Women are much less happy in marriage than men. They do most of the care work and often have to give up their own wishes and needs. Divorce can be a solution. Not an easy way. The author Karina Lübke took it after twenty-two years of marriage and two adolescent children. A text about the courage to return to one's old life and start a new one.
By Karina Lübke
It was one of the most beautiful days of my life: My maids of honour, who are my oldest friends, sat in elegant dresses on my left and right at the laid and decorated table. I smelled their familiar perfume, enjoyed their closeness and love. They had brought gifts and bouquets of flowers. From a cloudless, ice-blue winter sky, the sun shone brightly through the windows of the crowded Café́ Paris, located just one street away from Hamburg's town hall. Even the dust motes glittered festively in its spotlight beam. In the background, clatter of dishes, laughter, buzz of voices.
We raised our glasses of cold crémant: "Good luck! To you!" said one. "Yes, to us! Thank you for being here," I replied, euphoric and touched at the same time. We toasted and drank up. The feeling of intoxicating lightheartedness was not only due to the unaccustomed intake of alcohol in the morning. A hopeful future fanned out and gave me a breath of fresh air. All set for a new beginning, back to the big time! I felt like I was in my early twenties again, as if everything was still possible for me in life - no, better: as if I had already made the really important decisions - job, children, friends - and now had the rest of my life mainly as a playground for myself. Between silk painting and sex, everything was in it in the future.
Hungrily, I bit into the buttery croissant and drank a big gulp of Café́ au lait. From the nearby town hall tower, the bell chimed twelve. The sculptural bronze clock above the entrance portal represents the beginning and end of life; the child on its mother's lap strikes the quarter hours, then death strikes the full ones. How fitting! The court date had been at 10 o'clock. For two hours I had been a divorced woman. Once I wore a big white and saw black, now a little black and looked through rose-coloured glasses at my new life of my own. After twenty-two years of marriage and two half-grown children, I felt I had finally come back to myself. To recognise myself again.
Yes, the years leading up to the separation and then the interminable process of divorce after so many years together, accounts and children was horrible and painful to the max. No, I too had once not wanted it that way; had married for love and fought, argued, cried and mourned for her after it ended. But now I was happy to have made this decision. It is better to downsize the lifestyle than to continue to make oneself small all the time, because there can still be a perceived eternity between the death of a marriage and the real death. Seriously, how many old married couples do you know who you think are still happy with each other and don't have their mutual dislike as their greatest commonality? Yes, of whom one assumes or even knows that they still have sex, and that too with each other? I personally know three - and I know a lot of people!
Very few women who aren't Britney Spears get married on a whim because they've just passed a wedding chapel in Vegas while drunk. However, none probably marry to increasingly lose their own life, while they alternately work harder and harder at their job, household and relationship. A good wife should still function like a Thermomix: A one-time expensive basic purchase into which everyone then throws a pile of demands, tasks and expectations every day so that she can conjure up something nourishing for body and soul. When children come along, there is no end to the care.
The "Fathers' Report 2016" of the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs summarised that only 14 percent of parents actually live a family model based on partnership. The "Fathers' Report 2021" now revealed, surprise surprise: 92 percent of working fathers with children under ten work in full-time jobs. The following comment in the study is supposed to be comforting: "But not even half of the men think that's good". In theory! Sociologists call this verbal open-mindedness with extensive behavioural rigidity. One can only guess who is taking care of the joint children (in addition to a part-time job without promotion prospects and mostly parked in moron tax class 3 due to the old-fashioned marital splitting). Studies on "Equal Care Day" also confirm every year that, in contrast to mothers, modern fathers generally lose neither sleep nor career: the "gender gap" begins at birth. The man pulls away and his well-paid (working) life, the well-educated and until just now equal mother stays at home "for now" with the unpaid care work for the future pension providers on which the entire economic system is based. From potential millionaire to dishwasher. Out of love. You get so much back! Just no money, no pension provision, no respect and no kindergarten place anyway.
In recent years I have often seen women looking ten years younger after losing 90 kilos of husband weight.
