Erica Jong is one of my favourite writers and her book “Fear of fifty” has a chapter titled “Divorce and after” in which she says that “divorce is my generation’s coming of age ceremony - a ritual scarring that makes everything that happens afterwards seem bearable.
We marry but by the time we are 30, 40 or 50, we are different people. Our values have shifted. We now want different lives but with different loves.” We as Africans would like to dismiss this as “Western values”, but the truth is that we are not much different. Perhaps they are just more honest with themselves than we are.
I have a friend in his 70s who is facing an imminent divorce at an age when one assumes that his wife would have come to terms with his character and traits, both positive and negative. But alas, it is not to be. Even at 70 people have demands and expectations. No one is waiting to die. People can live with problems for many years, but a breaking point arrives sooner or later. His just took longer than most.
No matter how sick and tired a person is, divorce feels like cutting off your hand. It is painful and traumatic. First, there is the anger of wasted years, of feeling betrayed. Then fear sets in, followed by depression and finally comes acceptance and coming to terms with the new reality. The children adjust and make their own peace with their parents. Hopefully the parents, if they are smart, will not use the children as punching bags to throw venom on their former partner. Then life continues. As the French say, “Ce la vie”.
Christian marriage was meant to be “for better or worse, till death do us apart”. The Muslims are more pragmatic. During the Islamic marriage ceremony, the man is urged to marry in good faith and if necessary, to divorce in good faith. It is part of the ceremony! The Church has a special counselling for all new couples before marriage, the Muslims don’t, but the divorce rate is about the same. So much for the counselling. So, whether we like it or not divorce is part of our lives – our ritual passage of life.
Society’s judgment of divorce has softened over time, but women are still referred as “she’s divorced” but rarely will they call a man as “he’s divorced” as if the divorce is the fault of the woman. People have come to terms that some marriages fail, and people move on.
Divorce can be an act of courage. Why should a person suffer and waste years in an unhappy and sometimes abusive marriage. Many couples often realise within a few months or years that they are totally incompatible and know that this marriage is not working but they stay “because of the children”.
It is true that parental separation and divorce is traumatic on children, but so is growing up with parents in a loveless marriage with constant friction and tension. A couple will “dutifully” stay in an unhappy marriage for years, yet they will not have the courage to divorce.
They will finally divorce at an age when it is difficult for a woman to find another mate and perhaps find happiness. If it does not work, then both must have the courage to set themselves free. It is more difficult for an older woman to find a new mate than a man.
Divorce can also be an act of cowardice. Many people rush to divorce in haste. Men are particularly guilty of this, often caused by confusion of a new passionate affair. Marriage is a responsibility and a commitment from both sides.
Men will then return home and start creating conditions that will force the wife to leave. They don’t have the courage to face the truth. Such cowardice often leads to family abuse and it is the children that suffer the most.
Marriage, whether in church, mosque or informal is a quid pro quo with valid expectations and you cannot just walk away without fulfilling your part of the bargain. Your part as a man is to contribute; materially, physically and emotionally.
Think twice before you walk away!