Life Style

L.A. My divorce isn’t contagious. Why am I being mistreated?

My best friend’s birthday party at Don Cuco in Burbank seemed like a safe place to make my debut as a divorcée. After all, I was friendly with her friends and knew their husbands and their kids. These were my people — no one was from my ex’s camp. After 13 years of marriage, I was expecting sympathy, empathy and kindness from this group of married people who no doubt knew, or at least could imagine, how hard this all must have been for me.

They knew me as a married person, and I expected them to see me the same way sans wedding ring. But waves of expectations in Los Angeles often leave a cold foamy sting on the skin in their wake. 

To help me get through the evening, I ordered the biggest margarita on the menu while the other women sat in a row across from me and their husbands congregated at the end of the table. To my right, Rachel, a longtime friend of the birthday girl, sat next to her husband, Brad. Amid the chatter at the long wobbly table, with bowls of chips and salsa being placed between couples and kids getting settled into nearby booths, she turned to me and said, “I heard about the divorce. Are you all right?”

I smiled and assured her I was. The hardest thing to explain was that my ex was always a good guy and a great dad. However, we agreed it wasn’t working for us as a romantic relationship anymore. My ex and I felt that was what a marriage should be first, and like most marriages that end, ours began to dissolve long before we said it was over.

For the first time in more than a decade, I was on my own — a prospect that thrilled and terrified me. The pressure to succeed, emotionally and professionally, was palpable.

As the dinner conversation ventured into the ”what’s life like now” part, more of the wives started leaning in my direction, fists tucked under chins as they eagerly awaited the details of first dates and new furniture purchases — the enthusiasm I had for my new beginning. The mere idea of a different kind of life triggered something in Rachel’s husband. Campy and awkward, he put his arm around Rachel and said, “Uh. Maybe you should come sit on the other side of me, babe.” They laughed stiffly, and I couldn’t help but say, “Divorce isn’t contagious, Braaaaaad,” stretching out his name to match the depth of my annoyance.

Despite this odd moment, I sang for my supper. I offered juicy tidbits of a life after divorce, the unexpected freedom of shared custody and the hopelessly romantic notion of possibility. Wide-eyed and full of girlish giggles, the wives nodded along and peppered me with questions — some silly (“What did you wear on your date?”) and others not so silly (“After all those years, is this really what you thought was best?”).

New beginnings come with stumbles, mistakes and regret, and I had to process all of those, which I didn’t hide. The overall sense I got from the wives was that I was the living, breathing, dating embodiment of a fantasy all of them entertained from time to time: starting over.

Los Angeles has a reputation for being the land of fickle relationships. From the near-constant stream of celebrity breakups to the abysmal dating-app experiences, it isn’t exactly the first place you think of when the words ”happily ever after” drift across your mind. However, according to an analysis by the women’s health and empowerment website, which features data from the American Assn. for Marriage and Family Therapy and the 2020 United States Census, Los Angeles has the fourth-lowest divorce rate out of 20 major cities in the U.S. That’s compared to Denver and Jacksonville, Fla., which are among the highest.

Surprised? Me too. The stereotype perpetuated in the news media is that divorce is as ubiquitous in L.A. as the Erewhon Skin Glaze smoothie. But statistically, more Angelenos seem to be getting married and staying that way.

What surprised me even more was the way married men acted around me.  I was prepared for what we’ve seen onscreen — wives carefully maneuvering the cliché divorcée away from their husbands — but the opposite was true. I noticed that men kept at a distance, were tense and side-eyed me around their wives, wary of the wild, divorced one in their midst. The wives would toss their heads back in laughter as I told the story of how I held a stack of napkins to my bloody knee after falling as I rushed to a first date. I winced in pain as my date ignored me, held out his iPhone and insisted I watch his unfinished movie trailer. Then I paid for both our drinks.

Getting a divorce today is something common, boring even, I thought. Apparently marriage seems to be trending again, and L.A. is nothing if not trendy. Although I felt I was coming from a position of strength, it seemed I was actually in a deficit. 

At the restaurant, the men were threatened instead of sympathetic. When I was part of a couple, they had me figured out. Now that I was single again, I was a rogue agent capable of anything. And from what I could tell, their worst fear was that I would infect their wives with the idea that there could be something else out there other than them.

Maybe there was, but according to the data, it seems that fewer of them would find out. For now, my road to happily ever after might be a long, strange one. At least I’m brave enough to explore it.

The author is a writer living in Los Angeles. She recently completed her first novel and also contributes to Southern California News Group. She received her MFA from UCR Palm Desert. Find her on Twitter and Instagram: @hodamallone

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email [email protected]. You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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