There's this cool rock'n'roll saying: "It ́s better to burn out than to fade away". Long-time wives and mothers easily manage both: to have a burn out and at the same time to fade away more and more. Of course, they still continue to function. They want to keep the pack together at all costs, at least until the children move out of the parental home. Corona has further strengthened the imbalance and the gender care gap - after all, it was primarily women who stepped in everywhere and took on (even more) care work; between household and home office, they also had to force themselves to qualify as teachers for their schoolchildren. No wonder, then, that after the first lockdown, the number of separations increased despite fears for jobs and the future. Meanwhile, every third marriage is divorced, most of them after an average of 15 years. People often separate when children come along and then again when the children leave. For it is true that after a certain age and a long period of loving service, women are simply no longer able to do many things: Admiring men for their sheer manliness, laughing at sexist or unfunny jokes, cleaning up after their partner, organising holidays and social life, and being sexually available despite not wanting to. Seven out of ten divorces are filed by women, some even after 35 years. And this despite the fact that in Germany, after the completely wrongly conceived and badly done "maintenance reform" of 2008, wives who have long cut back professionally in favour of bringing up children and unpaid and unappreciated family work have a much worse chance financially.
Since women more or less consciously see a happy partnership and family as their task, a separation or even divorce often seems like a personal failure to them. They therefore permanently work lonely overtime in relationships. Only when their needs for loving connection, support and emotional understanding have been hopelessly frustrated and eroded over many years do they eventually think like the ex-wife of "Spiegel" editor Jan Fleischhauer, who named his marital reappraisal book after his spouse's final sentence: "Anything is better than one more day with you". And while husbands, masters of magical wishful thinking, even after decades of quarrels, pleas, silences, tears and therapy attempts, do not see their wife's final wish for separation "coming at all" and, after the initial shock, look for a replacement for the spouse so as not to have to move into assisted living, ex-wives also find their dream woman after the separation: themselves! A nice surprise.
According to a survey of divorced women by the American couple therapist Jennifer Garvin, every third woman doubted before marriage whether this was really the only "right" one of the 4 billion men currently available worldwide. If women think no, but say yes, it's because of gateway panic, the expectations of their social environment, the desire to wear a beautiful wedding dress like their girlfriends and a biological clock that shows five to pregnant. One should not let the fear of loneliness dictate the word "yes": "If you have doubts, don't do it," advises the expert. Fortunately, however, it is never too late to let it go.
A while ago I was at a mothers' reunion. We had all met when our first children started school together in 1b 15 years ago. Back then we were a homogeneous, privileged group with husbands, one to three children, second cars and dogs. There were only two single mothers among us, exotic women who tended to keep to themselves, as if that were contagious. The first divorce burst into the family Shire in Grade 2 like a tsunami, washing away a weekend house, a condo, a wine cellar, a pony and a Porsche, among other things. The rest of the flock saw it with horror and vowed never to let it get that far. Now, 15 years later, a good 70 percent were divorced or separated. Many had come by bicycle or bus - for economic rather than ecological reasons. I didn't recognise some of them at first, but in a positive sense: although almost all of them lacked money, they had gained a lot of joie de vivre, attractiveness and charisma. Our children were on their way into their own lives - and so were we again.
In recent years I have often seen women looking ten years younger after they had lost 90 kilos of their husbands' weight. Once you have a marriage behind you, fear of being alone is no longer an issue. Most divorced women are fit for life, independent, crisis-tested, practical, much better socially connected than men and know from painful experience that one can never be lonelier than in an unhappy marriage. In contrast to earlier generations of women who had hardly any alternatives to enduring and tolerating an unhappy marriage, the generation of women between 40 and 60 knows a different life. They still remember well the premarital independence, the travels, the job, their ambitions, dreams, their own money, freedom. All this is stored on their hard drive, they just have to find the folder again. If they succeed, they live on as an updated, future-proof version of themselves.
But even if divorce is currently regarded in books and films as the ultimate midlife reinvention and the before-and-after effects are remarkable in many respects: Hardly anyone agrees to tie the knot with the intention of getting divorced again for capricious lifestyle reasons. One has loved, married, hoped and suffered to the point of no return. Women go slowly - but mightily. But then, for them, divorce is not failure.
It is - as it is for me here on this day - an alternative happy ending. A reason to celebrate.
Karina first studied design, took a diploma in fashion and then graduated from the Hamburg School of Journalism with Wolf Schneider. She went on to become an editor and columnist at TEMPO and then wrote freelance for a few magazines. Her monthly column "Bitte recht feindlich" in BARBARA magazine has a large following and has been published as a book. In between, she married, raised a daughter and a son. Learn more here.
Her new book "Bitte recht feindlich" is now available in bookshops. It's about guys and kids and childish guys, about politics, society, money and good words. And about love - despite everything. This book summarises her best columns from BARBARA magazine and contains new, previously unpublished texts.