The 5 unexpected things that happened after my divorce

Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life or whether that station will be held by anyone else, these pages must show.

Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

Photo: CQF-avocet/Pixaby

A year ago today, a day after my 35th birthday, I separated from my husband of 7 years. Despite the (retrospectively obvious) warning signs, it came as a complete surprise that he had been seeing another woman — those frequent business trips were in fact romantic getaways — and had accrued thousands of pounds of secret debt.

I had a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old to care for. I was facing redundancy from my part-time-job. I was scared and felt very, very alone.

A year on, Decree Absolute in hand, I’m confident and happy. Here’s the 5 unexpected things that happened after I got divorced.

Ambition

They say necessity is the mother of invention and, for me, becoming a single parent stimulated more than a little ambition. As a married mother of two, I’d been content to work part-time in a job I’d grown comfortable in. The pay was pretty good for the hours, but most importantly it worked well with childcare. I was happy to dash off home at 4pm, turning down more demanding opportunities so my husband could progress his own, full-time, career.

Suddenly, our two-income family was down to one — mine. And my part-time salary (which became no salary after I was made redundant) wasn’t going to cut it.

Like many women, I’d been reticent to bring up the topic of remuneration with employers.

After redundancy I was offered a temporary contract with a public sector organisation. I took it, as any job is better than no job, but the money was less than I’d been on before.

Had I still been married I would have accepted the permanent role they later offered me, and gratefully, but I turned it down. I didn’t want to struggle to make ends meet.

I applied for a more lucrative contract elsewhere and, when offered a permanent role there, negotiated a increase to the advertised salary. It paid off and I now have an amazing job I wouldn’t have applied for previously.

Confidence

I hadn’t thought of myself as particularly lacking in confidence, but I was. I’d held a driving licence for more than a decade but had never driven alone. My ex-husband would make travel and holiday arrangements and I let him deal with any awkward conversations so I didn’t have to.

Since going it alone I’ve taken on decorating projects, resolved a legal issue, travelled outside of my comfort zone and braved social situations I would have previously been reluctant to face alone.

What’s more (now this is going to sound rather big-headed and I apologise in advance) I realised I’m more attractive than I thought.

The wrong side of 35 and with a body that’s given birth twice, not to mention the very young children — I didn’t think anyone would be remotely interested in dating me. I was wrong.

At the insistence of a friend I tentatively tried an online dating site. Astonishingly, men were interested. Not just any men: successful, attractive, intelligent, interesting men. Some even possessed all these qualities at the same time (I know!). Men who open doors, pull out chairs and plan thoughtful, romantic dates. Of course, I’ve met some less charming individuals too — but on the whole I’ve had a positive experience.

A social life

I’d always enjoyed socialising with friends, family and colleagues but opportunities for nights out had dwindled with the arrival of children.

My daily childcare routine meant that I played the part of cook, cleaner and nanny leaving my ex-husband free to socialise as well as partake in a number of unsavoury activities most evenings.

If I wanted an evening out myself this triggered a tirade of huffing and complaining. My ex-husband almost always had something more important to do, a work or travel issue, and so on. It became easier to turn down invites than to ask.

Since he moved out, time with our children, understandably, has become a whole lot more precious to my ex. He has them twice a week, which gives me two nights, yes, two whole nights off every week!

I see more of my friends, can date a little and have the luxury of two mornings a week when I’m not woken at 6am. Amazing.

Better parenting

Although we now have to share our children, I think I’m a better parent than before and my ex is too.

I was still breastfeeding my then one-year-old when we separated and I briefly considered extended breastfeeding so she wouldn’t have to spend a night away from me, at least for another year. I soon abandoned that idea (God knows what my boobs would look like if I’d kept it going any longer) and instead embraced the positives of sharing our children: uninterrupted sleep, time to socialise, and a healthy relationship between the kids and their dad.

I’m still working on being a great parent (two-year-olds are hard work) but I hope my children enjoy the time we get together.

Gratitude

I always knew I had great family and friends, but I didn’t realise quite how amazing they were until my marriage broke down.

My friends comforted me as I vented my shock and despair over what I’d discovered. My parents offered practical and financial support. My sisters listened patiently as I went over the whole sorry tale, turning up with prosecco and a film so I didn’t feel so alone. My colleagues volunteered helpful advice and positive stories of life after divorce. They all, in various ways, made the last year more bearable.

There’s nothing like becoming a single parent to get you to stand on your own two feet and realise you can go it alone. But without the support from my friends and family, it would have been a much harder and darker time.

One year on

If you’ve just separated, or are some way along the process, there absolutely is life after divorce. It might even be a better, more enjoyable life, full of changes that surprise you like they did me.

Don’t get me wrong. A marriage ending unexpectedly, no matter how long you’ve been together or who was to ‘blame’, is sh*t. But maybe, just maybe, something decent can come from it. For me, divorce turned out to be a gift. A gift I didn’t want, admittedly, but a gift that turned out to be exactly what I needed.