“In-Confidence” Anonymous Series Round-Up- “Conversations About Divorce”

November 2019

Unedited, Anonymous Essays About Divorce

“People always come at you about your divorce nervously, tentatively. Especially as a woman, there somehow seems to often be an assumption that you are the ‘left’ party, that you probably didn’t want this. I’m not sure what gives people that impression, I’m not sure how to turn that stigma around. One issue at a time, I guess.

So when people hear that I got divorced and look at me with questioning eyes, I always run to save them. “It’s a mazal tov!” I tell them, “I’m free!”

Divorce is a stigma. Divorce hurts. The change in your ‘status’, the way people in the community now view you, it’s painful. Even more painful is to watch your friends move forward in their lives without you. We all went to sem together, we got engaged, married, had our first babies, together. But now, as everyone moves on to more babies and new levels in their marriage, I am often left to struggle with feeling ‘behind’. And scared that perhaps I will never get to experience the things that they do. What if I never get to have that many children? What if I never get to do *that* part of marriage? What if…what if…what if.

But the what if’s can break you, and perspective is everything. So I have learned to attune myself to the positives of what I’ve gained. I’ve gained the freedom to feel safe in my home. I am no longer afraid of the strife or pain that I will face when I walk through that door. I am now free to raise my children the way I believe, in a home full of warmth and love and positivity; instead of one filled with anger and resentment and cold wars that are sometimes interrupted by angry, heated moments of fighting.

I have gained independence, closeness to Hashem, the ability to see myself clearly again. In the dark times when I have no one, and have to figure out how to move forward alone, I remember that that’s not true. I have Hashem, and He is here and He will help me. I freed myself from a slave to become an eved Hashem again, the husband who loves me and guides me and is always there. G-d willing, someday He will see fit to give me a new husband, but until then, well. At least I’m free of the bondage I was in.”

“It was at that moment when I realized that I was one of those manipulated women I heard so much about, and I didn’t know what to do.

It was at that moment when I realized that my husband was not who I’ve thought he was, and that I felt so alone and so lost.

It was at that moment when I realized that all my questions and concerns about my marriage and about my husband didn’t come from a place of perfectionism and high expectations, but from a place so deep in my heart, a place of raw feelings impossible to describe, that suddenly I had answers and I was able to understand everything that was going on.

That was at the moment when I realized that my life was about to change forever.

I then had so many questions: how on Earth am I going to support myself and my kids? How will I be looked at in the eyes of my community? Me a divorcee? That’s an oxymoron! I put all my heart and soul into this family! Was I being abused? Did I actually have relations with a sex addict?

Will he give me the Gett?

All those questions mean nothing when your children’s safety is at stake. All those questions mean nothing when you realize that you’ve been living a lie and that you have an opportunity to turn your future into a beautiful one, being who you want to be and living to the fullest.

That was the moment I understood.

That was the moment I became wiser.

That was the moment that changed it all.

I understood that when something doesn’t sit right with me, I must listen to that little voice inside. I became wiser and learned that in order to grow, I must elaborate on my feelings in a safe space AKA therapy, and no, that doesn’t mean I’m crazy. It means I’ve decided to take an active role in my life. I cared about myself and my children’s well-being more than I could care about the gossip being talked about me.

I felt so powerful.

I understood that being divorced doesn’t say anything about a person. Here I was, smart, capable, good looking and hard working – divorced! It can really happen to anyone. I learned to never ever judge. I learned to surround myself with people who support me. I understood that no one is immune to hardship, no matter who the person is and how nice one can be. Hardships are real. This time it was my turn. I felt so close to Hashem. I felt that I needed to cry to Him and I felt Him telling me: I took you out of there so that you can rebuild your life once again. There’s always a second chance. It’ll be good.

And good it is.”

“To the people who have distanced themselves from me due to my new relationship status:

I am not diseased.
I am not contagious.
If I stand near you, I promise you won’t catch the “divorce bug.”

Please stop treating me this way. Before even finding out what happened, you’ve already turned your back. Before even asking if I’m okay, you approach me in trepidation. Why? Because you heard it. You heard the word that now seems to define me—divorced.

