Divorce - Tomorrow Shouldn't Be Yesterday
( Originally Published 1952 )
There are two schools of thought as to whether a newly made widow or divorcee should stay right where she is, carrying on as much as usual as she can, or whether she should move to other surroundings, doing everything as differently as possible. While we are all in favor of the second, or New School of Thought, we cannot deny that this is a matter of temperament and that there are those for whom the Old School may be better.
This is particularly true of women who have never had to make a life for themselves, who have been well taken care of first by their fathers and then by their husbands. For them, the familiar may be comforting and memories may be less harrowing than a strange new setting. They are frightened by the very thought of being uprooted and so sure they wouldn't like any new home that they probably wouldn't.
As one looks at the women of one's acquaintance who have stayed right where they were at the time of their loss, however, one can't help observing that a good many have never gotten around to making any kind of a new life for themselves. Instead, they have clung to the remnants of what was left, which eventually show the wear and tear of time. Their circle of interests shrinks, and so does their circle of friends, till both become very small and dull in-deed. These are the women about whom people say, "I'm so glad you mentioned Mrs. X. I've been meaning to go to see her for weeks and just haven't done it." They don't do it then, either.
This is not true of every woman by any means. We our-selves can think of one widow who lived right on in the old family home and made herself a power in local politics and an extraordinarily interesting person besides, another whose wise and widespread philanthropy has helped innumerable good causes, and a divorcee who has become a popular hostess, thereby managing so many kindnesses that she has endeared herself to a large circle of friends, many of whom are less fortunate than she.
We still stick to our theory that for the majority of women in this position, it is better to move. Being confronted with memories at every turn, being reminded of something one did with someone else every day and almost every hour prolongs the most difficult phase of sorrow or hurt and brings it back again and again. And a house one has shared with a person one cared about is far lonelier than a house one has never shared with anyone at all.
Whichever theory you hold, increasingly often the matter is decided for you by the government's current enthusiasm for taxes, and particularly that horrid one known as the Inheritance Tax, or by the judge in the shape of Alimony. Either way, unless you are among the small number of survivors who can still be called rich, things will not be what they were. The chances are that when the inheritance tax, the lawyer, and some legacies have been paid, and, no doubt, your husband's salary left out of the picture, you will get quite a shock, and this may be just as true after the last paper has been signed out in Reno.
You'll find, however, that things aren't quite as bad as you think. There never was any truth in that old statement that two can live as cheaply as one. Expenses for everything, from food to service to clothes, will shrink automatically. You won't need quite as much room, and through the years you've probably accumulated a lot of paraphernalia it's high time you dispensed with. If you're reasonably young, even finding that you haven't got enough money to live on may eventually prove to be a blessing in disguise, though we admit it's a very real tragedy for those too far along in years to start on a career.
Whatever the circumstances, don't try to decide your entire future all at once. Take your time, and don't take too much advice. Probably you knew the right answer from the first, deep down in your mind, but for weeks your decision will be clouded by doubts and other people's opinions. Wait till you're quite sure and then, in so far as it's possible, do exactly what you please. But don't wait too long. Any way you do it, readjustment is an incredibly difficult and harrowing experience and you'd better get it behind you within a reasonable time.
While we admit that most of your decisions will depend on circumstances and temperament, there is one choice which should be avoided if it is humanly possible and at practically any sacrifice. We have already advised against letting somebody else move in with you, and now we advise, even more strongly, against moving in with somebody else. The first isn't quite as disastrous as the second, since you will still be mistress of your own establishment—a feature you would miss more than you realize, if you've experienced it for even a few years. But either one seems to us a poor idea. Those two-women homes sometimes work out very well, to be sure, but more often they don't and the process of getting disentangled can be extremely unpleasant. Be-sides, acquiring new friends, or even keeping up with old ones, is easier if other people don't always have to ask a brace of females instead of just one.
If you live where it's possible to do so, by all means look at apartments. You may be an ardent gardener, of course, or a great outdoor woman, and in that case you'll probably decide against one. But for the average woman who is alone, an apartment is less lonely than a house; it eliminates such things as plumbing trouble, screens and sidewalks and heating, which are usually in a husband's department; it affords protection through elevator men and superintendents. And it can be very comfortable and attractive.
