She stopped by to pick up some moving boxes. About thirty seconds later, she launched into her story, and twenty minutes later, she was still talking. My husband came out to find out what was going on.
“She just joined the divorce club,” I said, and he laughed and joined in.
When a breakup is hot and fresh, it’s the only thing someone can talk about. My husband was still in that state when I met him. Still actively consulting lawyers about the custody schedule and who got holidays and weekends. I got it, but only because my own divorce had been pretty brutal. Seven years later, I didn’t really think about it that often.
After enough time has gone by, you’re genuinely thrilled not to be with that person anymore.
It takes quite a while to realize that, though! This is why it’s so helpful to do your divorce burn book.
You write it down as evidence, because these thoughts tend to pop up late at night or at random times, and if you’re still not over your ex, it’s easy to wave them away. If you write them down in a big list, or even a big thick notebook, then you start to see how many pages are filling up. The act of writing inspires yet more writing, more memories, more evidence that the two of you weren’t meant to be.
What goes in the divorce burn book?
Every mean thing he ever said
Every nasty facial expression he ever made, not just at you but at anyone
Every stupid argument you ever had, especially the ones where you were right
All his bad habits
Anything about his personal taste that you didn’t like: dumb music, ratty old shirts, gross meal concoctions, anything.
Go deep. Go wide. Go shallow. Get as petty as you need to. You really want to make this burn book smolder and smoke.
The time he claimed that David Lee Roth wrote the original “California Girls.” The time he put a tablespoon of sugar in his scrambled eggs. The disturbing road rage incident. The time he rolled his eyes at you.
What you’re doing is lancing the boil. You’re exorcising the demon. You’re getting rid of any lingering feelings of attachment you had for this person. You’re making sure you don’t take him back, or anything else dumb like that. Whatever reason you broke up, if you ever get back together, breaking up is then a new part of your history. If it happens twice, then it’s a pattern. It’s just one more thing to fight about.
The goal here is to learn the lessons that you can from this relationship, and then start fresh with someone else. You should be better at communicating after every relationship, and that should help you attract someone else who is also better at communicating than your ex. You won’t have the same issues. (Your ex gets a chance to start fresh, too, not that you care!).
Part of why you won’t have the same issues is that you are older and more mature now than you were when you met your ex. Probably so is your new love. The fights that people have at thirty are not the same fights that they have at twenty.
(By the time you get to forty, hopefully you’ve got your preferences figured out and you don’t really have to fight much at all).
The other thing is, of course, that you need to be clear about your dealbreakers and your non-starters. If something drives you crazy, it will drive you crazy in every relationship, no matter who is doing it. You need to make sure you don’t accidentally snare someone who has the dealbreaker, and then fall for him.
Some friends were trying to convince me to date a guy once, the brother of one friend. “Oh, I didn’t even know he likes me,” I said, truthfully. This guy and I had zero in common other than that we are both mammals. “I don’t date smokers,” I said. Mic drop. What? What do you mean you don’t date smokers? “Cigarette smoke gives me nosebleeds,” I replied. How are people not clear on the idea that you are entitled to your own personal tastes? That you would simply not be able to fall in love with someone whose behavior grossed you out?
There are plenty of people who believe you should always give everyone “a chance.” Maybe you’ll fall in love so deeply that it won’t matter.
THIS IS B.S.
First of all, there are over seven billion people in this world. We don’t have time to give everyone a chance!
Whatever people think “falling in love” means, if it ends in cohabitation then behavior matters. Anything that annoys you will annoy you much more often if it happens while you live together, go to restaurants, go on road trips, or do anything together. We’re not talking about a pretty iridescent heart-shaped soap bubble. We’re talking ROOMMATES. Roommates who share a bank account.
Oh, while we’re on the topic, you can go ahead and add an appendix to your burn book. Start with the breakup section, and then you can add a section for roommates, maybe another one for houseguests, and if you’re ambitious, one for annoying coworkers or customers. Let it be a comprehensive list of everything that ever annoyed you.
Sometimes, as time goes by and it stings a little less, you can look over past events and past quarrels and realize that maybe you had your own part to play. When that starts to feel true, then you’re ready for the second phase of breakup recovery. That’s the “My Part in This” section.
What was it that made this obnoxious person attractive to you? Why did you like him? Why did you put up with him for so long? Was there anything you wish you had known? Red flags that you didn’t notice at the time, but now you know you would?
Was there anything you might have done or said that you would maybe do differently next time?
It does help to feel like you know more and that you have better standards after a breakup. People say there are “two sides to every story” (which is not very imaginative; isn’t there at least one side for every person living, plus anyone from the past and everyone from the future?). The truth is, though, that not everyone is equally self-aware or accountable for their behavior. Not everyone is trying equally hard. Not everyone is at the same stage in life. It’s fair to expect that your partner is there for you, reaching out toward you and equally committed to being a good partner.
The divorce burn book is a way of calibrating your expectations. When you’re clear about what you don’t want, it helps you to be more appreciative when you meet someone who might not normally be your type. As long as they don’t have any of your dealbreakers, maybe it’s worth giving them another look.
Maybe you can both become better people together, better together than you were alone.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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