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I’ve spent my entire adult life filling out forms. From doing grocery-store club cards to driver’s-license renewals to doctor-office intakes, I’ve become a pro at completing those small spaces with my perfect block handwriting: Middle Initial—G, Hair Color—Red, Allergies—Penicillin. But it wasn’t until after my divorce that I noticed something very peculiar as I sat in a new doctor’s waiting room with a clipboard in my lap. The form asked for my marital status, and I had the option of checking off “single,” “married” or “divorced.”
Of course, I’m sure those options had been on many forms I’ve seen over the years, but as a newly divorced woman, suddenly they caught my eye. As I sat with my pen hovering over the little check boxes, I thought: How is that information pertinent to my check-up? Why should it matter if I’m divorced? I’m not married, so I’m single. Right? “Single” or “divorced” seemed redundant—kind of like deciding between “fruit” and “apple.” Was there even a difference between being divorced and just being single? For medical purposes, I didn’t think so.
So I checked the single box. Then I started asking questions about why a doctor would need to know the details on my marital status.
What difference does it make that I’m divorced?!
A nurse of 25 years told me that details like marriage and divorce can be important administratively because of billing, but more important, she said, it’s crucial to know a patient’s marital status because a good health-care provider treats “the whole person.” And according to her, a person who has been through a divorce might have different stress levels, different medical needs and a different daily routine than a single or married person.
Whatever. I wasn’t buying it. I was just the same post-divorce as I was pre-marriage. Working. Socializing. Red hair. Allergic to penicillin. These forms were clearly pointless and I refused to let the possible stigma of being a divorcée become part of my medical record. I was single and proud of it. A 30-year-old independent, competent, single girl out on the town.
At least, that’s how I felt at first. After my divorce, I started dating, and it was a whirlwind of fun. Cute boys. Nice restaurants. A reason to wear eyeliner. But within a few months, I started to feel a certain heaviness overwhelm me while I was out on dates. I couldn’t help but wonder: Am I ready to get to know someone new? Am I willing to care about someone again? Am I able to give love another chance? Soon I noticed that the heaviness sort of felt like hauling luggage through an airport. Apparently, I had baggage. And lots of it.
Owning up to my new outlook
I also noticed that, unlike in the past, the small dramas created by romance didn’t seem serious or exciting to me anymore and instead felt like a nuisance. When my single friends would go on and on about how they thought this one guy was cute but he lives too far away but this other guy is awesome but kind of short and blah blah blah, I wanted to yell at them and say, “Who cares about your second date with the short guy?!” “Who cares that the girl you have a crush on turned out to be a lesbian?!” “Who cares if your boyfriend of three months broke up with you for a waitress?!” Always followed by my refrain: “It’s not like you were married!”
The first year of my divorce I broke out in hives several times. I had mild panic attacks while doing simple things like grocery shopping. I either slept for 12 hours at a time or not at all. And I constantly seemed to be fighting off a cold.
After going to the doctor several times for one illness or another, the nurse asked me what was going on in my life to bring on such anxiety and stress. To my surprise, I blurted out, “I just got divorced!” And then it hit me. They do need to know this, so they can treat the whole person. I may have denied it, but my so-called whole person was being affected by my divorce. Because getting a divorce, even an amicable and quick one, is still exhausting, painful and spirit-crushing.
Making peace with my past
Unlike my single pals, I stood in front of my friends and family and announced that I would bind myself to my husband forever… then that relationship died. And although unmarried couples can love each other just as much as married couples, there is an added element of despair when you have to legally separate from your spouse. Putting your wedding ring in a box, throwing it down a well, or taking it to a pawnshop: It’s a different feeling from throwing out your ex-boyfriend’s jacket.
Divorced people have gone through the excitement of a wedding. The elation of planning a future with someone they love. And then the demise of that dream. There’s a lot to learn from that experience, but before you can learn anything at all, you have to acknowledge it that has, indeed, changed you. For better or for worse, as they say.
The last time I went to the doctor, I asked the nurse for a new form. And this time, I checked the box that said “divorced.” That was six months ago. I’m feeling a lot healthier these days.
Sascha Rothchild is a freelance writer, television producer, and a contributor to public radio’s “This American Life.”
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