Divorce is a wonderful way to discover your true friends. These will be the ones letting you run the emotional gamut from a to z and back again in sixty-second spans as they watch without batting an eyelash. These will be the people who remain utterly convinced of your fundamental soundness and emotional resilience even when you're not so sure yourself.
Divorce is a wrenching time, a time that you need all the extra support you can get. I hope you have a friend like this, because a friend like this will talk you through many of your worst divorce experiences simply by reminding you of who you really are. But if you don't, I'll share with you here what a friend like this might say about how to answer questions you're likely to encounter as you navigate your way through your divorce.
Just when you would most like to hear, "How are you holding up and what can I do to help?" is when people approach you and ask nosy and probing questions. (People think they can ask anything these days!) Here is a list of some of the questions about your divorce you are likely to encounter and how best to deflect them:
- "So....will you be staying in the house?" You can practically see the dollar signs in their eyes and hear the ka-ching ka-ching as they calculate the approximate value of your house and what that means in dollars and cents if you'll be keeping it. It's a nice way for them to ask, "Just how much ARE you worth?" This is the part where you smile sweetly and give absolutely no information whatsoever. "We're still working all that out," was one of my personal favorites. That's a polite way for you to say, "None of your business."
- "So....is there anyone else?" There are variations of this question that may be more (or less!) subtle than this version, but don't be fooled....this is the gathering of dirt. Resist the temptation to tell the story of the demise of your marriage to anyone but your most intimate friends. You definitely will need at least one or two people who you can spill your guts to and who will support you unconditionally, but everyone else really just wants to know the dirt--who did what to whom? Even if your ex was a no-good son of a gun, it won't improve the situation to talk about it. This is especially true when children are involved. If you say anything bad about your ex, chances are that it will get back to your child and how could that possibly help? Parents make up a very large part of a child's world, and you don't want to be dissing one-half of that world since, after all, it is already crumbling beneath them. Back to that no-good son of a gun, your ex. Your children will be identifying him as their male role model for approximately the next twenty years, so it's best to look on the bright side. Surely there are some redeeming qualities that he has for you to focus on instead of dishing dirt.
- "Will you have joint custody?" This is a way of finding out whether there are any subterranean issues that might affect parenting arrangements. Vague answers work well here. "Close to it," "Something like that," or "The children will be spending regular time with both of us...." are all good choices. If the inquirer goes digging for more, consider arching one brow, looking down your nose and widening your eyes infinitesimally. This will usually stop further inquiry.
- "Have you started dating yet?" Remember that sweet but steely look used above for the money questions? Employ it here. Once all the divorce papers are signed, then you can open up a bit about your dating life, out of earshot of your children, of course. (See How To Start Dating After Divorce for more on this topic.)
- "Why?" The open-ended questions can be a challenge. When delivered by a child, say a companion of your own child, they are really just questions of the heart, and if you go to your own heart to answer, you'll be fine. "X (Use your ex's name here) and I learned that even though we care about each other, we couldn't make our marriage work." Don't belabor your point. If you can answer sincerely from your heart, the child will accept your answer easily. When adults ask such a question, your relationship with that adult, including your experience of their integrity, their ability to be supportive, and of course, their propensity to gossip, will guide you in deciding how best to answer and how much information to divulge.
There are probably some very good Darwinian reasons that human beings have evolved to be the rubberneckers that we are....but it helps to know ahead of time that you can expect personal and inappropriate questions when you divorce. Having a few platitudes up your sleeve--"We all know that marriage isn't easy" or "We grew apart"--ready to deliver, can help immensely. And remember, chalk these questions up to human nature and don't take them personally.