Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ask Me about My Divorce: interview with Candace Walsh

I started reading Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On, a bit worried that it would address concerns and experiences of young women exclusively and not be relevant to us. I'm delighted to be wrong. Although the editor, Candace Walsh, is a young mother, she has an old soul (that's a compliment) and a mature perspective. The essays she chose for this anthology are filled with wisdom, good writing, and stories that make us nod, remember, often laugh, and sometimes cringe.

The women in these 29 moving essays went through divorces that were sometimes devastating or brutal, but in hindsight, usually inevitable. In some, the women initiated the divorce; in others, they were blindsided by it. Yet all the writers found themselves on a path to self-discovery that was far more enriching and joyful than their marriages had been.

Because I knew I would review the book on this blog, I looked for evidence that some of the writers were over 50. Aha, here's a clue: this one wore combat boots underneath her wedding dress, six months pregnant with "The Hippie's" child, and red pumps to her divorce. Ah, this one's certain: she celebrated her 60th birthday by getting a tattoo....

As I read, I was swept away into the worlds of these courageous women who reinvented themselves after their divorces, and I discovered that it didn't matter whether they were our age or not. Many of us remember our own divorces with the revelation that we would not have become the people we are if we had not followed that path, willingly or not.

I asked editor Candace Walsh about her insights:

JP: Did you choose these authors and essays because they were able to move on in a rewarding way?

CW: I looked for stories that relayed a "thriving after divorce" experience. I did choose these essays because the women were able to powerfully relate how they had utilized this moment of divorce as a portal to a better life.

JP: Do you think most divorces do -- or can -- turn out to be a good thing?

CW: My dad told me, "The year your mother and I split up was the worst year of my life. But since then, I've had the best years of my life." There are indeed second acts in American lives. Let's face it. If you partner leaves you, you have a much better chance of a better life after divorce because otherwise, you'd be with someone who'd really rather not be with you.

JP: About what percentage of these authors are over 50 compared to the younger writers in your anthology?

CW: About 15%.

JP: Does the perspective of age color how your older authors now see their divorces and their lives since then?

CW: It seems to me that they have more of a sense of wanting to seize the day. They also look back and are more forgiving; they feel compassion for their younger selves and their exes. "I don't know then what I did now, but how could I have?" They appreciate how much more opportunities divorced women and women in general have now than they used to.

JP: What would you say to women over 50 who are in unsatisfying marriages now, but are frightened that being on their own might be worse?

CW: I would say, "Listen to your gut." It would be easy for me to say, "Take the plunge!" But every situation is different. If both parties are willing to work to improve the relationship and make the other person feel special, treasured and loved, there's a good chance that it could become something worth preserving. If you feel like you've come to the end of the road, or if you and your partner are unwilling to put any reviving energy into the relationship, or if you're dealing with someone who's verbally or physically abusive, you may as well get off that bus and begin anew. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

If you're over fifty, you have a good 30+ years ahead of you, God willing, and why not enjoy those years? They don't consist of an epilogue. No way. I am so excited to experience the decades ahead because it seems like a shroud has been lifted and women's ability to live active, vibrant, sensual, successful lives has been dramatically expanded.

JP: Are your readers exclusively women who are divorced or contemplating divorce?

CW: One young unmarried woman said that it should be required reading for all women before they get married. We need to have a better grounding in the realities of marriage before we sign on. It's too easy to be seduced by the expectation of a fairy tale. As little girls, we thought we were learning about love by watching princess movies.

What if we'd been coached in relationship skills instead? How to listen, how to take responsibility for our own needs, how to feel anger without lashing out, how to esteem and honor the other as we do the same for ourselves, how to talk about the elephant in the room, how to diplomatically bring up issues before simmering resentments harden into calcified, love-damaging deposits, how to be conscious of what triggers us and take the time to dismantle old hurts so that they don't dictate our futures. And how to learn from our mistakes so that we don't repeat them the next time.

Sure, it wouldn't be as transporting as watching Cinderella whisked away to "happily ever after." But it might just make happily ever after less of a fairy tale.

Candace Walsh is the editor of Ask Me About My Divorce: Women Open Up About Moving On. She's also the features editor at Mothering, and mom to two sassy and delightful children.

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