crying because everything had spun out of control and uncertainty had consumed my gut, as if I were standing on the edge of a cliff and the instability churned my stomach.

A few weeks later, I had friends over for a Christmas get-together. I was more emotionally stable by then, but after returning home from a night of drinking, one of my friends cried too and implored I should try to get her back. Admittedly, he was hammered and we laughed at his tears, but I was seeing in him what I had felt a few weeks previously. The shock of change. That large first-floor flat where we stood, with its garden balcony, period features, and convenient location by the tube station, had become everyone’s favourite London guest house.

My friend was mourning the loss in his life too. Not selfishly, but his gut also churned, as did everyone’s. When a couple who have been together for 7 years divorces, most people’s shores are battered by the tsunami. Everyone goes through readjustment and it had only hit my friend when he stood in my soon-to-be ex-marital home, with a belly full of booze and exhaustion in his bones.

At the end of the weekend, the same friend took a photo of me as he left. I was standing in the hallway with my arms crossed, feeling hungover, delivering a half-smile to the camera. We knew this was the last time both of us would be in that home together, that it was the end of an era.

I remember thinking I didn’t want to see that photo, it represented too much loss, and too much turbulence. I was happy never to see it. He sent it to me on WhatsApp 30 minutes after leaving.

Christmas passed and 2015 represented a new year to feel optimistic.

My estranged wife and I had agreed not to file for divorce but rather let time run its course so that in 24 months we could apply for what is charmingly known as a “quicky” divorce. Is there ever such a thing?

I’d been house hunting.

House is a misleading term. I’d been flat hunting, and after years of communal living in my 20’s, I wanted to find a place of my own.

I was 36 and I felt I was going backwards in life as it was, and to regress to arguing about household bills and who left spaghetti in the sink with housemates would have been too much to bear.

I found a studio flat above a church. It was squalid, with a filthy brown carpet and threadbare curtains when I first viewed it. My mum was with me and insisted this was the best option I was going to get. I knew she was probably right.

Still, moving into a grotty box where your kitchen is also your bedroom was not appealing, no matter what the facts.

I took the flat with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. However, a stroke of luck served me well; my mother was the manager of the letting agency who had put the flat on the market so she bargained with the owners to paint it afresh and replace the curtains and other sundries before I moved in.

I also stumped up the cost for a new, cream carpet (£350 from me, £350 as a gift from my mother) that transformed the place.

I don’t come from a rich family, and I have always paid my own way in life; cars, flats, holidays, even university. I have a pride about that. But the fact that I was given money for the carpet was a way my mother was helping me emotionally out of this hole.

In fact, my family rallied around me in a way I didn’t expect.

My father came to collect me when he coincidentally phoned during my crying fit back in November. I didn’t ask him to and he didn’t ask permission either. We didn’t have a close relationship and so it was the uncharacteristic outstretching of a hand by a man trying to help his wayward son. My mother also paid for me to fly to Ireland for Christmas. It was her Christmas present, and it meant I was able to spend the festive break with my sister and her family, who of course were wonderful.

Then there were the midweek drinks with my mother, as she checked up on me, and the one time my sister made it along from Ireland, took a photo of me and put it on Facebook saying she loved me (I still remember that photo as I hadn’t yet removed my wedding ring). Also during this time, I visited my Grandma as she lay in hospital, an oxygen mask on her face, nearing the end. When she saw me arrive, she removed the mask, touched my arm and said she was so sorry about the news, as if I was the one who needed comforting.

These tiny, consistent micro-gestures filled my heart with strength. More than I ever let on. Family can oddly come though when you least expect it. They are an undervalued resource, but a bedrock of our lives and a reminder of where we came from.

By the end of January I had signed up for online dating, just to move on, I presume. I don’t really know. One sort of goes on autopilot after a divorce. You’re tether-less, flapping in the wind, and will do anything to establish a new normal.

Still, moving out of the marital home had unexpectedly lifted a weight off my shoulders. I had cried only once since the big release in 2014. I was drunk and foolishly watched When Harry Met Sally, a great film but one where ‘Harry’ spends the majority of the time processing his divorce.