Whatever you decide, look financial facts in the face and choose a home to fit your budget. Struggling to make ends meet is worrying and wearing and it's foolish to do it if you don't have to. It's especially foolish to do it out of pride. If you're one of those people with a fear of losing face (and quite a proportion of us are), here is your chance to cut down with no danger. Everyone can understand that a lone female may not want all the responsibility of her former teenage. You can move from a twenty-room mansion into a four-room apartment, or from a four-room apartment into a one-room one, without causing any more talk than any decision you make is bound to stir up.
Once you've decided on what to do, don't look on it as the Great American Tragedy. Wherever you are going to live, that place will be the setting for your new life and now is the time to make it as charming as you can. Doing so can be a stimulating interest that will do you good—even though you may find yourself working like a longshoreman and it will wear you out and may send you to bed for a couple of weeks.
One of the great advantages of moving lies in the shed-ding of the superfluous things you've acquired through the years. It's a time to strip for action, to let go of half-wanted possessions. At any time, actually, enough is enough and too much can wear you down, but usually it's hard to get around to doing anything about accumulations. Here is your great opportunity. There are, for instance, all those boxes of letters you've been going to sort out for the last decade. You haven't done it, but you'd better do it now—or maybe you'll just throw them all into the ash can, which will probably be just as well. And the broken sets of china which you thought might come in handy sometime, but which never did. That exercise machine your husband bought and only used a couple of times; the golf sticks you kept, you don't know why, when you got the new ones. There are those boxes of old curtains, and the Irish picot lace you, or your mother, ripped off one season's underwear long, long ago. They'll all be greatly appreciated by the nearest thrift shop, and once they are gone, you will feel wonderfully free—though you may wake up now and then in the night and wonder what you did with the clock Aunt Mary gave you one Christmas or the taboret Grandpa brought home from his trip to Egypt. When you remember, you will have a moment of desperate homesickness, but don't let it be more than a moment. Anyone can learn not to.
This matter of eliminating extra possessions is something to think about long and seriously. It doesn't mean throwing everything away and starting completely fresh, unless you want to—and very few women do. Most of us grow to love many of our possessions, both from association and for their own beauty or usefulness. Keep these, by all means, if you have a place for them, and keep them in mind when you're choosing a place. But don't keep more than you can use. Don't let any room look cluttered, just out of sentiment. You won't enjoy crowded rooms and you'll get very sick of the extra work involved in taking care of them, whether you have plenty of help or none at all. It's more intelligent to use all of the selectiveness and discrimination you possess in choosing the best of the things to make your new home gay and attractive. Be ruthless about the rest. Give them to your children or your nieces or your laundress. Sell them or send them to the Salvation Army. Do anything but store them. Nothing is more fallacious than the notion that you may want them sometime. If you ever do have a place for them, you'll find that they've deteriorated or gone out of fashion. By then, you can't give them to your children or your nieces and you probably can't sell them. You may end by deciding you ought to use them—and hating them. And you could undoubtedly have made a trip to Europe on what you've paid for storage.
Right here we would like to repeat that warning about the futility of regret. Never, never regret a possession after you've once gotten rid of it. Almost certainly you have enough left, if not a little more than enough; you'll inevitably accumulate new things, which is fun; and these are gone anyway and you can't get them back.
Perhaps even more important than a new setting is a new schedule. You'll need to think about that even if you're living in the old homestead. Most of all, you'll need to do something about that hour between the dusk and the daylight when your husband used to come home, and the evening that follows it.
That hour in the late afternoon was probably one of the nicest hours of the twenty-four, during your married life. It was fun to be waiting for your husband to come in, fun to hear his news of the day and tell yours, fun to sit companionably before dinner, perhaps with a cocktail, and just relax. If you went out in the evening, it was twice as much fun because you went together and three times as much fun to come back together and talk it over. If you didn't go out, an evening at home could be very pleasant too, with books and the radio and whatever game you both enjoyed. But books and the radio, to say nothing of a game of solitaire, now seem both dull and Rat.
It is something you have to face. The companionship is gone and wishing won't bring it back. For many women, five o'clock becomes such a desolate hour that it begins to loom large and black when they've scarcely finished lunch. They can't wipe out this loneliness, but they could rearrange their days, for a period, so that from five o'clock on is their busiest time.
