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Eleanore S. Wells Headshot

Divorce Envy

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Sometimes I am jealous of divorced women. Oh, not for the reason you might think; not because they've had at least one husband and I've had none. I feel jealous of divorced women because they have more social capital than I do. They exist on a higher rung on society's status ladder than I do because I am an eternally single woman with no kids -- a spinster. By choice. There. I said it, I own it and life is good. I've built a pretty nice life for myself but people still look askance at me and my fellow spinsters from time to time. They don't get it; they want to know what's wrong with us, wondering why we aren't married. People understand divorce and even single motherhood. Spinsterhood is puzzling, for some reason.

And, honestly, I'm puzzled about why they're puzzled. According to the Pew Institute, almost 30 percent of U.S. adults have never been married -- a record high. That's a lot of people, so being forever single should seem more... well, normal, but I guess our culture is not quite there yet.

Some years ago when I was younger, I worked with a woman -- Faye -- who was a spinster, although that wasn't how she referred to herself. She seemed to have quite an interesting life, with lots of romances and the jewelry to prove it. I wouldn't have done it quite the way she did because she was always an important man's mistress and that's not my thing. But I admired Faye's joie de vivre. She seemed unabashed in her single status and her lifestyle seemed to work for her.

Or at least I thought it did. One day, while I was listening to one of her many stories, she gave me a bit of advice that I found startling. She said, "Just find someone and marry him." She told me that it didn't really matter if I loved him or even stayed with him very long. Her reasoning? Divorced women are viewed more favorably than women who've never been married. In her immortal words, "It's better to be a has-been than a never-was!"

This sentiment seemed absurd to me then but I also knew that many people agreed with it. Now that it's 2012, I remember that story with a smile and as a sign of times past.

So imagine my surprise when I attended a dinner party not too long ago with some friends and colleagues I hadn't seen in awhile. A number of them were shocked -- shocked! -- that I still (their word) wasn't married. In fact, my un-wifed "plight" was the topic of conversation for what I considered to be much too long. "Why?" they wanted to know. "What's wrong?"

The kicker was that this conversation was led by a woman who was going through her third divorce. How does one fail at marriage three times by the age 45? It seemed that I was the only one who thought that was odd. All present congratulated her for knowing how to get a man... even if she couldn't keep one. And collectively, they couldn't accept that I had chosen to be happily single.

And then I remembered Faye's "has-been vs. never-was" line and it all made sense. It was 25 years later but this sentiment, apparently, still rings true.

Even now, in our very modern society, a wife is held in high esteem, a divorcee gets credit for trying and people just feel sorry for the always-single woman who's never gotten a man to say "I do."

A divorced relative once asked me to be sure to include her ex-husband's name in her obituary when the time comes. Although she's been divorced longer than she was married, she doesn't want to die without everyone knowing that she had once been someone's wife -- that she was desired -- that she is normal enough to know how to follow societal expectations. She believed that an attempt at marriage is much more acceptable than saying "the heck with it", like I did.

A male friend of mine only dates divorced women. According to him, "A 40-year-old woman who has never been married is scary." And I've seen the flash of "oh no" in the eyes of guys I'm flirting with when they learn I've never been married, not even once. Every now and then, just for fun, I'll say I'm a two-time divorcée. The response is almost always friendlier than when I tell the truth.

I've a few "opportunities" to get married, but I chose not to do so. I know myself; I wouldn't have been good at it. I love having a boyfriend and I also love it when he goes home. Life, the way I've chosen to live it, has been good to me. But, still, there are all those other folks who just don't buy it. "Happily single" sounds like an oxymoron to them.

So that's why I sometimes have divorce envy. I want to stop explaining myself, I want to stop reassuring people that "I'm fine... really". I want to be accepted as normal, just like my divorced sisters. Is that too much to ask?