Looking around at my immediate group of female friends I notice a marked difference between the seven or so of us who are married with kids, and the three who have left their husbands and are going it alone. Guess which group appears to be more content? Yes, it’s the divorcees. I have been a long term, close up observer of the lives that my newly single friends carve out for themselves and I have to say, I’m envious. The Sunday Times finds that 53 per cent of women report that they are “much happier” post-divorce. This does not surprise me.
Once the initial split has occurred (interestingly in my circle, the divorce was initiated by the woman simply because the relationship was not working well enough for them to stay), and the painful process has been endured of deciding who will live where and which possessions will go to whom, the period from actual separation onwards has been plain sailing.
I notice that my single friends now genuinely enjoy spending time with their children as they know that next week or weekend will be guaranteed child free as it is dad’s turn to parent. Because childcare is now shared more equally, my friends have time, glorious, defined time, to work, wax their legs, get their hair done, take long baths without the risk of a little voice enquiring of them through the bathroom door as to the whereabouts of hockey socks, jodhpurs or maths books.
They can book weekends away, safe in the knowledge that the kids will be with their other parent. Gone is the cringing guilt of trying to cajole an elderly grandparent or equally busy sibling or friend to have the kids for the weekend so that you can get a desperately needed break away from the domestic grind.
The long summer school holidays seem easier to manage too when you can legitimately ship the kids off to their dad’s for two weeks (if you’re lucky he’ll take them abroad so you don’t have to) and then take your two weeks’ leave and plan something nice to do. Much easier than sticking the kids into summer camp until you’ve both coordinated crazy work schedules to achieve the perfect family break, then spending two weeks wondering why you’ve shelled out several thousand pounds recreating all the stresses of home in a blisteringly hot, mosquito-ridden place with fewer labour-saving devices to hand.
My single friends are also free to experience the thrill of dating and bedding a brand new man, something us marrieds can only recall in distant dreams of our wild pasts. And because their new partner is probably a divorcee with shared parenting duties, they can coordinate totally guilt-free, child-free time together. Imagine that; novel, passionate and uninterrupted sex! No wonder I’m jealous.
Being in our mid-late forties, the pressure for my happy divorcee friends to have more kids has largely gone away too. Procreation achieved, from now on it feels right to focus on going to the gym and drinking good wine.
Us smug-marrieds are the so-called ‘sandwich generation’, squeezed from all sides with large mortgages, busy jobs and home lives, and parents who are now also demanding our time and attention. My father who has Alzheimer’s lives in the annex next door and although he has paid help, it’s still me that gets the call late at night when he can’t find his TV remote (usually hidden somewhere bizarre like under the sink) or he’s convinced there is someone spying on him from across the road.
If I want a night out or a girls’ weekend away, I have to ensure that there’s a full fridge and that my husband will be around and also factor in how tired and resentful he is likely to be if I selfishly check out for a while.
It seems to me that something has gone very wrong in our society when people in my position who are happily married with wonderful kids imagine the grass to be greener for single parents. Exactly how knackered and squeezed does one have to be to feel like that?