Updated: Jan 9
The age I was when I thought I met the love of my life, and the year we officially got divorced. Our first date was my 21st birthday so I started growing old with someone almost instantly; maybe too soon and too fast.
Divorce is like death - of a union, yourself, and the future you imagined on your wedding day. Add a kid, and you are wrecked with guilt for changing his paradigm too. Add a religious upbringing, and you are burdened by the weight of a society and culture that doesn't see you as whole when you're separate. Add codependency, and you are haunted by your past - a string of unhealthy choices that only led to years of resentment in the end.
Our marriage lasted less than our age difference (maybe our age difference ended our marriage?) Our divorce proceedings lasted longer than our engagement, and the divorce cost more than our wedding.
I was probably at my lowest the first half of this year. Getting a divorce in a foreign country, when you have no family in state and global pandemic travel restrictions prevent anyone close to you from visiting is hard. When I say I am grateful for the support, I mean, I am so grateful for the support I received.
I'm going to pretend I'm writing an acknowledgement section in a book because divorce really is a new chapter so here we go...
Thank you to my parents who had a difficult time when I first told them I was going to file for divorce. It cannot be easy living far away from your kids. They had no idea how the divorce would play out. They couldn't be here in person because they're both in the high risk category for COVID and travel bans restricted their entry even if they wanted to be here. I will forever be grateful to the almost daily call to entertain my son while I worked. I am thankful that they called frequently to specifically ask if I was doing ok mentally. I'm grateful they asked if I was doing the basics - eating healthy, exercising, and getting fresh air. It really is the small things that kept me going.
I did not anticipate taking so much time off work to talk to a lawyer. As someone who rarely cries, I did not anticipate crying off camera during meetings because I knew I had to be present at work but also couldn't keep my stress in any longer. Thank you to my boss who acknowledged my need to step away occasionally and my peers who stepped up to mentor and manage my team in my absence. Thank you to my coworker who met with me virtually every single week to check in on my mental health. When the divorce was finalized, I wanted to call people individually on Teams to thank them for being there, silently but surely. I had a high year professionally. I grew my team 3X. I presented with the State's health commissioner and a doctor I admired. I won three awards recognizing my contributions to public health and as a mentor. All of that couldn't have come at a better time where I needed affirmation and positivity. I was able to be my best self at work because I was surrounded by a lot of support.
I did not intend to call Indianapolis home but I now call it the city that adopted me. Friends have asked why I chose to stay here after the divorce. I'm currently choosing to be a single parent in a foreign country, and it's not easy. When I was sick last year, hurled over with yet another autoimmune flare up, I realized I had no one to call to watch my son so I could rest. However, I've lived here the longest my entire life. Even from a distance, I had so much support from friends in different time zones. If I needed someone, I could message someone 10 hours ahead or someone 3 hours behind. I am so grateful to friends from elementary school in Pune, high school in Kodaikanal, college in Anderson and prior workplaces that reached out, asked how I was doing, and sent their love and support. I felt the world hugging me albeit from a long distance.
Just, thank you! You've all been so great for my mental health.
The year I felt every emotion in my body. The year I stopped fooling myself by telling myself I was the healthy one. I'm usually doing fine until someone asks, "How are you really doing?" then the waterproof eyeliner facade I've built crumbles. It's amazing how age changes your perception. I've learned many things by breaking.
When you've spent a third of your life with someone, it is hard to break away from unhealthy patterns you've both set in place. It took me a long time but what I thought was empathy was actually codependence. As I approach 32, I wish I gave my 24-year-old self as much grace as I did my 33-year-old partner at the time. I viewed many things through the lens of depression rather than recognizing how different our values were - from finances to family.
When a therapist told me I had high functioning anxiety, I agreed whole heartedly. At this age, I've named my anxiety, and any time I feel like my anxiety is taking over... I say "Not now, Nancy." The personification helps me humorously acknowledge her, and let go.
When I look back on some of the decisions I made while married, I recognize that I was over-functioning because someone else was under-functioning. This is my go to response; the product of boarding school, funding two degrees mostly independently, and valuing self-sufficiency.
Naively thinking I was helping, balancing out our skills, and making our relationship work, I've come to accept that what I did was actual enable others to under function and use me. It perpetuated our unbalanced relationship, denied many of my needs, drained my energy, and aggravated health issues. I'm responsible for that pattern. It made me resentful, tired, and sick.
