Divorce - Be Busy Or Be Sorry
( Originally Published 1952 )
A good standard for any woman alone (or anyone else, for that matter) is to fill life so full of interesting occupations that there is no time left to be killed, with the possible exception of the occasions when you go to meet Cousin Nellie and her train is an hour late. (Even then, you can buy a good paper-covered book at the newsstand and have a profit-able reading session.) Four things will do it completely and sometimes too completely. They are, in the order of importance, your home, your friends, one consuming interest, and your hobbies.
The happiest people in the world are almost invariably the ones with a lot of friends. There are some exceptions, but not all who seem to be are really happy. Many of them are putting up a good front to cover shyness or badly adjusted temperaments and are very lonely indeed. The real exceptions either have some overwhelming and soul-consuming interest or are Eccentrics. For most of us, friends are among the essentials for a satisfactory life, and if we don't have a reasonably large circle, it would be well to do something about it.
This is especially true of a woman who is starting all over.
Doing it without friends would be doubly difficult and ought to be unnecessary. By now, she ought to have at least two sets—those she knew before she married and those she met afterward. Often, she hasn't seen much of the first for a good many years and she'll find that it's fun to look them up and renew old acquaintance.
If she hasn't seen them for, say ten years, she'll be interested to find out how they've held up—and this is about what she'll discover. The women with jobs, or with an interest so time consuming that they work at it like a job, have held up far and away the best. She might invite a group of them to dinner and find it hard to believe that the last time they were together wasn't the week before last. Their alertness, their figures, their clothes, and their faces are as up-to-date as ever. These are the women to whom you can say, "You haven't changed a bit"—and mean it.
The men come next, but they're not very good seconds. Ten years (and this will bowl the men over, if any should chance to read it) make most men heavier both as to figure and as to opinions. The rapport between them and the lady won't be quite the same either. Unlike the first group, with them she won't find she can take up a friendship just where she left off. She'll have to recultivate if (if she wants to).
The third group, the so-called women of leisure, have frankly slipped. Too much leisure is a dangerous thing.
There are also the friends of her married life whom she's seen right along and most of whom she'll want to keep on seeing. There will, of course, be the Joneses, whom she never really liked, but was tactful about to please her husband. (And there may also be a couple she won't hear from, who have been tactful too.) This is a good time to pick and choose, but we suspect she'll choose most of them. In general, people are nice and long-time friendship can weave a strong bond even between those of very different types and interests.
It is the woman who has few friends who has the real problem, and she will be far happier if she makes a serious business of solving it. There are courses in personal relationship that will help her enormously, and there are excellent books on the subject. In many cases, she would do well to talk to her minister and follow his advice about taking up some church activity. Actually, she wouldn't need help if she thought the matter through for herself and re-membered that most people are friendly if you are friendly to them, that people instinctively respond to responsiveness, and that practically anybody will like you if you listen to whatever he says as if you found it simply fascinating, and never expect the reverse.
The one consuming interest to which we referred is, perhaps, the core of the whole matter of starting all over. If you have one, if it's really a consuming interest, something that fills your mind many of your waking hours, your problem will solve itself inevitably. But it's something you will have to discover for yourself. There is no use advising you to go all out for painting if you have neither talent for it nor a desire to develop one; it would be foolish to take up bird watching in a serious way if you don't like birds; even putting your all into a good cause may be disastrous if you're a lady who can only be happy if she runs the whole shindig. But in most of us, there is a strong feeling for something, a desire to express ourselves in some way and the means to do it. It may be buried deep, but you can dig it up, and it will make all the difference in your happiness.
It is not unlikely that this interest was buried during your married life. Take the matter of music—singing or playing the piano. Deep inside, it might be the thing that interests you more than anything else, outside of personal relationships. But if you were busy making a successful marriage, you probably didn't do much about it. Some women can do both, to be sure, because they have the special ability to turn one train of thought off, as they would turn off a faucet, and turn it on again when the right time comes. More people can't, and they soon learn that they have to choose between stopping short when they're just about to master a difficult passage and their husbands come home from the office—or going right on and failing to give them the welcome they rate. The latter might easily wreck even a happy marriage, as anyone can see without trying. And the same general principle applies to so many consuming interests that it is fair to say that for a married woman, the interest should be marriage.
There is no reason, however, why a widow or a divorcee shouldn't bring out her buried treasure, and every reason why she should. Once she gets deeply enough into her new, or newly revived interest, the need for planning her time will become much less pressing. It won't be long before she'll find herself begrudging some of the time she's promised for other activities, and (though there will be exceptions, when she's not in the mood) usually empty hours will fill themselves very happily indeed.
