I recently ran into an old acquaintance while shopping with my daughter. I hadn’t seen this woman in about five years and we haven’t kept in touch on social media. The conversation started off by us meeting each other’s children and talking about our oldest beginning kindergarten in the fall. We then transitioned to talk about old co-workers we had kept up with and what they were doing nowadays. The conversation was surface but polite, until it wasn’t.
This woman lowered her voice, leaned into me, and whispered, “I noticed you aren’t wearing a wedding ring. Did you get divorced?”
Sigh. The dreaded question. The anxiety slowly began to creep in and I could feel my skin turning red.
I worked hard to keep a calm, leveled voice when I replied. “Yes, I got divorced a few years ago.” I intentionally kept my answer short in hopes that doing so would be a clue to my discomfort with the current topic of conversation.
“Oh no, that’s terrible. Was someone unfaithful?” By this time I can guarantee my eyes were wide and the horror was beginning to display itself on my face. I wanted to find my inner child on the playground and run as fast as I could away from this public display of humility.
I answered by telling her the circumstances didn’t matter and that the result was still the same: a marriage ending.
I will never forget the words she spoke next: “It’s a shame that such a cute girl is going to waste. I’m sure it’s tough to find a man who is OK with you having baggage.”
It took every ounce of composure I could find to bite my tongue. I looked down at my daughter, who by that point was looking up at me wondering why this exchange had all of the sudden turned tense. I grabbed her hand, said goodbye to the other children, and walked straight out of the store.
I shed tears in my car. In my safe place. I cried out of embarrassment. I cried out of anger. I cried out of shame. And I cried out of sadness.
I was broken by this person’s words and that made me cry more.
This was not the only time I have felt as though I walk around wearing a red letter on my chest. Society has a way of making us feel as though every family should be traditional: one father, one mother, two or three children, and zero issues. Well, that simply isn’t the case.
Our world is made of beautiful, blended families and each one is unique in makeup. We all have troubles we go through, whether they be of financial, emotional, health, or social in nature. It is guaranteed that we can all relate to one another in some form or fashion because we are more alike than we care to admit at times.
While it may be human nature to judge quickly or jump to conclusions, I challenge us all to practice the pause and look through a lens of empathy.
Our story may not be the same but we all have a place in this world. We all belong. And we should work to make others feel as though they do, too.
I refuse to wear the scarlet letter of society and am proud of my beautiful family of two.
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