The day gay marriage was legalized in the state of New York, I was one of the first 700 couples in line at the courthouse to be wed. It was a historical, momentous day, one that many gay and lesbian couples had been waiting on for years, others for decades. I was 24, had been in a partnership for three-years, was very much in love, and very naive to what legal marriage signifies in this country.
At the time, I was horribly dismayed by all the forlorn quotes in response to gay marriage from straight married couples and divorcees. I’d either heard it on the news, reverberated on the streets or just in my head from my past childhood experiences with my parents divorces: “Now gays can get married, be miserable, and divorce like the rest of us.” This always made me chuckle. In the throes of my ‘happily ever after love,’ I never imagined that I would actually be going through a divorce one day.
When the marriage was good, it was a celebratory joy. I took pride in being a part of a same-sex couple and considered queer marital success as a shining indication that, despite this country’s naysayers, I was making my mark as a proud out woman married to another. But like many folks in all types of relationships, regardless of gender or sexuality, I began to change and grow as I exited my 20’s. Unfortunately, these changes did not properly align with my then partner and the distance it created between us slowly began to evaporate the strong, connective lines we were both committed to cultivating in our marriage.
When the marriage was bad, it was a heartbreak I tried desperately to mend. There were countless couple therapy appointments, boundaries negotiated and renegotiated, conversations that juggled our most creative solutions and a wall that continued to build between us despite both our efforts. In all fairness, I believe we both became people we no longer recognized. The love that had blossomed so seamlessly in our college years no longer fit into the ways we were both growing in and away from each other.
When it was over, it was over.
Last summer, I made one the toughest decisions I had ever made in my life. Unemployed and with very little funds, I packed my bags, secured my animals, loaded up my car and headed off to my friend’s place where I knew I could crash. In the middle of grabbing my clothes, I was on the phone with queer divorcées, women I knew could help me find a good lawyer to guide me through the daunting process of divorce. I was fortunate enough to be offered a room and that first night, sitting amongst my bags in someone else’s bed, it hit me what I had just done.
I left a marriage that, on the outside, resembled matrimonial comfort and stability. I became a free, broke, single woman navigating the harsh living terrain of New York City on my own for the first time since I graduated from college. If the prospects of my new life weren’t so horrifying, I would have laughed at the sheer insanity of my brazen act instead of sobbing myself to sleep.
I spent the rest of the summer learning how to start over. I found a lawyer, changed my address, started looking for jobs, and sold my car to make first month’s rent. I learned how to begin building my own financial independence and how to ask for help when I needed it. I created healthy ways of dealing with both sadness and rage by fully receiving love, support and encouragement from my community in ways that I never had before. I started to understand who I was outside of my relationship and who I wanted to be as a result.
To the lesbian and queer contemplating or in the middle of a divorce, as I write this personal testimony, I am thinking of you. Here are some key words of advice as you embark on your divorce journey:
1. Find a lawyer that is right for you
Everyone will tell you to get a good lawyer and yes, you should; but more importantly, finding a lawyer that is a good fit for you will bring some clarity and ease to the process.
This means being clear with yourself about what you will need during and after divorce. Issues of child custody shared and divided property, and alimony agreements call not only for a competent lawyer but one who can compassionately inform you of what is in your best interest. Filing for legal separation, obtaining both party’s signatures on necessary documents, and seeking court approval for divorce takes a long time, so securing counsel you’ll be comfortable with for the long haul is key.
2. Lean on the love and support of your friends and community
Shared friends can align with one side over the other– you end up dealing with the harsh reality that you are not only dividing property, but friendships. Sometimes, you’ll find you’re fortunate enough to have friends that can objectively support you both in the fight. Hold onto those friends. Make your boundaries loud and clear about how your friends can and cannot support you in order to protect yourself from any unnecessary drama. And believe me, drama is inevitable.
I’ve been lucky enough to have friends who respect the boundaries I’ve made of “no ex-wife gossip” and have offered me support in the form of care packages, phone calls, late night dinners, and cuddles. They stood by listening to me complain about the state of my marriage when I was in it and to my surprise, they are still willing to hear me through my struggles and triumphs. They teach me everyday what strong friendship and community look like in action.
3. Gather resources for self-care
If you have methods of self-care, now is the time to pursue them aggressively. If you’re not sure what self-care looks or feels like, start exploring what it means to you. Heartbreak can be aggravating, depressing, and exhausting. Creating ways to take care of yourself during this time is vitally important to your physical, mental, and spiritual well being.
For me, this has looked like long hours of journaling, creating art, quiet baths, and safe spaces to cry. I’ve started individual therapy through a queer/gender non-conforming trauma resource center and continue to surround myself with LGBTQ support groups. These various methods of healing have helped me tackle the feelings that have been unearthed through the process of divorce and assured me that I can come out whole on the other side.
4. Remember why you are doing this
There have been many times during countless breakdowns alone where I couldn’t help but yell out loud, “How the hell am going to do this?” Regardless of my own self-doubt of whether or not I could make it, I have never forgotten why I left. Plain and simple: I left because I wasn’t happy. After watching my parents go through their divorce as a child, I promised myself that I would never stay in an unhappy marriage. In the last years of my marriage, I allowed the promise I made to commit and fight for my relationship supersede the promise I made to myself as a little girl.
Don’t forget what prompted you to leave. Trust that if something inside you told you it was time to go, that voice was true and you can make it.
Ashley Young is a Black, Queer genderqueer feminist writer, teacher and witch. They work as a freelance writer and tarot reader under their small business Black Unicorn Tarot reading in-house at Catland Books in Brooklyn, NY.