It goes without saying, however, that people with only one interest in life are the world's complete bores. That interest is all they can talk about and it is apt to be a matter of indifference to the unfortunate listener—which brings us to the subject of hobbies.
If we had written this chapter twenty years ago, we would have urged being very, very careful about choosing your hobbies. Now, however, we have learned that, outside of your one chief interest, what you go in for doesn't matter as much as we thought. Up to a point, and excluding hobbies which you are physically, mentally, or financially unable to enjoy, you can become passionately interested in practically anything you know enough about. Once you become an authority on anything, you think it is a fascinating subject, and while you may say it works the other way round, we don't believe it. Sometimes, it's a good idea to go along with a friend just for companionship. You may think her hobby very dull at the start and take it up to be obliging—and end up twice as enthusiastic as she ever was.
This matter of hobbies, one gathers from current literature, is a newly discovered problem of the middle-aged, of great concern to writers and social workers. They've even discovered the middle-aged woman herself fairly recently. Our own wholly ignorant opinion is that she's been around quite a while and that if we look back, say to great-grandmother's day, we will find a great many of her who have solved the problem pretty well. With nothing to prove our point, we suspect that the first enterprising lady after Eve who lost her mate, or didn't want one, went in for How to Know the Wild Flowers of her era, or collecting recipes for preparing dinosaur. Or perhaps she whipped up new little numbers out of woven reeds from beside the Euphrates River. They were all good ideas, and there's no reason for not going right on with them, just as the married sisters go right on having babies and working on their husbands for new fur coats.
The choice of hobbies today is practically unlimited, as anybody should know now, and someone thinks up a new one every week. It is our belief, as we said in an earlier book, that for a woman alone two are much better than one—one that can be pursued at home and one that takes you as far afield as possible. Some, of course, fit either category and may he all you can manage. In any case, it is best to make your hobbies fit your life and your pocket book, and we hope you will go in for whatever you choose with an ardor that your friends will call fanaticism.
To name a few of the innumerable possibilities, we might start with collecting, it doesn't much matter what, so long as it interests you when you get into it and is something reason-ably hard to find. The pursuit is half of the fun, and besides, few of us have room for an unlimited collection of anything. So, if you choose figurines, make it a special kind of figurine in a special size—ladies in historical dress, for instance, or Madonnas, or ivory figurines or Oriental ones, all of a size that will go on the shelves or in the cabinets you plan for them. If you choose glass and china slippers or hands or birds or whatnot, confine these too to one size, so that they will look well together and not give the effect of a carelessly chosen conglomeration. To us, something decorative, that you can display and that adds to the charm of your home, is more fun than something kept in a box, like old buttons, however charming—but you may not agree. We know of women who have collected miniature furniture, horsehair jewelry, tortoise-shell jewelry, African art, and primitive paintings, to say nothing of those who have gone in for Sandwich glass, antique furniture, old bottles, and pillboxes, and all of them have had a hundred exciting adventures and spent innumerable happy hunting hours.
More useful, perhaps, would be the development of a serious interest in politics, since that is a field in which more women ought to be interested and, also, in which there is unlimited room for improvement. You don't have to be a leader, if you don't want to. Just learn all you can about your local politics first, do the things you find every good citizen should do and most of us don't, and decide how you can be of service. You can learn about national and inter-national matters then, and you may find that you want to be our next lady senator and achieve your desire—in which case this will be not a hobby but your one great interest.
A study of handling finances is another serious project that women are being urged to take up these days, but our own unflattering opinion is that for most women it's laden with dynamite. All that people say on the subject is perfectly true. Most women are so ignorant one wonders how they manage it. We admit that it's a fact that, modern publications being what they are, even young teen-agers know about the facts of life, while just as much is published about the facts of finance and few women seem to see a word of it. For a widow or divorcee, such blindness is foolish—but we still think there's a limit to the managing of their affairs that they'd better undertake. There may be a few Hettie Greens scattered around the country, but we've never met many, if any, ourselves. It would be a splendid idea to take one of the good courses on finance, if it interests you or you think women ought to, and certainly you should have one of the excellent books on the subject. Learn to balance your bank account, by all means; learn to talk intelligently about your business affairs with the masculine experts; learn to be a good Treasurer for the Women's Club—but we suggest that you stop right there. If you really take finance up, as a hobby or a serious project, don't say we didn't warn you when you lose your pleated pink shirt.
A possibility that is more likely to become profitable is photography. Many a woman has taken it up as an amateur sport and ended with a flourishing business. Here, again, it's better to specialize. You might choose close-ups of flowers, birds in motion (but you have to be good), portrait heads of your friends (they'll all love having their pictures taken), animal pictures, interiors, or whatever you like. We have heard of one woman who specializes in taking pictures of the whole day in the life of a child, photographing steadily from breakfast or earlier right through till bedtime, and with enormous success.