At 31, if I got married again and found out through a creditor that my partner had dodged their student loans and taxes for half a decade, I'd leave instead of taking on the emotional and physical toll of sorting through unpaid bills. I even ended up paying for the student loan for 5 years. I deeply regret treating my 24-year-old self with less respect than she deserved. When our divorce focused on the 50/50 division of assets, it was hard for me to not to feel betrayed. I didn't understand why the person who minimized my reactions to their unpaid debt, and the fact that it took away from my joy of buying a car or house with them suddenly cared about money.
When my internet was turned off within a week because I didn't have the information to change it to my name, I couldn't help but wonder how I waited months and years for some financial issues to be resolved. I realized that they didn't have the patience they expected from me all along, and I had been fed excuses for a very long time. I have so many grievances and I'm sure they have a longer list too.
I can't keep looking back or the side mirror, at all the things that I should not have done.
Divorce is two people failing in love.
I'd bring up an issue, be met with apathy or avoidance, keep bringing the issue up with more and more resentment, wait months, and still have the same outcome. He'd bring up an issue. Sometimes, I'd be empathetic. Other times, I'd be mad that I had to over function again or resentful that they hadn't learned to be responsible despite our age difference.
When I get angry looking back, I remind myself that I'm happy alone. When a date told me I seemed to be thriving after the divorce, I wanted to dance because I truly am glad I left. Towards the end, I just knew I couldn't be a good partner because I simply cannot be with someone who is financially irresponsible. I work hard, and want to be with someone who respects my time and identity. I do not want to spend any amount of time dealing with creditors for even the simple bills.
I've also learned that I cannot be in a relationship where I have to lower my self-respect.
From the beginning, there were so many jokes about my otherness. I did not need to spend more than an hour explaining why it is inappropriate to call someone a "mail order bride". It's both racist and sexist. Instead, I spent months with the hope that one day these men in their mid-thirties would learn. I cannot be with someone whose ideals are different from their actions. If you have more tweets about BLM than friends of color, sometimes, you should listen to their experiences that will likely include instances where your words and actions were ignorant.
Reading about racism and joining a protest downtown is a distant way to be a part of the solution. I reached a point where I started to wonder if the books were working if your first reaction to racism is to pretend like it didn't happen, dwell on intentions over impact, and blame the person on the receiving end for their lack of humor and ill intent. I'll never go on a date or be in a relationship with someone who doesn't take on the emotional labor to understand me, my identity, and how difficult it is to immigrate to a new country and figure out a new culture. I understand why mixed marriages have a higher divorce rate now.
I'd spent so much time with their family and expected the same, especially since we only traveled to India every other year. After telling someone that my 2018 trip home was the first time I'd celebrate my birthday with my family in person since 2003, I was so disappointed and angry when we ended up in customs in London unable to board because they hadn't printed out their visa like the document said or as I told them repeatedly. I thought about divorce so much, and I wish I had listened to my anxiety earlier because an unraveling marriage is not better than separation. Instead of leaving them at the airport and flying home myself, I painstakingly spent 45 minutes asking ground crew if they'd do me a favor by printing something in their office. Eventually, I asked myself why someone else's negligence needed to be resolved by multiple people while they expressed no remorse or responsibility. I'm used to living away from my family but I cherish those trips because I finally get to do regular things with my family - eat idlis, overspend on a latte, and bicker about the news. I'd missed both my grandmothers' funerals while waiting on immigration paperwork that I couldn't do another year of living with someone who didn't understand my distance and didn't answer the phone for their own family. I embarrassingly admit that I just couldn't be around it anymore. I was cold, unkind, and hurtful many times.
I've spent my twenties dealing with the consequences of all the responsibilities someone else avoided in their twenties. It was heavy. I didn't feel like I had support. I felt gaslighted. Quitting is never desirable but I needed to take care of myself for a change. I did not want to spend my 30s repeating the same unhealthy cycle. Who knew that depression and anxiety don't make for a good mix in a marriage? I spent the second half of the year rebuilding.
I painted every room in my house except my bedroom. I learned how to mow a lawn. I traveled to see friends. I focused on work. I spent every possible moment with my son learning through his humble eyes and curiosity. I exercised regularly. And, I also did nothing. That's what I needed the most. At my lows, I was still over functioning and this is not healthy.
I don't know what 2022 holds. When I go on dates, I don't know how to explain what I want or looking for apart from a partner that I can count on during the difficult times and celebrations. Someone ambitious who keeps their word; someone whose ideals aren't incongruent with their actions. Someone who has an accepting family and who will actually put in the effort to get to know mine. Someone who likes to cook and travel, and someone who has good coping skills.
It's good to look back, and see how the year ended well even though it started out as the rockiest year of my year. I'm hopeful.