And once I’ve confirmed that, yes, it’s true, you say “I’m so sorry” in a concerned matter and assure me that if I need anything, you’ll always be here for me. But you’re not. I ask if you want to go out, but you always seem to find a new excuse. I ask instead if you’d like to speak on the phone, but even that is too much. We used to speak almost every day, but now that my marital status has been checked from the box “married” to “divorced”, our friendship has suddenly changed.

But once in a while you text me and say, “hope you’re doing well!” Or “how are you doing?” So artificial. So ingenuous. How can you possibly expect me to say anything but “doing great!” while I’m doing the opposite of, when I know I’ve already scared you off.

I see the way your friends react to me when I casually say, “I was once married”. I see the way their demeanor changes and their faces contort when they realize I’m the D word—divorced. I notice, I see. And I see you do nothing in reaction but join them, unbeknownst to you. But hey, I guess I know I can still come to you if I need anything, right?

Divorce is hard. It is both relieving yet heartbreaking; freeing yet lonely. I may be free and happy to have just escaped my mental anguish and psychological abuse by leaving my marriage— but make no mistake—I am as lonely as ever and deeply in pain. I had thought I would at least have my friends to lean on. But I was wrong. Because as soon as the words escape my tongue—those dreadful words—“I am divorced,” the whole of me disappears to you.”

“I survived the most debilitating anxiety I’ve ever felt. The kind of anxiety where I would literally feel my heart pounding in my chest all day. The kind where I couldn\’t sit at my desk without shaking.

I survived the darkest depression that I ever felt. So dark it that made me feel like I was sinking into a deep black hole. So dark that all I wanted to do is crawl into that hole and be buried inside of it. So dark all I wanted to do was sleep.

I survived the deepest shame and embarrassment I ever felt. I was so ashamed of my failed marriage and having moved back into my parents house at twenty eight. So ashamed that I isolated myself by ignoring texts and sending calls straight to voicemail. I was so ashamed that I buried myself in work because that felt safe.

After a hellish four year divorce in and out of courts you’d think that was the worst of it. But that’s not where it ends. For me, the day to day struggle of living within the confines of our custody agreement continues to haunt me.

Imagine what it’s like having to mediate and come to an agreement with the man you once loved but now utterly despise. Somehow you need to be fair and maintain some semblance of composure in the process. It was nearly impossible. Now every decision of my life is dictated by the agreement we signed several years ago. When I spend time with my son. Where he goes to school. Where I can live. When we’re allowed to go on vacation. When I I’m locked into it. I feel trapped. No matter what I negotiated back then and how many scenarios I tried to account for there’s always something that comes up. Because that’s life.

I’ll never forget the wedding that my son missed because his dad felt that a second cousin is not “real” family. Therefore the family wedding did not override his time with his son. Alternate options were offered to make up time but he refused them all. There was nothing I could do other than go to court. It simply wasn’t worth the stress, time and money. So instead I suffered the constant questions, ”But where is xxx? Why couldn’t he be here?” And then the consolation, “At least you didn’t have to worry about finding a babysitter tonight.” What I wouldn’t give to have had to worry about finding a sitter so that my son could attend the Chuppah! That single comment hurts so bad. Even now when I think of it, it feels like a knife stabbing my heart and a punch in the gut.

A custody schedule is not comparable to getting a babysitter to have a night out. That’s a choice you make as a parent. But I have no choice over my time with my son. There is deep dull and lingering pain I feel every time someone asks “Where is your son?” And I answer, “He’s with his dad.” There’s nothing more insensitive than when a person replies, “It must be great to have a break from your kid every other Sunday and during the week. I wish I had that.” No you don’t! You’ll never know how much effort it takes to schedule and coordinate playdates or family get togethers around a custody agreement. You don’t understand how painful it is not to be able to freely take your child with you at a moments notice? You’ll never understand how infuriating it is when your child has no choice but to miss out on numerous activities and family functions because he is scheduled to be with his father.

This is why divorce hurts so much. I no longer grieve the relationship I had my ex husband. I grieve over the precious time that I will never have with my son. The sadness creeps in almost daily as I struggle to overcome these challenges. The feelings of anxiety, depression and shame have long muted and replaced with guilt. Unlike anxiety or depression this has no diagnosis. There is no pill that make this better. And it’s stings bitterly every day.”

