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Wendy Dennis

Wendy Dennis

Posted: January 13, 2011 03:09 AM

Divorce has been around in a serious way in our culture for more than half a century, so you'd think by now that we'd have developed an etiquette for what one can and cannot say to the maritally-maimed. You'd think we'd have devised a common language of condolence for the newly-split, who have just watched their hopes, dreams, families, futures and a chunk of their pasts go up in smoke. You'd think we'd have a vocabulary for such things. But you'd be wrong.

It never ceases to amaze me how many well-meaning and otherwise intelligent people who think they're offering comforting words to someone whose marriage has recently gone south, can put their foot in it. Herewith, my collection of the most boneheaded (and hopefully soon-to-be-considered verboten) things one can say to someone whose marriage has just tanked. (Feel free to interchange masculine and feminine pronouns throughout.)

"I ran Into [your ex and new squeeze] and he/she said they're buying a place in the country/going to Hawaii/getting married"
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This one always dislocates my jaw. It's usually delivered in a commiserating manner by someone with whom you are only casually acquainted, but who wants you to know they're up on all the latest gossip about your ex. Hence, in an effort to connect with you, they eagerly lay their news at your feet, on the apparent assumption that a) you're not already aware of it, b) you'll be pleased to hear it, and c) you'll respond to the news in an interested manner, when in fact, the only news you have any interest in hearing about your ex at that point is that he or she has died a horrible, lingering death. (I'm not even going to get into how surreal it feels for someone in the throes of post-traumatic stress to be expected to exchange social niceties with a casual acquaintance about his or her ex's new flame.)
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