Memes Made Dealing With My Divorce Easier

My refrigerator door was once covered in satirical cartoons — the kind that skewered politicians for some recent hypocrisy or gaffe.

But after my husband abruptly left me, I started tacking up a different kind of cutout. Kinder and gentler ones. Short, uplifting quotes along the lines of “you are enough.” The type that I, a cynical child of the ’80s raised on a “no pain, no gain” mantra, might have mocked in the past.

Why the switch? After my husband announced that we were “better off as friends” and that he was moving out to “find” himself, I suddenly craved sympathy over snark.

I came across my first motivational quote as I was scouring social media, trying to distract myself.

”Know your worth,” it exhorted, vague enough to target anyone in despair — including me.

Simple, strong words plastered on a neutral backdrop that paled in comparison to their power.

Soon I began checking Facebook every morning and every night before bed. Thanks to the all-powerful Meta algorithm, the more I “liked” sayings about self-love, breakups, and healing, the more they appeared.

Some were clichéd. Some were novel. They all served as a salve for my shattered self.

“It’s OK to feel broken. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed,” soothed R.M. Drake, one of my favorite creators.

“He’s not running from you, babe, he’s running from himself. Let him go,” Stephanie Bennett-Henry, another go-to source, wrote.

These two-to-four-line snippets became my lifeline of support, especially as months went by and I felt embarrassed to keep telling my friends that I still felt devastated and raw. They had shown up for me like an army protecting a crumbling castle, but even with their love, I still hurt. I was crying every day. I still didn’t know how to navigate life without the person who had been beside me for my entire adult life.

Was my marriage perfect? No. But as a wife, mother, and human being, the sentiments I now clung to reminded me that I deserved better than what I had been put through.

Those daily doses nourished me at a time when I could barely bring myself to eat — when acid churned inside my stomach and my overactive brain kept me up at night. I rifled through them like the index cards I once crammed with while studying for college exams several decades ago.

They supported me more than the divorce support group I joined, which at one point warned “dumpees” like me to abstain from sex, drugs, and alcohol in our “vulnerable” states.

“God was my rebound man,” testified a divorcée in one video, leaving me less than inspired. (I eventually quit the group, which I should have realized was a bit too religious for me from the start.)

Those words of comfort helped refocus my grief during morning swims when my mind would wade into the past, salty tears commingling with the strong chlorine.

“You can’t make them love you by loving them harder. And you can’t save the relationship if the other person is not willing to save it as well,” R.M. Drake comforted.

I began to think of those nuggets of wisdom as my in-house therapist, only infinitely cheaper and more available. They held my hand as I mourned the loss of part of me ― my “we”― while still having to function “normally,” go to work and engage with my children.

When I’d feel guilty for weeping while folding laundry in front of my boys who were home on college break, a Facebook page titled “Joker: Motivational Quotes” (yes, an odd name) gave me succor.

“If you don’t leave your past in the past, it will destroy your future. You’ve got to live for what today’s offering. Not for what yesterday took away from you,” read one post. But “yesterday” also gave me my kids. I found it hard to separate my lasting love for them from my failed marriage. I kept trying.

The two remaining memes on the author’s fridge. “You can see the sticky residue spots where older memes used to be posted,” she notes.

Courtesy of Stephanie Vuckovic

All the while, I was acutely aware of how cynics perceived these types of motivational quotes, as well the entire industry of self-help “influencers” who have made it their business to “empower” people like me who are facing some kind of tragedy or hardship. Their fortune-cookie-esque bits of advice are seen as overly simplistic and idealistic, distracting from the actual work people need to do to better themselves, and self-help nonsense that keeps people, especially women, from healing. I understand that and believe there is some truth to that.

However, taken together with my support network of friends, colleagues, my sons, my few relatives and my therapist, these posts served to amplify and anchor me. They boosted my fractured self-esteem, as studies have shown them capable of doing for patients with chronic illness. They helped remind me of my strength, resilience and the good things in my life. So as cringy as I might have once thought looking for solace in these quotes was, I’m not cringing anymore. I’m healing.

“Healing doesn’t mean the damage never existed. It means the damage no longer controls your life,” a “Mindful Methods for Life” post so wisely reminded me.

Almost three decades spent with someone is not easy to shake off in a little over a year — or maybe ever. But I am now officially divorced and starting to rebuild, melding old friends with new, working toward financial security, and even laughing a bit at the banality of being 56 and “newly” single.

I’m feeling better, so I don’t reach for my phone every morning or night in search of words of support. I’ve taken down most of the quotes I had pasted on my fridge, sticky tape residue a lingering reminder of their pivotal role in my convalescence.

I hope to make even more progress, however that happens — whatever it takes — but I no longer need those posts the way I did in the thickest parts of my grief. Still, I’m grateful I had them and I no longer see them the way I did before they came to my rescue.

Recently, I had to put up just one more, this one from Emily Maroutain: “You will know that you are completely done with something when you give it up, and you feel freedom instead of loss.”

Stephanie Vuckovic is a program manager in Washington, D.C., and the mother of two college-aged sons. She harkened back to her journalism roots during COVID and began freelance writing. She is working on a novel about a failed marriage that began as a love story in Russia and a memoir about using food to cope with dysfunction while growing up in an Eastern European immigrant family. Her writing is featured on her website, www.giantsheetcake.com and on instagram @giantsheetcake.

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