“It’s hard. It’s super hard. At first, it seems that everything has to be a secret and so there’s nobody to talk to, and yet you need information more than anything. So you reach out. Tell a few people, ask a few questions. Learn a little bit. You hear others talking, casual conversation, about another person, so much farther down the road, where you wish you could be: “Did you hear about X? She’s getting divorced!” “Oh my goodness, that’s so sad. Were they in therapy?”

“OF COURSE THEY WERE!” You want to scream. They tried, (or at least one of them did), and they agonized and analyzed for months, probably years, before making the decision.

“What about the kids?” The kids? Why do you think they stayed married for so long? They (or one of them) thought it would be better if they were together. They thought they (or one of them) could make it work for them. And then they (or, most likely, one of them), made the decision. And felt at peace. And realized it was right. And then had to begin that long, dark road with nobody to lead them. If they were lucky, they told a friend who they knew was struggling as well, hoping that the friend could guide them from experience. Support groups won’t talk to you until you’re separated, they said – for six weeks at least. Nobody wants to be accused of encouraging the D word. But what about the husband who won’t move out? What if you’re sleeping separately, living in the house at different hours?

You find yourself Angry all the time. Where you were once, passive, calm, positive, now there’s a storm brewing inside, and you keep thinking it won’t get worse and then it does and then you hear curse words in your brain, words you would never use aloud – or would you. The anger is irrational, sometimes, but stays and stays and won’t go.

And then there’s the G word. Will he give it, won’t he? How to make it happen? Mutterings about it being a “man’s world” and needing a rabbi who can convince the beis din that you put your all, your soul, your life into this marriage and when it sucked you into nothingness you realized you needed to get out, for yourself, for your kids.

F is for friends, which becomes a series of sharp judgments. The one who just sits and listens stays, the one who interrogates gets shuffled to the side. You owe nobody anything. You have spent years building up yourself, your strength for this. You deserve a life, to be yourself, to stop conforming to one man’s vision of what and who you must be, even when it squashed you into a tiny box that stopped your heart.

Except your kids. Ah, the kids. The C word, if you will. Your heart breaks, your throat goes numb. Will they be okay? Only God knows – and He’s the only one you can trust to take care of them. You love them, you hold them, you suppress your anxieties about their father’s capacity for fathering, you find a Tehilim in your hands more than you’ve ever had in your life. It’s interesting, isn’t it – when the people fade away, when the sounds of the leaders with their terrible advice and well-meaning encouragement die down, all that is left is you and Him. And He is infallible. He will do what’s best. Without that knowledge, there’s nothing. With it, you can arise out of the hole of the darkness – not today, maybe not this year, but you will. You will find the light.”

“I’ve been wondering lately about phantom pain. I’m not in danger of losing any of my limbs. Instead, I feel a strange pressure on the fourth finger of my left hand. Phantom rings. The strange part is that I haven’t worn them in six years. And for the first time in a long time I’m in a good place. “Come back to me in ten years, when my kids are all grown up,” I tell people.

And I mean it.

Why the pain then? Why do I feel the heat rising up from my neck when they ask me about my husband? Why do I think it would be so much easier to create a fake one? Phantom husband. Is this the pain of failure? I chose wrong. I did wrong. I was wrong. Is this the pain of defeat? I tried and it didn’t work. So many others have figured it out, but not me. Is this the pain of not fitting in? I’m not like everyone else. No matter how hard I try for normal, it always seems to be just out of reach. Phantom self.

And I wonder lately about phantom pain. Phantom rings, phantom husband, phantom self.

And then I wonder what would happen if I scared away the phantoms that haunt me, and stand alone. As me.

But then I feel the pressure of those phantom rings again, and that momentary surge of courage dries up.

And I wonder if this is the life I’m destined to live. One that has me living in the shadows I’ve created for myself from things that don’t even exist.”

“When I was 22 I got married. 3 weeks in, he decided he didn’t want to be married anymore and left. 2 Months later I was divorced. I fought for this marriage to work, but you can only do so much when one partner wants to work for it and the other does not. By 23 I found myself divorced, broken and lost. Without my friends, therapist and family, I would not be where I am today…Happily married to an amazing man for 6 years and counting, 2 beautiful children, and job and life I am so proud of! I will say to this day, the hardest thing I ever had to go through was the divorce, but to this day I will tell you how grateful I am for that experience because it shaped me into who I was meant to be.