Other than that, the new flat was wonderful; quiet and excluded, light and airy, with high ceilings and the many windows opened onto a secluded flat roof. I could lay on the bed and watch the trees sway in the distance, the evening sun shone onto the cream carpet and the neighbour’s flat hummed with quiet activity, along with the church hall downstairs. It made me feel part of a secret community, together, huddled behind church spires.

That studio flat became a place of healing. A magnolia sanctuary that welcomed me home each day.

By March I was seeing two girls.

I didn’t feel emotionally invested in either, mainly because I felt like I didn’t have any emotion to invest, but I liked their company.

When you date at 36 everyone has their war stories. We shared them together and I felt somewhat normalised.

I still did the usual stalking of my estranged wife online. It didn’t happen often but when I did, it was problematic to get information because I had reluctantly deleted all our shared friends from my digital life when we split.

They were hers. I had my friends. She could have the rest. Some of those friends I loved to bits, but I knew it wouldn’t work post-divorce. So I took the move to step away without argument and I retreated to my old and faithful acquaintances from years back. I was happy with this unspoken deal, but it was part of a whole life I had to surrender to move on.

Then, one spring day in 2015, she sent me an email.

It said she wanted a divorce immediately, no 24-month wait. No quicky divorce after the clock ran out, but a full bells and whistles divorce, now.

I took it in my stride. I didn’t understand the urgency but by this point, I felt almost guilty that I was so at ease with this news and my new life.

I guess I had been more miserable than I realised. I guess that deep down, knowing I was with the wrong person had weighed me down, its war of attrition on my spirit taking a heavy toll over the years. Like the frog who stays in water that is slowly brought to a boil, I didn’t realise how unhappy I was until I got out of that bubbling pan.

“Let’s just fucking do it!” I wrote back, in a friendly manner.

I felt nothing when I held the divorce request in my hands a few days later. Why not grant it? She is divorcing me, after all. There will be no cost and I have no assets to lose, even if she wanted something. Which she didn’t.

We both wanted to move on.

I put the forms in a pile of papers on my chest of drawers and went to work, promptly forgetting about them. Then, a few weeks later, I randomly remembered those forms, and in a panic signed and posted them.

The very next day she emailed me again, her tone different.

She let me know she had sent a bailiff (or some such official that is used in these matters, I truly don’t remember) to come round to my flat to collect the papers in person.

She apologised in her email.

“I need them signed, but I understand why you don’t want to sign them,” she wrote.

No no no! That’s not it at all. I just forgot, I responded. They’re in the post as we speak. It’s no problem. They’re coming.

Goodness knows what had brought her to such measures. Perhaps she talked to relatives and friends to seek counsel on how to expel angry and bitter husbands from her life. Perhaps she wrung her hands and worried about my mental health. I can’t blame her, in the depths of that crying session in 2014 I had called her. It was an awful, fraught conversion that oddly lapsed into misplaced familiarity as we ended up chatting normally like it was a Wednesday evening in front of the TV.

Whatever the case, I was fine. Weirdly fine. Good in fact.

It came in waves though, I won’t lie. A drive to the gym, a moment in Tesco’s, a stroll through a park we spent time in, those moments hurt. At the beginning, terribly so. And they reappeared when least expected, long after I felt over it.

But I didn’t miss her as much as I missed that life; the friends, her family, her kind and clever cousins, the trips to Scotland (she was Scottish), the marital home and social hub, the stability, the someone to go on holiday with.

And perhaps this is the crux of the matter.

If you love the security, routine and lifestyle you have with someone, do you really love them?

I knew I didn’t love her most truly. I knew it. Deep in the recesses of my mind, the truth sat lurking.

When we dream, it can be difficult to tell if we’re asleep or wake. But when we are awake, there is no doubt. That is much like love. When we truly love someone, we know. There is no doubt. No one can tell us otherwise, no circumstance can reveal a different truth.

