I’ve sat up nights wondering why (divorce) is so different from a break-up. Why does society make it so tough to make this decision? We cannot choose the family we’re born into but we surely can choose the partner we want to be with. In the event of that choice not working out, can’t we be given the choice to move on? Why does it sound like it’s not much to ask, but it’s made to seem like it is?
Drawing from that experience, I’m going to attempt to break it down into a few pointers on how you can announce your divorce, thereby also breaking the shackles of stigma that weigh you down.
When you say ‘good morning’ to an acquaintance in a sad tone, they’re bound to ask you what’s wrong and how you can make it a good morning. However, if you say ‘good morning’ with a smile on your face, full of happiness and confidence, it might be met with another good morning in return. Similarly, how you tell someone you’re divorced, or getting divorced, lies in how you say it. When I say ‘someone’, I’m referring to someone you don’t want unnecessary questions or advice from—the acquaintances you tend to want to stay away from. Trust me, you’re not expected to talk about divorce in a positive, happy light. Confuse them. Say it with so much conviction that they have very little to say in return. I’ve tried and tested it, and it definitely works.
But hey, do not confuse this with toxic positivity. I’m in no way suggesting you need to look happy while feeling low inside. I’m only recommending a tactic I used, that helped me overcome a lot of unwanted attention and advice. It’s in no way demeaning what you’re feeling, but it can act as a shield to protect you.
Once you’ve broken the news, you decide how much you want to share. I decided I wasn’t letting anybody other than my close family and friends know what I went through. It was an active choice I made. What I experienced was definitely not for public consumption. Anybody who didn’t fit into my private and immediate circle didn’t need more information. So, when I did tell extended family and secondary friends about the separation, or my divorce, I merely informed them. I didn’t divulge details, and I deliberately used text messages to avoid further discussion. I also made it very clear that I didn’t wish to entertain questions, opinions or suggestions. Even if it meant I was more curt than usual, I decided this was the path I wanted to tread. Despite this, my mother was subjected to some questioning, but because I had set clear boundaries it was manageable.
When you are direct with your communication, not everybody will like it. You know what? It doesn’t matter. If someone from my external circle chooses to not speak with me as often, it doesn’t affect my life. If I have taken the call to cut off someone who managed to sneak in unnecessary questions despite my request not to, then I have no qualms about letting them go. Put yourself first, and you’ll see the magic it can do. Proceed with caution and with care.
If you have gone through an unhappy marriage but continued to show the world a fake-happy version of yourself, you’ll find this helpful to get through these trying times. You could fake it once, so go ahead and fake it again. Let those who create this stigma be stunned by your confidence. Save your real self for those in your close inner circle. You can break down and share your most vulnerable moments with them. But for those who watch you from the outside, shut them down with your confidence. They thrive on the weak, so show them your strength.
Stigma hurts different people in different ways. Words have a tendency to impact us. They can drastically change how you feel about yourself and send you down a path you don’t want to tread. As much as you can, in your capacity, try to shape the narrative so you have control over how people talk to you or treat you. There’s no foolproof way considering how intrusive society is, but it’s always worth trying.
Try, try, try, till you’re free.
Excerpted with permission from ‘Divorce is Normal’ by Shasvathi Siva, published by Penguin Random House India, 256 pages, ₹399