If you were to believe those brawny viragos at NOW, you might think that universal divorce was a force for liberation of women, and just a splendid thing for kids. You know the line: marriage is the vilest form of chattel slavery, men molest their kids when they’re not beating them like drums, and such like. (Actually, I can’t think of a better authority on children than 12,000 squalling lesbians who don’t have any. Can you?)
Well, let me offer a revisionist view of divorce, from a male point of view:
After a few years under one roof, Willy Bill and Cupcake no longer get along well. Part of it is Willy Bill’s fault, and he knows it. Part of it is Cupcake’s fault, but she doesn’t know it. She expected marriage to fulfill her fantasies and make her happy. It didn’t, because married people are just married people, and life ain’t all ham hocks and home fries. This too is Willy Bill’s fault. Life, that is.
Since Cupcake wasn’t happy being single, and wasn’t happy being married, she now figures she’ll be happy divorced. She’s going to have a dynamite social life, not like living with what’s-his-name. She’ll have a fascinating job and a swell place. Joe Perfect will appear on a white horse and life will be roses again. She forgets that it never was, and anyway there just isn’t that much Prozac. The divorce occurs.
Which devastates the kids. She says it’s better for them to have one parent than to have parents who don’t get along. This is the Enabling Fantasy of divorce. Ten years later the kids will still be trying to get mommy and daddy back together.
Next, Cupcake learns that the business world is not importunate in its desire for women of thirty-six with no resume. Day care is expensive. As kids get older, their toys cost more. What’s-his-name may have been inadequate as a fantasy mechanic, but he did have a sizable paycheck.
Joe Perfect doesn’t show up, which is hardly surprising. Cupcake isn’t Suzy Prom Queen any longer. Most guys shy away from women who always have kids in tow. They have either had kids, and don’t want more, or else never wanted them in the first place. As men get older, marriage becomes less important to them.
Cupcake finds that the men she might date, typically two to eight years older than she is, are a sorry lot. The good ones have been taken. The leftovers are either gay, or confirmed bachelors, or three-time losers looking for their fourth divorce, or such awful dweebs that nobody wanted them in the first place. Or they’ve been burned in one marriage and aren’t about to make that mistake again.
In the divorce, either she got the friends or she didn’t. When a couple split, the friends seem to think they can continue to be friends with only one of the former couple. If he got them, she’s horribly lonely. If he didn’t, she finds that married couples, which most of them were, don’t want single people around. Four’s company; three’s a triangle. If she’s attractive, it’s worse.
Then come the long empty weekends when nobody calls. Depression arrives. She has a hard time growing a new social life because the kids are always there. Depression is two to four times more common in women than men, depending on whose figures you like, and she’s got reasons to be depressed. No retirement, for example. She gets a prescription for lithium. Try finding a single woman past forty who isn’t on Prozac, lithium, Depacote, Zoloft, or Welbutrin, all the M&Ms of the irremediably unhappy.
You can’t divorce a car payment. Cupcake finds that she has to have a full-time job, and maybe some part-time jobs too. Days only have twenty-four hours. She doesn’t have time to be a full-time mother and have an adult’s social life. Often motherhood draws the short straw. She starts leaving young kids alone for long periods while she goes out. By no means all divorced mothers do this, but more do than the newspapers tell you. Latch-keyism becomes inevitable. The kids, unsupervised, feeling neglected, angry because Daddy left, begin to get into trouble.
Not infrequently mommy comes to resent her offspring. They’re always there, always whining and fighting and wanting this and that. They make her life miserable, which doesn’t happen with two parents, and there’s no respite in sight. At best she becomes irritable and seems cold. At worst she slaps the hell out of them.
Then, dear God, puberty hits. Other things being equal, women are better parents than men for small children. A man would go crazy. For older kids, no. At adolescence they begin asserting themselves and testing Cupcake. A fifteen-year-old girl makes Attila the Hun look like a milk-fed pansy in lace shorts. With mammals like that, Cupcake will soon reflect, no wonder the dinosaurs died out. The kids walk over her, becoming contemptuous. She comes close to hating them for it.
A man would say, “No. You aren’t going to run away with a feeble-minded dope-dealer who plays bass guitar. Because I say so. We’ve finished talking about it.” It would stick. Women don’t do this as well.
Relations with the ex run from none to good. Like as not, she hates him because the divorce didn’t make her happy. Frequently she gets back at him through the kids. An angry man smacks someone. A woman’s aggression is passive: She withholds sex or, after the divorce, the kids, while earnestly pretending she’s doing something else. He gets no influence in raising the tads, doesn’t get the report cards or school pictures, isn’t consulted.
At best, he gets called only when the kids get into trouble and she can’t handle it. Daddy becomes The Heavy. Five years later when they figure it out, they will be grateful. But that’s five years off.
And there’s nothing he can do about it: “joint custody” or not, if she doesn’t comply, his choice is to put up with it, or sue mommy, which is not the high road to a kid’s heart. He puts up with it.
Don’t you love it? I mean, what a deal. The kids hate the divorce like poison, Willy Bill misses his kids horribly, and Cupcake gets to grow old by herself in a bleak apartment with a cat named Fluffy.
If that’s not social advance, I don’t know what is.