Language is simultaneously liberating and limiting. When you finally put into words an experience or a feeling, it goes from being this intangible “thing” to something real, at least for me that’s true. After all, it’s the reason I write, to make sense of this thing called life. At the same time, words can limit you.
Take for example the word divorce. Up until a few weeks ago, it was the only term I’d ever known for the process I’m currently undergoing with my soon to be ex-husband. It’s a heavy word and with each utterance reminds me of how immensely it sucks. However, “divorce” fails to really capture the complexity of the situation – there’s him, there’s me, then our two daughters, there’s custody, there’s a visitation schedule, there’s co-parenting, there’s single motherhood, there’s being single, then my feelings about everything, my daughters’ feelings about everything, and, of course, the constant desire to just be done with it, to be at the other side of this very hectic time in our lives. So “divorce” oversimplifies a very multi-faceted process.
Imagine my delight when Gwyneth Paltrow announced she was separating from her husband, Chris Martin, and called the process “conscious uncoupling.” It sounds like something that floats down from the clouds, a stray feather off cupid’s wing, come to gently rock your marriage into eternal slumber. It made my unexciting divorce seem like this sacred shared process of unhinging two lives into two very whole, separate and thriving entities. And don’t get me wrong, I will come out of this with my own whole, separate and thriving life, and wish the same for my ex, but realistically we’re each going to accomplish that on our own.
I’ve come to realize perhaps being limited by our language isn’t always a bad idea. Maybe we need words that box us in and put us face to face with the unpleasantries of life. The same way we need words that set us free, we need words that give us a good slap across the face. I have to get real with myself. What I’m experiencing right now is much less kumbaya than holding hands with my ex into this next chapter in our lives.
While conscious uncoupling seems to capture my very crunchy, touchy feely, let’s-talk-about-our-feelings philosophy about life and love, what I’m going through right now is a fucking divorce.
I liken the divorce process to the crazy winter we’ve just had – cold days, warm days, sunny days, miserably freezing days, snow days, rain days, summer in January days. I’ve had good days, bad days, amazing days, craptastic cry in my car days, brought to my knees in gratitude days, even ho-hum ordinary days. Most days are fine, good and great really, but the emotional process doesn’t stop just because I have a smile on my face. The road is bound to be a little rough when things come to an end, especially when matters of the heart are concerned. The poetry of “conscious uncoupling” does the mourning process after a marriage ends a disservice. It coats everything in a layer of zen that’s uncalled for, at least for me. I want to feel the emotions that come along with divorce. I want the good and the bad because I know the only way to get to the other side isn’t around or over or under but through.
So conscious uncoupling is a lovely concept for Gwyneth. If it’s poetic language I’m looking for, there are always the years leading up to our separation, and eventually our divorce, which were a bit of unconscious uncoupling. Right now, I’ll take divorce with all its jagged edges. It’s a reminder that it only gets better from here. I’m going through a divorce, a chapter in my life, and I won’t be defined by it. It’s not pretty or flowery or graceful. It’s heartbreak and it’s ugly. Luckily, the heart, much like the phoenix, has a knack for rising from the ashes.