I am divorced.
No, it is not my only identity.
In fact, it is not even my identity.
It is something I have to say when people ask, “Are you married?”
If I say, “No, I am not”, pat comes the next question, “Why?”
The responses to “I am divorced” are as follows:
- Oh you poor thing!
- You are good-looking, so why?
- Some other woman?
- A squint of the eye, fierceness of the face, stiffening of muscles
- In-the-air statement, “These days everyone divorces. Young people don’t have patience.”
- Doesn’t matter. You will find someone.
The worse is when I remove the “am” and say, “I divorced.”
The act and the identity chases you wherever you go, whatever you do.
From sitting in a restaurant alone to moving furniture to a social gathering or a professional networking event.
You are first a woman, then divorced, then the rest of ‘who you are’ follows, shadowed and contaminated by the impressions of the first two descriptors.
In ceremonies, you sense it more intensely. Haldi-kumkum, Varalakshmi nombh, Sindoor-khela are rituals which privilege the married woman.
You are either skipped from such ceremonies or women move around unsure and uncomfortably around you. In key wedding and pre-wedding ceremonies, I am kept at a distance. I am present as a distant guest.
In short, there is direct and indirect shaming and exclusion. You are also pitied, patronised and matronised, and judged without having said a word.
What do you do? In Hindu marriage rituals, there are seven steps a couple takes.
Here are seven steps, you as a divorced woman, can take to navigate Indian social norms:
1. Take Back Power
We spend a lot of mind energy either trying to convince others to see our whole selves or resisting their judgment. The reason we do so is because we give their words and actions power. We give their worldviews legitimacy. Don’t.
Understand what others say emerge from their specific lifeworlds.
Those are the meanings they have made of relationships.
If you find someone open to a dialogue, then speak about your point of view. Else ignore.
Don’t waste your energies debating to a closed mind. And don’t waste energies giving them power.
The fact is you are divorced. You know why. You know how. You know who you are.
Anchored in your understanding of yourself and your lifeworld, ignore others and move on.
2. Disengage and Heal
Sometimes we are hurt by words and actions. We are hurt because we allow ourselves to be hurt.
Believe you can choose to be happy at any moment. Disengage from the words, examine within yourself what limiting beliefs were triggered and work on healing it.
If there is a person who deliberately and is consistently nasty to you, choose to avoid or cut off that person from your life.
Is any of this easy work?
Yes and no.
It is very easy once you decide to direct your attention to something else. It is tough until then because at some level, feeling hurt is also an addiction.
You have to be firm with yourself.
Reframe what life, love, relationships mean to you.
Marriage is a powerful and oppressive social concept.
Our upbringing and socialization has conditioned us to believe that marriage is a defining feature of a successful life.
If you buy into this belief, you will feel the shame and agony of being outside it.
However, if you challenge it, then you live joyously and proudly.
You can reframe easily if you can stop craving to be acknowledged and affirmed by others. If mentally you are anchored to your own self, the meanings we give to existing social structures naturally peel off.
4. Engage Differently
Choose who and where you want to be.
You don’t need to hang out with friends or relatives who treat you poorly.
Untie yourself from those social chains and create new communities of being. It may feel uncomfortable momentarily but later you will sense relief.
The world will open out.
Create your own version of what is family and if it should mean anything profound.
If it doesn’t work for you, then it doesn’t. Walk away.
Don’t attend weddings if you don’t like to. Or attend them for other reasons.
I attend to sample food and I hardly ever give any gifts.
Attend to wear your pretty clothes, if you like to.
You are not obligated to do anything for anyone.
5. Resist Differently
Instead of reacting to social customs or social conversations, choose your time, place and process to resist.
Resist in a way the Universe of these customs change, resist to make a broad impact, resist to reach and include others in similar situations.
Create your own rituals which include women irrespective of marital status. Celebrate them openly. Write about them. Share information about them. Write about specific issues facing divorced women — analyse, challenge, reframe, provide alternatives.
I created a Divorce Ceremony, performed and then wrote about it. It helped many other women.
Define your milestones and celebrate them. I celebrate Whole Woman anniversary every year which marks the date I decided to prioritize myself and sought to be Whole.
Become the hub for other women to find community and solidarity. Become a champion
6. Redefine Identity
You decide who you are. If you don’t want to be defined by your marital status, then don’t be.
I insist people address me as Dr. Bhavana and not Ms/Mrs Bhavana.
Or address me as Bhavana without any prefixes.
If you want to challenge social categories, then define yourself in strategically new ways.
I call myself the Earthwoman and the Lightweaver.
I emphasize it in different ways so that I am identified as I want to be.
Who are you and who do you want to be?
Assert this in public space. Embrace this in private space.
7. Engage in Positive Self-talk
Become your own cheerleader.
Affirm yourself as you successfully navigate one more “are you married?” conversation.
Pat yourself in the back if you survive a wedding or religious ceremony.
Cheer yourself as you succeed in resisting and challenging effectively.
Be your best friend, your deepest love, your own partner. Stand by yourself.
Avoid pitying yourself. I know the journey has been hard and I can assure no easy future either.
However, it doesn’t help your case to be in pain.
At some point, you have to stir and emerge.
Make that point Now.
You are the only one who can pull yourself out of it, let go of hurts and forge ahead.
The easiest way to do it is change focus on what is going well in your life.
The word “gratitude” can sometimes feel like an obligation, a commitment to someone or something else.
Be easy on yourself.
Keep it simple.
Focus on what you enjoy, what is working, what your strengths are and watch how the brain resets. The reset may take few minutes to a day. You will turn around.
I started the post with the words “I am divorced.”
I will close it thus: I AM.
Bhavana Nissima is known as the lightweaver for her abilities to weave ideas, places, people and objects. You can find her writings at the Earthwoman blog. Sign up here for her rich and deep posts about women’s rights and empowerment.