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Op-Ed: My husband filed for divorce during the pandemic. Am I on the worst reality show ever?

An illustration shows a woman and man on a couch.
When her husband told the author he had filed for divorce, she wanted him to get out. But where was he supposed to go during a pandemic?
(Andrew Rybalko / iStockphoto )

It was 9 on a Tuesday night, and my husband was putting our daughter to bed as I drifted off to sleep while listening to a murder podcast. Then he popped his head into the bedroom and said, “She’s asleep. By the way I got an attorney and he filed divorce papers with the court last Thursday.”

I struggled to understand the nonchalant tone of this person I had promised to stick with until death telling me that he filed legal papers to end our relationship forever. We had been struggling but had both recently committed to making things work. Yet he had chosen to sever our bond days ago, on our daughter’s fifth birthday. While I was decorating a Pokémon cake a court clerk was probably reviewing the documents that would end my marriage. The Superior Court of San Diego knew I was getting divorced before I did.

But the thought that rose above the rest: You’re doing this now? We’re in the middle of a pandemic.

With the podcast hosts still cheerfully dissecting a double homicide in the background, looking into the eyes of the father of my child, my future ex-husband, felt like death to me. And then: What right did I have to these feelings when people all over the world were actually dying every day from COVID-19?

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People get divorced daily, their lives untangling in their own uniquely devastating ways. Even in the best of circumstances — and I still cannot fully convince myself that there is ever a divorce under the best of circumstances — things are messy and hard. But getting a divorce during a worldwide pandemic, when stay-at-home orders have turned many of us into shut-ins, made the hurt feel especially acute. The pain, anxiety and uncertainty that came with the end of a relationship had to make room for the pain, anxiety and uncertainty that came with what seemed like the end of the world.

My gut reaction was to yell at him to get out, to leave and not come back. But where was he supposed to go? Many hotels weren’t open, our friends were assiduously quarantining, and at that point I didn’t think there was anyone who would risk taking him in.

We spent a month living together after he told me, a month where I felt like I was on the saddest Bravo show ever, with episode descriptions like, “Watch as one sad woman tries to get from the bathroom to her garage without bumping into her estranged husband at the Keurig.” When we did interact, usually for our daughter’s sake, we would maintain our best customer-service voices while asking the other to kindly pass the milk over breakfast.

Just when I thought I had this whole lockdown thing on lock, virtual lawyer visits and group-texts to break the news to my friends and family were added to a long list of pandemic realities I’d already adjusted to, like the guilt of loading my daughter up on screen time to keep her occupied during the day and wondering if people thought I was rude when I turned my camera off during Zoom meetings.

How do you move on and build a fresh new life when you aren’t even supposed to leave the house? My family was disintegrating and there was nowhere I could escape to rage or grieve; I just had to carry on in the open-space concept home we’d shared together, the one I used to brag to all my friends about.

Coping mechanisms I had used to help calm anxiety flareups in the past weren’t an option during COVID-19 and quarantine. There would be no night out with my friends drinking too much tequila, no last-minute vacation to a European city to binge on carbs, and most assuredly, no sex to get over my ex. My therapist wasn’t even able to give me a pity virtual hug because her Wi-Fi kept going out. Every decision felt overwhelming, whether it was figuring out how to tell our daughter what was happening or negotiating who got to keep the toaster.

I keep hitting new milestones in the pandemic divorce process, like our recent first virtual court hearing. I fantasize about meeting someone else who is going through this and can tell me from the other side that FaceTime first dates have worked, or at least have helped a little. I want to share my pain with someone who has been there, but even my thrice-divorced grandma has trouble understanding what it’s like doing this during a pandemic. I know I should give support groups a shot, but the idea seems exhausting after working all day while also parenting a 5 year-old.
What I really want is to feel connected to someone again in a way I haven’t since that Tuesday night. And I want to know how that murder podcast ended. I never did finish it.

Brynne MacEachern is co-host of the podcast Filmspringa and a stand-up comic from Orange County.


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