A lovely Twitter friend of mine suggested I write this. Leaving my husband was really like stepping off a precipice for me; everything was completely unknown and I felt extremely vulnerable for a very long time. All I knew for sure was that I was so unhappy I couldn't stay where I was for any longer.
It's been a bit of a wobbly path but it's coming right in the end. This is what I've learnt along the way.
1. Everything takes ten times longer than you think.
Getting divorced is a waiting game. Actually, the getting divorced bit is quite straightforward. It's a legal process which takes a set amount of time, if you're both on board with it.
It's the financial settlement that took the time. We tried to agree it between ourselves and it was mostly me who held it all up. I couldn't stand it. I just couldn't stand the intensity of our negotiations, and the rude way in which he addressed me. Found it hard to get past his tone, to see what he was really wanting. Always assumed he was being unfair or underhand. So I would delay even opening his emails because I didn't have the energy to read them.
That was hard.
I ended up using a solicitor quite a lot because it was me trying to lever money out of him. It takes money to get money, of course.
And there were 'pinchpoint' times when I needed my solicitor to do something quickly and she wasn't available. I got very stressed and I really shouldn't have. Because everything - everything - takes ten times longer than you think it will.
2. Rejection makes people unreasonable and act out of character
When I left my husband, I was of the (as it turns out, misguided) opinion that he was keen for the split too. In actual fact, things couldn't have been further from the truth. He couldn't speak to me. Couldn't look at me. Didn't want to pay me any maintenance. Wanted his surname back. (His surname! For fuck's sake.)
I thought that time would mend things. But still, a year on, he refuses to cross the threshold of my door. When he drops the kids off, he stays in the car.
My parents have tried writing to him but he ignores them. (I still write to his parents - and his aunt - and his cousin.) He is currently stinging me for every penny I have. He is behaving like a moron when, in reality, I know he is a reasonable, logical person.
He has been hideously hurt and does not know how to react, so he has closed down from me. Which is a shame because I am still the mother of his children. In fact, scrape away all the shit and I still like him. But the trouble lies with the fact that, under it all, he still loves me - and I have shoved that into his face and ground it into his eyes.
3. Children are resilient
Before I had decided to leave, the children were what I worried about most. Of course they were. The kids are at the centre of your life. Hearsay tells you that children from broken homes will end up as crack heads, dope fiends, drop outs, journalists...They will be constantly unhappy. And it will be all your fault.
Being a product of a broken home myself, I knew this wasn't true. I'm not a junkie. I've done ok. And my children were upset at first, but they very quickly, miraculously get used to the idea. Having a separated mum and dad is no longer the unusual thing it once was. At least five out of the 30 kids in my youngest's class have one main carer. And so it's less unusual than being left handed. (Which I am, by the way.)
My view is this; if you're happy, you feel like you have more air to breathe, more space to live, more love to give. Your children feel it - and so they're happy too.
4. You will not realise how stressed you are until something tiny goes wrong and you lose the plot
Divorce is stressful - supposedly the most stressful live event after a spouse dying. Look at the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale : divorce scores 73. Add to this the fact that you may be moving house (a measly 20 on this scale but should score more if you're giving up the family home), change in financial state (38), change in frequency of arguments (35), and probably a change in sleeping (16) and eating (15) habits - means that you score 197. The same as having two spouses die at once (now that would be bad luck). You are at risk of illness - although it doesn't say what sort of illness, but I'm assuming it means stress-related stuff rather than Yellow Fever.
I don't think divorce causes Yellow Fever.
Anyway, my point is, it's sodding stressful. And everyone reacts to stress in different ways. With me, I handle it, handle it, handle it - oops, I've dropped some gravy on the kitchen floor and suddenly MELTDOWN. Full out, racking sobs. Kneeling on the floor. Snot and drool. Feeling sorry for myself does not cover it.
