Let me tell you up front: this is not a piece about celebrity breakups, no matter how trendy an article like that would be right now. I won’t attempt to analyze Kim and Kanye’s train wreck of a public divorce, and I won’t make this about Meagan Good and DeVon Franklin, nor Chanel Iman and Sterling Shepard or any other famous former couple. This piece is about me, Lillian Prince, a 38-year-old divorcee who is finally coming to terms with and releasing the shame that I carried when my marriage ended.
In the story of my early dating life, I reveled in being transparent and open with my family, friends, and social media followers about the highs and lows of my relationships. Like most people on social media though, I was only sharing my highlight reel. When the time came, I shared footage of my engagement, and spared no details of my over-the-top wedding. I even went on to promote my book, 10 Dates Later…, which put a comical spin on some of the horrid, yet relatable dates I had over the years, and highlighted my wedding as the beginning of my “Happily Ever After” in the last chapter.
Shortly after the wedding, my book put me on stages and in front of news cameras as an expert advocating for healthy, long-distance relationships because I believed I was in one. I shared dating tips with audiences of single women who all wanted a ring that seemed oh so pretty, and oh so necessary, but oh so out of reach. I remembered being part of that audience, so I knew and said all the things I needed to hear not too long before.
I built a whole platform around a marriage I walked away from two years later.
In retrospect, I knew very early on that my marriage might not endure “‘til death do us part.” If I’m being completely honest, I knew it the Monday after my wedding – literally one business day into the marriage, while half of our 225 wedding guests still hadn’t made it back home from the celebration. By the time I filed for divorce two years later, after the obligatory couple’s counseling (both with pastors and with therapists), and after we journaled and talked and bargained with one another, it really wasn’t a hard decision. So if I was making the right decision, and if we were both happier walking out of the courthouse than we were walking down the aisle, then why was I so embarrassed to say it was over?
Could it have been because everyone’s natural response is to say, “I’m so sorry,” when you tell them? Would it have anything to do with the flood of social media memes that imply any woman who walks away from a relationship simply “can’t keep a man?” Maybe it’s society’s tendency to value the length of marriages without real consideration for the work, the turmoil or any of the sacrifices that come along with the timestamp.
My parents were happily married for over 33 years before my father passed, and I’ve wondered if this is where my guilt and shame began.
I grew up in a church where divorce was not only frowned upon but was the topic of many Sunday morning sermons. I vividly remember our Pastor saying, “… and if you get married and realize you married a bear… you better hug him!” Yes, that was the punchline: Give this bear a bear hug. And even in my 11-year-old mind, I had questions. What other options does she have? But what if the bear bites her head off? You really think she should just…stay married? But, as you know, if you were raised in a Black church, you don’t question God and you don’t question the man of God, so I entered adulthood with the notion that I truly only had one shot at this; often emphatically and proudly saying, “Divorce is not an option for me.”
Oh, but it was.
There comes a point in every adult’s life when you reflect on your childhood. You remember the values and lessons that your parents and support systems taught you and you realize that while some things still work for you, others don’t. You also recognize that your parents were learning too, so you not only extend grace, but you also understand that their childhood and formative experiences were the foundation for the lessons they wanted to instill in you.
I’m fully aware that I’m currently stressing the importance of something to my son that he will one day challenge. It’ll be something that I fully and wholly believe in, and he’ll decide it just doesn’t work for him. And as an adult, he’ll have that right. Hopefully, I’ll be alive to see it. To see the moment when he recognizes that every “happily ever after” doesn’t look the same, that the path less traveled isn’t less traveled at all, it’s just the one that people don’t post, publish, or talk about. We sometimes don’t share the detours and the u-turns in our lives, not realizing that it’s those moments that make our stories even more valuable and respected.
I hope that my son learns that he can bounce back from anything and that starting over contains far too many opportunities for it to be a bad thing. Whether he decides to stay single or get married, and if he marries, whether he chooses to stay married or walk away, my only prayer is that he finds happiness and peace with every decision he makes. The only way that I can be sure of that is by honestly and unashamedly telling him my story.
So when my son and I take that inevitable trip down memory lane, I’ll let him know that long before he was born his mommy got a divorce. And while I know it’ll be shocking to his young mind that I had a life before him, I’ll let him know that “divorce” is not a dirty word, because, if anything, it’s a courageous one. I’ll tell him how I boldly veered from what I had been taught and decided to be both fearless and flexible enough to reconsider my concept of “forever.” I’ll tell him, and I can’t stress this enough, that it was one of the bravest decisions of my life. “Divorce” can’t be a dirty word because it’s both a reality and our right to pivot, to evolve, to learn, and to grow. “Divorce” is not a dirty word because it was not only my definitive decision to leave my former life, but it was also my separation from the opinions and judgments of people who really don’t matter. Most importantly for me, divorce has meant that I could shed any self-doubt that would have caused me to question or second-guess my ability to move forward in life without the trail of a failed marriage following me.
My divorce is definitely not my favorite part of my story, but I can finally say it’s not the chapter I skip anymore.