Love is truth and truth is love. My marriage awkwardly tried to compartmentalise these two, the both of us stumbling on with the unhappy compromise we had struck.

I used to think, in the years when we were together, about what life would be like when we broke up. Not if, but when.

I also chased other women, and whilst I didn’t have an affair, I did fall for someone else, whilst I was married.

This fact may make you feel like everything I’ve just said is nonsense, worthless or self-pitting. But I too was conflicted, seeking refuge from doubt in the attention of others. I resisted my feelings, eventually cutting contact with this other woman and doubling down on my marriage. Not that it mattered in the end.

Months passed after the divorce was finalised and life moved on.

I was with someone, seriously this time, and was experiencing the first blooms of a love that had failed to grow in my former marriage.

It emphasised how hard that previous relationship had been, how we had both spent years attempting to keep up the façade it was alive, like a metaphorical Weekend at Bernie’s.

I still occasionally checked her online presence, and I even convinced myself it was a healthy activity, mostly because everyone I’ve ever dated or known well I looked up on Facebook.

It felt like no big deal.

Then I saw she’d had a baby. A baby! I did the maths in my head. She must have gotten pregnant 4 months after she left me. I did some digging over the next few days and found out she was with someone, in a relationship, from her work.

She had clearly been having an affair, or at the least, had left me for him.

I wanted to be angry but oddly struggled to find it. Really, I was more annoyed that it wasn’t fair play. About a year before we broke up she had told me she couldn’t have a baby with me until “I changed”, without ever explaining what this nebulous command meant.

It was the “I don’t love yous” rearing their head, even though she couldn’t have articulated it in those terms at the time.

But here she was, having a child with a man she hardly knew. Perhaps. Maybe she did know him, and had done for years?

But you know what? It all seemed so irrelevant. It didn’t matter anymore. Yes, she probably left me for this work guy, but I don’t blame her. I also felt the pull of other people; a girl in a bar who, like some cliche, had got her lipstick on my collar, another from work that I grew far too close to, I was always looking.

I had a restless need to search out others just like she did, because we were both lacking the connection at home.

We were two people feeding each other emotional celery and slowly starving our souls to death.

I did want my marriage to work and I wish I could have loved her properly, and I know she wanted to love me. She tried. I saw it. We both tried, on and off, enthusiastically and reluctantly, for years.

She got married (someone told me, I didn’t look). I made the decision sometime shortly before then not to look at her online any more. The one friend who still talks to her I have told them to never tell me anything. It’s not that it would hurt or make me angry, it is more that I can see no point. She’s married with children. So am I. Anything beyond this would be gossip. It doesn’t matter what she does. I haven’t looked in years.

What is weird, what does stick with me, is that a life I once lived no longer exists. Friends I had, social circles, all dispersed, all replaced by a decision. A household gone, a union over, a joining of families undone.

I’m glad to be free of a marriage that made me unhappy. I’m glad I’m not making her unhappy too. But divorce signifies a chapter is over with no option to revisit. That rarely happens in life unless we’re dealing with death. And it is the life you give up that is mourned, often more than the person we perhaps shouldn’t have been with anyway.


If you are going through a divorce, I hope that it is as straightforward as this one. I sometimes read of people crushed by the weight of divorce proceedings and the expensive and emotional court battles.

But remember, if you are going through the destructive change of divorce and if that tsunami is battering your shores, it can be painful, but often that is nothing more than growing pain.

Divorce is a mourning process, but unlike actual death, there is a chance for love to be reborn afterwards. There is a chance to rise again, no matter how unlikely it may seem when in the quagmire of separation.

Divorce is destructive, but it also has buried within it the seeds of new life. It’s up to you what you do with them.

About the Creator

Jamie Jackson

Between two skies and towards the night.

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Comments (1)

  • Thavien Yliaster2 months ago

    The "I love You, but I'm not in love with You" has got to ve one of the most harshest things that can initiate a divorce, the only things worst than that is betrayal, especially when it comes to the wrongful assassination of one'

Jamie JacksonWritten by Jamie Jackson

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