It's not easy. Daytime is far simpler for any enterprising woman. For one with a job, the time is taken care of automatically, but even without one, it's hard to imagine a woman who can't find more to do through the day than she's ever had time for. In the first place, her hours should be shorter, for she's still far more tired than she realizes and needs a little time out for rest—a nap, if she can sleep, which is unlikely, or a couple of hours on the chaise longue or sofa with a good book. Outside of that, just housekeeping and essential shopping, getting caught up at your desk, going to your church meetings or club meetings or board meetings, keeping necessary hairdressing and dentist's and doctor's appointments take a lot of time. And there are all those other things you've always wanted to do—that course in flower arrangement or painting or modern literature; that plan to catalogue the kodachromes and take some new ones; those scrapbooks of recipes and family kodak pictures and what-have-you you've intended to bring up to date; that tour of antique shops to try to match the prisms on your overlay glass lamps and replace the broken one; those art exhibits or auctions you've wanted to go to; and that little home-decorating job you thought it would be fun to try--these are only a few of the dozens of things that may have been in the back of your mind for years, waiting till you had a few spare moments. Now, they will more than take care of the hours from dawn to dusk—unless you go on postponing them and just sit down and pine. In any case, there is still from five o'clock on to be wrestled with.
Make a business of it. Get a good-sized engagement book and plan each week as whole. See to it that there are not too many blank evenings ahead, and never several in a row. You can do this if you try, but it does take planning. The most popular woman in the world probably has too many invitations for one evening, every now and then, and a row of empty ones right after. She may not care, but just now it's better for you to care a good deal and do something about it. Invite your friends in for dinner and bridge or canasta, or, if you can't manage that, call up a friend and suggest . meeting for dinner and a movie. Become a Red Cross Gray Lady and give one evening a week to working in a hospital. Join an evening class and work at it. Have people in for cocktails.
Entertaining in your own home is the most compensating and more people could manage it than think they could. You can keep very busy getting ready for even the smallest party, fixing up the living room, arranging flowers, making some special tidbit. It won't seem like the black hour of five if friends are coming in and you're in the midst of preparations. It will even seem a little gay, if you get yourself the most becoming hostess gown you can find and wear it. Becomingness is not a matter of money, it's a matter of taste and of taking time to find just the right thing. It's worth doing now, more than ever, though at first thought the opposite will seem to be true. Your morale needs all the help it can get.
Don't hesitate about inviting people if you want them. Even unattached men. They'll think you're pursuing them, of course, but who cares? (We're going to say a lot more about that in a later chapter.) Plan your parties carefully, considering which friends will enjoy each other and then go right ahead. The people you feel most doubtful about may turn out to have the best time. Your friends all meant to do something about seeing you anyway, and would have, when they got around to it. But balancing your engagement book is not their problem; right now, it's yours.
We are not suggesting that you entertain or go out every evening of the week, but we are in favor of a larger proportion of evening engagements than usual. They don't all have to be gala affairs. Sometimes, a pickup dinner and a quiet visit with a friend is just as satisfactory. But don't try to convince yourself that a week full of daytime engagements will help you through a week full of empty evenings. You'll be that much bluer because you're tired out by the end of the day. The night you think dinner in bed on a tray will rest you will prove to be a very, very long night and you won't sleep even as well as usual. And after the nicest after-noon party the emptiness of your own home may hit you harder than ever when you step over the threshold.
Remember that this is not a normal period in your life and plan even the evenings when you do stay home alone very carefully. Never have dinner in solitary splendor in the dining room, if you have a dining room. You will feel like an aging dowager and more forlorn than ever before. Have an attractively fixed tray in the living room and turn on the news on the radio. Wear a becoming negligee and put on your favorite perfume. Have a cocktail first, if you want one, and sip it while you read The New Yorker or vogue.
For the rest, you know what you like better than we do, but in general, a good plan is to be sure you have an entertaining book, not too instructive and certainly not tragic. (If you like detective stories, they are a perfect answer, and for those who enjoy them, Double Crostics are superb, since you can't possibly do one and think about anything else.) Turn on only radio programs you really enjoy; the idea that having just any program droning along is less lonesome than having none can make the world seem very stale in-deed. If your budget permits it, a massage will do wonders for you, since, besides making you sleep better, it will give you a little of the pampered feeling you are missing so badly. Anyway, have a long relaxing bath, with one of those elegant bath oils that make your skin soft and fragrant, and do a little homework on your face.
