When I went through my first divorce over thirty years ago, I had two daughters, ages three-and-a-half and seven. My husband and I worked in the same business, which was definitely a boys' club. Many of those men were his friends. I had no idea if any of them would ever hire me again. To say I was terrified doesn't begin to cover what I was experiencing. I can remember my fear in every molecule of my body. My friends saw me as super competent, mouthy, together, compassionate - none of them believed I was as scared as I told them I was. Each night after I managed to tuck my daughters into their respective beds and read to them until they fell asleep, I would collapse on my bed and dissolve in tears. How could I expect my friends to believe me when I barely recognized myself?
Much of what I feared came to pass, though not all of it. None of those men would even 'take' a meeting with me, let alone hire me. I was out of work for more than a year before a woman finally did, an irony of course. Because I suspected I would never work as much as I had before the pending divorce, I was still frightened. I was right, although thankfully I didn't know it then. It was almost impossible for me to come up with alternative work solutions because I was still in a state of panic about my survival. Taking my daughters to their activities, marketing, making meals, and trying to seem 'normal' took everything I had. Friends made suggestions, but I barely heard them. When one of them proposed teaching at UCLA Extension, I almost screamed. I had never taught college; why would anyone hire me?
Eventually my fear of not being able to pay my mortgage overcame my fear of calling the woman who ran UCLA Extension. At a union meeting weeks before, a man I didn't know very well suggested he send me his notes for the same class I would be teaching if I were hired. I almost memorized his notes. I didn't use them once I started teaching, but they did help me sound reasonably intelligent at that first meeting, and I think they helped me get the job. The afternoon I was supposed to teach my first class I thought I had the flu. I pulled myself away from the toilet to drive over to the Westwood campus. Much to my surprise, I enjoyed teaching that first class. I was good at passing along what I had learned as a writer to those who wanted to pursue a similar career. Landing that job turned the tide; I realized I would find other work that I enjoyed and that we would not starve.
I did survive, as did my children. I learned that I was actually made of sturdy stuff, I grew, and finally, I flourished. What still amazes me about that time of my life is how terrified I was, and how certain I was that I did not have the wherewithal to make a life. If my husband had not had an affair and lied about it for over a year, I might not have left him because of that fear. Having seen many marriages festering with wounds of mistrust, I know that is not what I wanted.
My mother frequently told me that she hoped I would find a man to take care of me. I believed that without one I would not be able to take care of myself. Thank God I learned that was not true. Even if the men in that boys' club had hired me, women earned sixty or seventy cents on the dollar back then. I had reason to be afraid. Women still earn less. Now, even though many men share child rearing, women take on most of that job when they divorce. These days the economy is dreadful, with few jobs available. How well can a woman who has been out of the labor force entirely, or only working part time, fare in these troubling times? If you're female with children and facing divorce, fear is part of the process.
Rely on your friends, even if you can't hear them very well. Take solace from those kids; their delight can bring back some of your joy. Baby steps will put you back in the job market. You can even enroll in courses that will help you find your way. Don't forget to breathe. And don't be ashamed of the tears, or how often they come. Tears are healing. I know. I've been there.
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