Genealogy is still another thing that many people become fascinated in, tracking down family trees and finding the hours spent in the library as exciting as the best plays on Broadway, we wouldn't know why. (Perhaps because we've never tried it.) There is always travel, of course, if you can manage it, and, if you live in the country, there are such enchanting projects as a wild garden or an herb garden or the growing of some special variety of rose.
Among hobbies to be pursued at home, learning how to translate books into Braille for the blind will bring even more pleasure to others than to you, which makes it doubly compensating. (Really think about this one. There must be a deep and satisfying thrill in doing something that can bring so much into the lives of others.) Window gardens can be fun, particularly if you make a success of something hard and unusual, like raising camellias or orchids. You will gain enormously in popularity by taking up reading handwriting or palmistry, and you might eliminate all your Christmas shopping by becoming expert at making jewelry or painting trays or wastebaskets. We know of one woman who has an elegant time making beautiful screens and other furniture by decorating them with decalcomania, another who is a fervent student of flower arrangement, and a third who does handsome needlepoint depicting her friends' poodles, sailboats or front gates. And what about making crossword puzzles instead of solving them, if you love words? Even better would be to invent a brand-new kind to intrigue the puzzle fans.
The point is to have some preoccupation other than bridge, canasta, and yourself. These may be very interesting some of the time, but they are not enough to make you interesting, or even interested, week in and week out.
CASES X.: Mrs. X.—As a girl, Mrs. X. had no talent and very little taste for music and a complete indifference to horses. When, now and then, she attended a concert or a horse show, she spent hours of intense boredom waiting for something interesting to happen which never did. She recited all the poetry she knew to herself to make the time pass, or made a bet with herself that if she counted five hundred slowly the number, or class, would be over. Then, one night, she had a great revelation—she realized that she Didn't Have to Go to the Horse Shows or Concerts. She didn't go, either, for a good many years. But when she eventually married Mr. X., she found that he was musical, loved to go to concerts, and while not an ardent horse lover, saw no reason for not accepting a friendly invitation to a horse show when one came along. Mrs. X. was a good wife and went along too.
By the time Mr. X. died, Mrs. X. enjoyed a concert as much as the next person and, while she is not yet a musical highbrow, concerts and the opera now fill many hours that might have been lonely. She has recently taken a course in musical appreciation and her life has been greatly enriched.
Mrs. X. goes to horse shows only when the person who invites her is pretty special and a really elegant dinner party is part of the invitation, but when she gets there, even those sawdust-filled hours are not too bad. She looks at the women's clothes instead of the horses and has had a suspicion that she could learn to like the horses if she gave them enough attention to know one from another.
CASE XI.: Mrs. T—Mrs. T. is a divorcee who lives alone and is plump, pink, and pretty. She adores chocolate candy, soap opera, and movies with a happy ending, but in spite of all these, many of her days hang heavy on her hands. Recently, however, she had the loveliest day. She had her usual breakfast in bed and stayed right there reading the paper and giving herself a manicure, since she was going out after lunch. Then she went to a friend's house and played canasta till dinnertime. After dinner, they played more canasta till time to go home.
As we said, it was a lovely day—for Mrs. T. She has next to no interests and isn't invited out very often. We don't know why she should be.
CASE XII.: Mrs. E.—Mrs. E. is a widow with enough_ money to live on comfortably if she thinks twice before making unnecessary expenditures. She likes to travel, however, and also to Do Things, both of which involve expenditures which can hardly be called necessary. This presented a problem, but she has solved it very satisfactorily.
Several years ago, Mrs. E. took up jewelry making in a serious way. She not only went to classes which teach it (she still does), but she works hard at home and thoroughly enjoys it. The jewelry she makes is usually of silver with semiprecious stones and frankly a shade on the arty side, as she recognizes that so-called "good jewelry" is better done by professionals. But what she makes has its own chic and she has worked out a system by which she gets both her travel and some of her semiprecious stones in one operation. One year, she talked a more prosperous friend with a car into driving her to Nevada where, with much tramping and digging, they found all sorts of usable treasures in the good earth. These made charming bracelets, necklaces, and clips which she eventually sold with enough profit to take her on a visit to a friend living in Brazil. There, she hunted down bargains in aquamarines, and from time to time since she had made equally rewarding trips hither and yon.
Having a genuine flair for her hobby, Mrs. E.'s jewelry is now attractive enough not only to be welcomed by any friend lucky enough to get some for Christmas, but also to be in demand in various gift shops. Mrs. E.'s bank account, conversation, and morale have improved by leaps and bounds.