I wrote this letter right after I received my get to all of the people that supported me and gave me little inklings of hope and love. A get I wasn’t given right away and still to this day don’t understand why men have that much power over the future lives of their ex wives. But that\’s for another time…

This letter was written at a point in my life where I felt so low, so broken, so used…Who would want me now that i’ve been “used”? Who am I and what do I even want anymore? Where do I go from here?

To My Dearest Family and Friends,

Life is full of happiness! I have always realized and believed this, but it has never been more difficult to absorb it into my life then right now.

My wedding day was the most joyful day of my life. I was marrying the man of my dreams with whom I would build the most beautiful home and family. All my dreams were starting to become a reality. Things were coming together and really starting to come to fruition. I could see and feel the beauty and happiness in life. It wasn’t hard at all. All I could think and say was that Hashem is so good to me. Then, in a split second, the happiness dissipated. I was put under extreme emotional pain. I thought, “how could this happen? not to me! I only hear this kind of stuff happens to people…but not me! I was so smart. I was so sure! I knew my husband so well! I knew our goals and life dreams. I loved him and he loved me.” I fought and fought for this to work out. To this day, I don’t know what happened. It came completely out of the blue.

I was thinking…how can a person change and make a complete 180 in a matter of a few weeks, days, minutes? When the Jews were at Har Sinai about to receive the torah, they made an egel hazahav/a golden calf. They just witnessed, first hand, some of the most public and huge miracles of all times! They saw Hashem split the sea and kill their enemies! They were free from Mitzrayim! Now they are about to receive the Torah from Hashem, Himself, and they start bowing down to a golden calf! They made a 180…without them even realizing they were doing anything wrong! It was so clear in their minds that everything they were doing was correct. As an outsider looking in, we think, how could this happen? It was so clear a second ago! But it just proves that people can change, for the good or bad in a second, and life is full of surprises and tests. It just takes a lot of patience. One more day, and Jews could have received the torah!

Yesterday, 2 months (which seemed like an eternity) after he said he wanted a divorce, I finally received my get. I saw him for the first time in 10 weeks and it was, hands down, the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. When I saw him, and looked uncomfortably into his emotionless eyes, I realized I might never know the reason why this happened, and I have to be ok with that. What I did have clarity in, however, was that I am able to move on. I am a strong person and Hashem only gives people the nissayons/tests that can overcome. Everyone has tests in life…whether it be tripping on the sidewalk, losing your keys or studying for the wrong test, these tests made you who you are, which is one unbelievable person! I also have tests, and one of them happened to be very humiliating and public…but it makes me who I am!

I am now, Baruch Hashem, out of this chapter of my life. My possibilities are endless and I have a whole new perspective and love of life.

Words cannot express how much love and appreciation I have for you…yes each and everyone of you! I could not have gotten through this extremely difficult time in my life without you. For the first six weeks of this nightmare, I was not in contact with anyone. I was afraid of what people might say and react. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me or be uncomfortable around me. I am sorry for ever doubting, because what I got was the complete opposite of what I was afraid of. You all opened your arms and let me in. You gave me the strength and support I needed. The little text messages, the words of encouragement, the phone calls, or just knowing your thoughts and prayers are with me, got me through this chapter.

I give you a bracha that you may you have the clarity to realize that life is full of happiness no matter what is thrown at you.

I am so blessed that Hashem gave me and surrounded me with such incredible and supportive family and friends.

“G-d doesn’t give you the people you want, He gives you the people you NEED – To help you to hurt you, to leave you, to love you & to make you into the person you were meant to be. Life isn\’t about waiting for the storm to pass, its about learning to dance in the rain!”

I love you with all my heart,

“While keeping this anonymous, I would like to introduce myself. I am a modern orthodox Jewish single woman living in New York, and more than anything in the world, I would love to meet a good man and have a family. Not exactly 21 anymore, I have been divorced for many years, and I barely remember I was even married. Being single has become somewhat of my identity. Whether you or someone you know is single, divorced, widowed or it’s complicated, this is for you.

Needless to say, it has been an emotional personal journey of self-discovery and strength as each year passes and my relationship status remains the same. My hope and faith have had its ups and downs but I have thankfully found my healthy peaceful balance.