Your face is something you'd better think about, along with your other problems. That is, unless you're still very young, and this is as good a time as any to admit that most of the women to whom this book is addressed (though not quite all of them) are past the first flush of youth. For them, both strain and sorrow write lines and wrinkles on the skin. and the sooner they recognize this unpleasant truth, the more they will be able to do about it. The right facials, professional or home done, will help, and while it may seem like a lot of trouble and not worth while just now, a better day is coming when you will care as much as you ever did about looking as well as you possibly can.
CASE VII.: Mrs. P.—When Mr. P. died, Mrs. P. thought the flavor had gone out of life and nothing would ever interest her again. To make matters worse, she found that her income had shrunk to what seemed an appallingly small amount and she had to move to much smaller quarters. It was all pretty dreadful, Mrs. P. thought, and so would you.
For weeks, Mrs. P. searched the town with dogged and discouraged persistence, but eventually she stumbled on just the right apartment (as is fairly sure to happen, if one has enough persistence). She recognized it at once as Her Apartment and was decorating it mentally on her way home. For Mrs. P. had a half-forgotten flair for decorating, buried by the fact that Mr. P's more formal taste had seemed to her more suitable for their life and circumstances, as well as making Mr. P. happier. Now, Mrs. P. plunged into an orgy of chintzes, mirrored coffee tables, and feminine froufrou, all very gay, not too expensive, and entirely suit-able for a woman alone. She combined the best of her old possessions with her new things, disposed of the other antiquities, and was too busy to be nearly as unhappy as she had been. Once settled and a little rested, she felt a normal urge to show her achievement to her friends—and the result has started Mrs. P.'s social life all over.
CASE VII.: Mrs. J.—Mrs. J. made a Career of her marriage, and what career could be better? Soon after leaving the altar, she found that Mr. J.'s hours, interests, and recreations were entirely different from hers, and, on a little reflection, decided that one of the basic factors of a successful marriage was accepting a man As Is and not trying to make him over.
Mrs. J. made herself over and found it as exhilarating as any other successful undertaking. Though a great reader herself, she learned to enjoy people who never read a book (but, she soon discovered, knew a lot about subjects of which she was quite ignorant); she achieved a genuine liking for going fishing (though she never got over the fear that she would catch one of the clammy things); she mastered chess, which had always seemed to her both difficult and dull; and she even learned to appear to be interested in stamp collecting, an attitude which, as is often the case, worked out better than too ardent participation.
When Mr. J. died, Mrs. J. thought she would have to start over from scratch, but eventually she found she was mistaken. While adapting her interests to those of Mr. J., not only had she widened her own, but she had become that much more adaptable. She still enjoyed the friends she'd learned to like, she could still play chess or go fishing, but more than that, she could now become interested in practically anything that turned up and seemed worth looking into—a valuable accomplishment. She has also discovered that nothing is more compensating then the memories of close companionship and shared happiness and the knowledge of a job well done.
CASE IX.: Mrs. L.—Mrs. L. has been a widow for fifteen years and still lives in the old homestead where she went as a bride and which is still unchanged, out of respect to Mr. L.'s memory. Unfortunately, modes in decoration have changed a great deal and time has done its destructive work, so that the old homestead has acquired a certain mustiness, faintly reflected in Mrs. L.
She herself is beginning to see that the blue damask draperies with the heavy ball fringe in the living room are pretty threadbare, but she and Mr. L. chose them on their tenth wedding anniversary and she can't bear to give them up. Sentiment has blinded her to the fact that people aren't using such heavily carved chairs and tables or so many of them, and that her nieces wouldn't know what a "runner" was if she mentioned the embroidered strips that cover her library tables.
Mrs. L. is usually all worn out from keeping her belongings cleaned, mended, and polished, since, as she never fails to tell you, the servant situation isn't what it used to be and neither is her income. She never liked housekeeping and never did any, aside from giving orders, in the days of Mr. L. and plenty of help. It is our rude opinion that she wouldn't do so much of it now if she had a little more sense —just enough to make her sell the old home and a lot of its contents and start fresh on a smaller scale which she could better afford. We think everything about Mrs. L., from her point of view to her setting, could do with a little freshening.