As a divorcee, I can't go five minutes in a conversation with a new person without being on the receiving end of the "I'm-so-sorry-that-your-marriage-failed" face. I always find that response surprising. Why do you pity me? I made the choice to get a divorce and I'm happier now because of it (not because my ex wasn't great -- he was, but that's another story.) My divorce doesn't make me -- or my life -- a failure and I truly believe that no divorce, no matter how devastating or disappointing the circumstances, is a failure.
As a culture, we are raised with the idea that marriage is the goal that we should all be working towards in our personal life. Getting married is as much of a milestone in the average person's life as buying your first property or making your first million. Society says that if you're married, you've succeeded. Congrats Mr. or Mrs.! You have attained the relationship mecca.
Ok, now what? How many of us have thought past the big white dress, the romantic 'til-death-do-us-part vows, the bridal registry and the open bar? Even those who have will face a difficult reality: marriage is not a fairy tale. It's hard work. When you're married, you will show your partner the best and worst versions of yourself at some point. You will scream, you will cry, you will complain to your friends. Strife is inevitable when two different people combine their lives, for better or for worse.
As a society, we need to destigmatize divorce. Back in the day, a "successful" marriage was based on longevity. Did you get a divorce? No? Your marriage was a success! There was no consideration of whether the two people were happy together, whether the couple treated each other well, whether both parties were free to pursue their own passions, whether the sex was exciting for both people -- no consideration of any factors that would actually provide a basis for judgment.
I believe that the definition of a successful marriage must change as people, society and relationships change. Whether we like it not, divorce is a harsh, but very common, reality. I would hazard a guess that in most marriages, one or both of the partners will consider divorce at some point in time -- whether it's just as a reaction to a fight or a serious contemplation of the end of the marriage.
That means that if your marriage doesn't work out, if you find that the person that you once thought was your soul mate is actually just so-so, it isn't a failure. Even if you spent most of your life with that person and they abandoned you, it is not a failure. No matter the reason for your marriage ending, it is not a failure.
Divorce is not only an end. It's an opportunity to fix the things that didn't work for you in your life and your marriage. It's a learning experience. It's an opportunity to find your own happiness. Whether it's welcome or not, divorce is a new beginning.
As a society, we need to celebrate the brave people who face the difficulties of divorce as the survivors that they are. We need to see the steps that divorcees take to get their life back on track, not the fact that they've gone backwards on the "checklist" of their life. Divorce will always be heart wrenching, but if we can take away the societal judgment of success/failure, divorcees will find it easier to accept their new life and find true happiness post-divorce.
And to those who believe in their heart-of-hearts that divorce=failure, I offer this question: You may not believe in divorce now, but if you did find yourself experiencing it firsthand, wouldn't you want society to recognize your strength and progress, rather than just subjectively determining that you and your marriage failed?
Follow Jennifer Nagy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jennlnagy