“Hard core self honesty. That’s what it took to get to where I am. We were the perfect picture: the cute Brooklyn family on the block with the brownstone. But there was a voice inside of me saying something’s not right.” Meet Tara, the divorce revolutionary—except she hates the word divorce, along with everything else that we’ve come to associate it with. Shocked by society’s negative stigma around an everyday situation, Tara founded Splitsville: a site which supports those after a split in practical ways (think gift registry for a new home instead of blubbering women’s forum). Her perspective is brave as it is fresh, suggesting you think twice about tying the knot and that maybe, there’s more than one way to tie it.
“Part of why I started Splitsville is because the traditional family paradigm is the still the ideal, despite the fact it’s hardly common anymore. It took a great amount of self truth to make a decision that is generally frowned upon by society. Why would you leave a nice guy when you’ve ticked that box? I was 27 when we met and 30 when we married. As intelligent and together as I thought I was, I didn’t think about the fact that I was signing myself up for the next 50 years. You can’t think about it—with certain things you just have to close your eyes and jump. In retrospect, I was in a tough spot in life and looking for emotional relief in a relationship. Other than finding a safe harbor and becoming a committed person which seemed like the right next thing to do, I didn’t understand why I was getting married. Marriage for love is a relatively new concept—something we only started doing in the past 100 years. Even with love involved, marriage is really a business deal. My ex and I used to laugh and call our marriage Management Inc. While it started with love, it turned into management, especially when kids came into the picture.
I was in denial about divorce like everyone else. We naturally deny the end of relationships because we need to believe in their permanence to feel emotionally secure. Some of us stay married to the same person for a long time which is awesome—my hypothesis about those people is that they are able to grow in their marriage, with enough freedom to stay happy. The alternative is a ‘failed marriage’ or ‘broken home’—terms I hate.
I had a very full experience for 12 years with my ex-husband and would hardly call that a failure.
Even the most progressive people who are trying to be cool about it use that terminology—it’s old news. Even the term divorce grosses me out, but culturally we have no other playbook for dismantling a marriage. It essentially means to go separate ways but has such negative connotations.
During my divorce, while my close friends understood what was happening, acquaintances to whom I would casually mention that I was divorcing, were horrified. It’s a time when a lot of deep issues surface and you go to a very small, scared place. I was fascinated at how little support there was around the ending of a relationship, when we could be getting married or having a baby for all the wrong reasons, yet be totally celebrated. There’s always a good guy and a bad guy. We rarely look at relationships holistically in that sometimes, they merely stop serving their intended purpose for each person. That lack of support system amplifies an already incredibly lonely and shameful transition. It inspired me to introduce new cultural concepts around a split.
I found myself rejecting that shame or that I had done anything wrong.
Divorce is relatively new in the history of the world. We’re not surrounded with community as in previous times, and couples are often more isolated. No wonder marriages crumble under the weight of having to navigate family life without that support. The internet has almost become a replacement community—but those connections are not the same. On social media, you can completely hide out from the world and can end up hiding from yourself. There’s a notion that new generations don’t work hard enough at their relationships, but I don’t buy into that. I think people work harder than ever because as a society, we’re obsessed with finding Mr Right. Between movies and technology— OkCupid, Match.com, Tinder—people are gambling for relationships.
Once you’ve created it, losing that family structure is really hard. As a parent, the relationship your children have with the world is predicated by the relationship they have with you. We set the tone for their entire universe. A lot of people let their kids choose where they want to go during a split, but we wanted to provide as much stability as possible. We told them the schedule and that we were going to take care of everything. We split the time 50/50 which was super hard for me to give up. I wanted more, but my husband refused. The hardest thing about our divorce is that we each see our children less.
Even when the kids were really young, I never ever ever stopped working. I think there’s a retro thing of mothers wanting flexibility to be at home with their children. I feel very 80s as this working mom, dashing in and out the whole time. There’s a huge stay at home mom trend in Brooklyn right now. I get jealous of the mother who makes jewelry on the side, wanting to shoot myself because they’re supported and that’s their mommy project. As much as I had the urge some days to say fuck it, stay home and breastfeed, wear sweatpants and go to the playground, I didn’t. I never felt comfortable investing my well-being and livelihood completely in another person. I couldn’t put all my faith in my marriage—that person could die or just up and leave you. So I always made sure I could support myself financially.
People think my ex-husband and I are so enlightened, but really, we just both make the same amount of money. So there’s nothing to fight over.
While that financial independence may not exist for all women, what we do have in common is this emotional hyper-extension to the point of overkill. It’s this notion of: if I just do this, put that away, return that email, do that other thing—everything will be cool. It’s a lie because there’s always something else. Going through a breakup we do the same. Generally speaking, we’re inherently less self centered than men. We’re always trying to figure out how the man feels and what he needs. Men are thinking about what they think and what they feel also. So there’s two people thinking about the man. It’s a struggle to concentrate on yourself.
There’s this big thing on being mindful—we all know that we need to be present. I mean seriously. We get it.
But there are bigger systemic problems in our society which create so much fear and panic in everyday life, it’s hard to find the calm. I think women are particularly caught in that state of panic—I know I am. You have to be attractive, you have to be super smart, you have to be a mother but also contribute financially. Most men now want a woman who has a career, they’re psyched about that. No wonder we’re all running around like lunatics. I hardly find the time to do Splitsville but it’s going to have to do for now. I’ve learned to embrace the theory of good enough in all areas of my life. Making something perfect was less important than creating a space that supported people in times of change. We’re all so terrified of fucking up our lives.
What if you could take away some of that fear? I think we should have wedding contracts that include clauses about co-parenting, not just finances. That the construct of marriage should be more realistic. What if we had a 5 year, 10 year, even 25 year negotiation that could be revisited? Any woman considering marriage or children should think about why they are doing it. For me being a mother was a much deeper truth than being a wife. With marriage, you should think like a lawyer cutting a deal. What do you need? Financial security? Emotional security? Know that you’re not going to have it all in one person. Cast a wide net and keep your female friends close. Those are the people who will keep you alive. Above all, know that you are allowed to change your mind. People are allowed to change.
The most fascinating and hardest thing for me to say and for everyone to hear, is that I left my marriage because I wanted to.
It’s been incredibly powerful to effect a change in my life as opposed to reacting to one. I chose this. I changed my life on purpose and had to inconvenience a lot of people, namely my ex and my children. As women we avoid inconveniencing others at all costs, but I decided that I am worth the inconvenience.”
As told to Amy Woodside, June 2014