The divorce rate for those over 50 has doubled between 1990 and 2010, with 1 in 4 people going through a divorce now being over the age of 50.
And, oh, researchers from BGSU have come up with the term Gray Divorce Revolution.
Seems like I’m always moving along the cusp of some revolution. The homebirth revolution, the eco-farm revolution, the homeschool revolution, the farm learning revolution, the re-skilling revolution, and now the gray divorce revolution. I missed Dance Dance Revolution but my kids didn’t.
While I was busy studying French linguistics and geology at BGSU, who knew their sociology department was developing the National Center for Family & Marriage Research? I do remember my sociology professor being quite interesting at the same time I had made the decision to never, ever become an anthropologist because that professor bored me beyond reason. Fortunately, he was not my last exposure to anthropology and I was able to recuperate and embrace that field in its four subfield glory. That’s a long story and this isn’t where I want to talk about it, my confronting and then slowly accepting my midlife profession. My destiny. Ha!
Back to the work at Bowling Green. I suppose these studies account for the surplus of articles on the internet about “gray divorce.”
I’ve found that few of the articles have much to do with my life. When I was beginning the process of my divorce I did find a few books that were helpful. Some helped me understand how I got myself into the mess I was in — those were the most helpful. Some that talked frankly about issues with the kids, those were sometimes helpful too. I especially appreciated the books and articles that gave serious thought to what the adult children were going through, along with the teens, in a gray divorce. The books and articles that wanted to advise me about how to negotiate my retirement years, whoa, not so much. Not even minimally.
Retirement savings? Nah. He didn’t see the need. If there was money he spent it. We actually ended up in a therapist’s office once being told that I was too tight with the money and the ex made life more fun for the kids with his spending. Okay. Heck, maybe that was true. So I let go of the money. For goodness sake, I was a mother of eight, who stayed home, working occasionally from home, homeschooling and farming the desert. I was a hippie, you might say. Let it go.
So when the ex left, I was living in a house he said he sure didn’t want. It was underwater, worth less than half of the price we bought it for. I did get a loan modification after the divorce. It’s still underwater. I’m paying rent to a loan company, in essence, while I grapple with what the best choices are for me and my younger kids. That’s okay. It’s just what it is.
Also, when he left, I was running a farm-based learning center and doing my dissertation research there. He hated my dissertation and he hated my research and he hated my colleagues and my farm days. Of course, I never found out the full degree of his hatred until later. He played the role of the caring husband well enough to convince me for the last decade of our marriage. Should I have seen some of the deception? Well, of course. That’s what we always say in retrospect. Raising a bunch of kids you love and caring for a small farm and taking up a new profession can tend to make a woman short-sighted — especially if she’s prone to overlook deception and cheating by nature and by life-long training.
Over the course of thirty-plus years I really became convinced that I wouldn’t be able to take care of myself. He told me that so often; it became easy to believe it. Funny I should believe that. I was able to take care of a farm, two farms, in fact, over the years. I was able to take care of eight children over the course of many decades. I was able to manage a household and work part time from home, later part time outside of the home while I finished my graduate degrees.
When I had to go back to work in midlife, after 18 years at home with my kids, I leaned into environmental work and found a niche. More to the point – the work found me. There’s a whole story there that I don’t want to get into right now. At the time I didn’t see this action as me actually knowing how to take care of myself. I needed to find work and I did. I found work that I liked a lot. I used that work and my drylands farming skills as a springboard into finishing my degrees and to landing two part time jobs that helped my family. I suppose I was prepared by my childhood and adolescence along with my marriage to not see that these were all signs of taking care of myself.
When the ex told me there was someone else and he was leaving to be with her, I really thought, for a short time, that I would not be able to survive. Did I think I’d be under a bridge somewhere? Maybe. I’m not sure. I went numb briefly and almost bought into his plan for my future. His plan was for us not to divorce and for me to simply trust and rely on him to do the right things until I got on my feet. Now that I’ve regained my balance and I am divorced I can see the humor there. Trust him?
A year before he walked away, I had received a medical diagnosis that changed my life. The ex initially told me that if I served him with divorce papers, he would immediately end my medical insurance. As it turned out, he couldn’t do that. Filing first did give me some protection with regard to medical insurance for myself and for the younger kids. In the end, before the divorce was finalized (and I would have lost my insurance for certain), the ex lost his job, went onto unemployment, and 13 months later began drawing his Social Security. At that time I had to face living with a serious medical condition using my own resources. I’m still dealing with that; but I’m not panicked in the way I was at first. Even with the loss of one of my part time jobs and the other part time job not providing health care benefits…
So many of the current articles about divorcing baby boomers talk about, yes, making sure to divide up the 401Ks equitably, but also talk about how couples simply drift apart and usually the woman does something like come into her own and file. That was so not me. I was thinking of our future together all the while I was missing his big signals and believing his constant stream of lies. I was working hard at engaging with him in a therapist’s office to try to do the impossible — hold a relationship together while the man lied to me and to the therapist.
Eventually, after the first horrifying months without the ex, I did realize I could survive. I did realize I could take care of myself. This wasn’t the life that I had imagined for myself, that’s for sure. He really broadsided me, but I was going to manage.
This is where I just can’t quite relate to many of the internet articles and self-help books about gray divorce. I can relate to a marriage dissolving after 30-some years. I simply cannot relate to the articles that talk about ex-spouses helping one another plan for the future and plan for the kids’ futures. In my situation, there was no way to negotiate anything. To quote my former partner, he was going off “singing into the sunset.”
Good for him. Now he’s gone. Now I’m in charge of my own meager resources. Now I can stay up late and work long hours and meditate when I want. I can travel with my kids to the Bay Area. I can think about moving to the city. Or to San Francisco. Or London. Or Athens. Really. My meager resources may not allow for those last two, but, hey, a woman can dream.