After several of these episodes I started to be easier on myself. I recognised that, perhaps it wasn't actually the fact that my son was five minutes late that was at the centre of my breakdown. Perhaps it was, in fact, the ten months of steamingly hard negotiations, the worry of having no money, the frustration of getting nowhere, that was at the heart of the trouble. And so I became my own internal therapist and 'allowed' myself to be sad. It sounds a bit psychobabbly, but that's exactly what I did. I told myself I was doing quite well, considering, and well done you. Patted myself on the back. Asked myself if I wanted to go out for a drink with me sometime.
Actually not that last one because that would be odd. But you know, just taking a breather to look back at how far you've come.
5. Someone you do not know, have never met, takes the decision on whether you can get divorced or not
Isn't this amazing, in this day and age, that a man (probably) whom you've never met gets to judge whether you can divorce or not. You and your ex have to write out your argument for divorce and it gets sent to this v important person, like the sheriff in medieval times, who ticks the box to say 'you're allowed'.
6. Everything is more expensive than you think
Getting divorced is a bit like getting married in this respect. Everyone involved tends to put their prices up. I'm thinking mainly of the solicitors here; my divorce solicitor is way, way more expensive than my house move solicitor. And yet really, she has done no more work than him. And when I get my monthly bill from her my heart always sinks. £200 per hour, plus VAT, is a shed load of money (especially when you haven't got any money to spend).
I think I have spent about £3,000 on solicitor's fees so far. But if you go to court, be prepared for this to rocket.
7. People will look at you differently
Your closest friends will probably be totally au fait with what's been going on in your life, so they won't be surprised when you finally call time. Other people though will see you in a new light, and may blindside you with the strength of their reaction. I got, on the one hand, a mum in the playground telling me that I obviously hadn't considered my children, because who in their right mind would destroy the family unit? And on the other hand, I had other mums sidling up to me and asking for advice on how I did it. Some people will think that you are selfish. Others will think you are brave. My advice is to just let them get on with it; they have no idea what's been going on in your life and if they judge you, they are not worthy of a second glance.
8. Dating post divorce is exciting but exhausting
My God, I've had some fun in this last year. I've also had plenty of down days too; catapulting yourself back into the dating game is a bit like going back to the 1980s for me but without the raging hormones or Wham. Or perms.
I've tried internet dating and liked it. There are some good guys online but it is a bit like fishing; you'll need to dangle your hook in for a good while before you find one.
The most surprising thing I found about dating is that men still expect to pay. Hallelujah! Call me a noncy-non-feminist-victorian-traditional-user-of-men, but I find it all rather charming and manly. That and the fact that I have no money anyway so if I paid, we'd just be hanging about outside McDonalds.
My advice on dating is - you have to be brave. You might be lucky and meet your perfect man in Sainsburys, but it is not highly likely. Don't bank on it. Put on a frock and get out there. Follow all the safety rules and apply tons of mascara. Heels. Smile. Condoms.
9. If you share custody of the kids, you still have to maintain a relationship with your ex
I thought that, if I divorced my husband, I'd never have to see him again. Get rid. Job done.
You idiot Lottie! Of course I see him. And we will have to have some sort of relationship as long as we share custody of the children. So all the things that annoyed me when we were married STILL annoy me now; his inability to do any washing (all the kids' clothes come back smelly), his refusal to have anything to do with school admin (I go to all the parents' evenings on my own), his disorganisation (always some important piece of kit missing in the boys' transfer bag). I even find his socks mixed up with the boys' socks, and end up washing them. GAH!
But - I don't have to sleep with him any more. And this, my friends, is a wonderful thing.
10. Life will be better and sunnier, but it will be harder work
I am much happier post separation. But sometimes life seems too full. There is an awful lot to do, particularly if you have the lion's share of custody. I am always ferrying the kids about, cooking, organising, washing up, worrying. When you work too there's not much space left in your life for anything else. (I must admit to having one of my sobbing sessions just this week. Everything was going bananas and I had lost any sense of perspective. And I was on the blob. Funnily enough, I felt much better the next day after a bath and a good sleep.)
But I do have every other weekend off, when the boys are at their Dad's, and that is precious space for getting some air. And having fun as an adult.
Which is good, because if I was not having fun, I would have flung my family's lives in the air for nothing.