by Vicki Larson
There was a period when my marriage turned upside down and I didn’t know which way it was going to land: back on the happily-ever-after track or in divorce court. So, I kept it close, only sharing the People-magazine-worthy details with one dear friend whom I trusted. Plus, she was a heck of a lot cheaper — and more available — than my shrink.
When it was clear which way the marriage was headed, I was ready to tell my kids, then my family and then share some — not all — of the details with my friends.
There’s a fine art to telling people about your split, one most of us don’t know how to manage very well, just like we don’t know how to react to people who tell us that they’re divorcing, good intentions aside. “I’m sorry” doesn’t always work; neither does, “I never really liked him anyway” — and I’ve heard both.
While there may not be a perfect way to talk about it, after consulting with counselors on how to tell our boys, then 9 and 12, about our divorce as well as their teachers — whom we knew would see first-hand the fallout of our decision — I felt relatively confident. As for telling everyone else, there were plenty of self-help books available although I tended to follow my gut, which worked fine unless there was an extra glass of wine in it.
The one person I didn’t know how to tell was my boss. Actually, it wasn’t that I struggled with how to tell her — I didn’t even think I had to tell her.
That might have been a mistake.
In the months before and after my divorce, I was often distracted, weepy, and alternately depressed and relieved. In other words, I was a mess. How could that not impact my work?
Try as you might to hide things, someone’s going to notice, no matter how many times you slip into the bathroom for a cry break only to return to your desk with puffy red eyes accentuated by black mascara streaks. It wasn’t my best look.
When I finally told my boss that I was going through a divorce, she was empathetic — at first. But it’s not as if your marriage ends and you slip easily right back into your old life; you don’t have that life anymore!
As much as I could compartmentalize — work is work, private is private — a divorce is pretty devastating. The emotional toll takes a long time, not to mention all the time and energy needed for meetings with lawyers or mediators and shrinks, looking for a new place to live, and then packing up and moving. Plus the need to keep your kids’ life as normal as possible, a daunting task. And, time to grieve, even if you were the one to say the words, “I want a divorce,” as I did.
So, was I wrong to tell her?
Yes and no. You should keep as much of your personal life personal, psychotherapist Tina B. Tessina, aka Dr. Romance, tells divorce360.com . Advises Scott Fagan of Warren Shepell Consultants, a Toronto company that offers health and productivity counseling, “It's not the business of the company to know your personal business unless it affects your work."
But, at what point does it affect your work? Probably when your boss says something to you, as mine did. It wasn’t that she didn’t acknowledge that things were hard for me; she did. She just didn’t want to deal with it after a while.
As much as immersing yourself in work can help keep your mind off of dwelling in the divorce muck, in an ideal world, taking time off for a mental health break would be nice. That isn’t as easy to do anymore. When layoffs are a reality for many, the last thing you want to do is give your boss any reason to question your priorities. It’s particularly hard for women, says prominent Emery law professor Martha A. Fineman, ''because women are always fighting against the more generalized notion that they are more emotional or more crushed by family concerns.''
In many ways, I was lucky — I worked out of my house and didn’t have co-workers who wanted to “help” me — “You are so lucky to be rid of that two-timing SOB” — or grill me about all the dirty details, gossip about me behind my back or ask me 50 times a day, “Are you sure you’re OK?”
In this age of TMI, with more people willing to share — and tweet — every thought and action, it’s easy to divulge too much, especially at work. Even when you try to do the right thing.
Shortly after my split, I realized I had a new dilemma as a divorcee: what to call my ex. First of all, not “ex,” or so a how-to-co-parent book I was reading advised. “Ex” is too negative; “My children’s father” was suggested. And so at my new job post-divorce, that’s exactly how I referred to my former husband.
“So, were you ever married?” my new boss asked, quite innocently — and I might add, inappropriately.
Well, nobody ever said divorce was going to be easy.