I have had so many years to work through much of the realities and pain of this unique situation. Most people I know have been fortunate to meet their soulmates early on in life, late teens, early 20’s and even into their early 30’s. Somewhere along the line, my single friends were getting married, leaving me behind while they appropriately moved on with their lives and started their families. Not sure why I haven’t been lucky in love. I think I clean up okay, I’m smart and caring, I have a job, an apartment, come from a great family and community, I have so much to offer and yet, no one has taken me up on it yet. Making peace with wanting something so much that it consumes you is a very hard task. I wasn’t giving up on my goal so much as it was freeing myself from the pain of not succeeding in this seemingly normal life exercise. That right there, ‘succeed’- does that suggest have failed at something? Sometimes it feels that way.

Looking back, it has been a very long road. I am so proud of myself for how far I have come on this journey. It is not easy being an observant woman who loves and cherishes our beautiful religion but is more often on the sidelines of the customs and practice. I am of the generation where we are not all equal, and our differences make us unique. We face the tough realities of not fitting in everywhere, making peace with failures and accepting the gifts we do have. I could focus on what I don’t have but likely that is a long list, or I can focus on what I do have which is likely an even longer list. I needed to change my way of thinking and looking at this with two eyes open and tell myself what I would advise a friend in the same headspace.

The purpose of my writing this today is to shed some insight into some of the realities we singles face that most people wouldn’t think about. I imagine it is hard to understand what life is like for someone in my position if you have been married since you were young.

It’s okay, no one expects everyone to fully understand, but I would like to break some things down to provide some of that perspective.

As a single woman, I have dealt with depression and anxiety and the obvious feeling of loneliness. With that comes a need that when I was down- I could not express, but today I can say thank you to my family and friends who I couldn’t even see at the time were right there by my side, sharing my pain. I felt so lonely, venting to my loved ones who ironically kept me company in my feeling of solitude. So, I say to you reader, just listen and be there, because it is appreciated and perhaps realized later at times when we can see it more clearly. Sometimes the simplest of things can make someone feel like they are not alone, even a text wishing someone a Shabbat Shalom or whatever reason you think of that person, it’s very meaningful.

Another thing I have encountered and only recently have been courageous enough to share with my inner circle is that I get anxiety around social simcha settings. How can something so joyous, present so much pain? It’s bittersweet. A wedding or any family celebration is very hard for some singles. My friends and family are well intended and come from such a good place when they invite me to their various events and want me to part of their simcha and yet, it’s a tough one for me. I am so happy for others beyond my own issues but sometimes I get anxiety and don’t feel comfortable attending the wedding of someone half my age. It’s very painful. Luckily, I am big simcha cheerleader, so my excitement outweighs my anxious realities. But I take it simcha by simcha, and do my best.

Being single means that you are a constant guest for yomim tovim. I just want to host my own meals for my husband and my family. I am such an introvert and being single really tests my nature. I am happy when I am surrounded by people over a holiday but long for the days to host my own table with my own family. Even going to Shul can present its anxieties. It’s hard to sit amongst your peers and be the only one without a head-covering, a blaring announcement to anyone who is paying attention and another feeling of being different than the majority.

Something I realized a few years ago is that my immediate family, my parents and siblings are my main team. However, my siblings have all married off and have their own nuclear family. Our dynamic is appropriately second to them. They each have a spouse and children and then there is me, single aunt. Luckily, I am very close with each of my siblings, but there are times I will remind them that they are my only family and how much they mean to me.

One of the expressions that bothers me the most is when a single gal makes a misstep or mistake and someone is right there waiting to say, “well now you know why she is still single.” This always bothers me since the implication is that couples are without flaws, there must be something wrong with me and the people need to know what it is. There is nothing wrong with me and it happens to be that my love story has not yet begun.

I literally thank God every day for a healthy head and mindset, for the gifts I do have that others are praying for, having all this time as someone single to do more for the world and community. I stand here today, not yet resolved, not at the end of my story, I stand here strong on my journey, sharing intimate feelings that I hope help provide others with insights and understanding and to reach anyone who is in my shoes to say, it’s okay.

You are okay. We are okay.”

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Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.

She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.

She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.

Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.

Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.