Reactions People Have Had To Finding Out I’m Divorced, Ranked

I don’t talk much about my divorce. I don’t talk much about past relationships in general. It’s a tendency I developed over the years. Not necessarily out of fear of old pains resurfacing, but more because I feel like you just had to be there. Over the last 20 years since I’ve started dating, I’ve had a series of short-term and long-term relationships; some happening in closer succession than others, and some coming out of a long period of just meeting people and messing around. Some of those relationships were great and just happened at the wrong time. Others were just relationships of convenience. And a few were truly harrowing in ways I intend to never repeat. But if I’m being honest, I find that most of it is…kind of boring at this point. Don’t get me wrong, there are moments in that history worth discussing sometimes, but you won’t usually catch me starting a conversation by bringing them up.

My divorce story is like that, too. I don’t bring it up unless it’s relevant to whatever we’re talking about. Truth be told, my divorce itself wasn’t very painful, but the relationship preceding it was. I’ve been working and looking for years for methods to comprehensively tell that story in a way that makes me comfortable, but I haven’t gotten there yet. The people closest to me, of course, know much of what happened, but when I’m building new friendships, it feels harder to get into that conversation as fully as I would need to without changing the mood entirely for everyone. So, I generally resort to giving people the basics without going too far into detail.

It’s been many years since I got divorced, and in those years, I’ve met tons of new people and made a lot of new friends who weren’t there and who don’t know I was even married at one point. When you get to your 30’s, conversations about marriage or not getting married happen a lot. And sometimes, they’re just swirling around people’s feelings regarding marriage, as opposed to their personal experiences with the institution. It always seems like the new friends I’ve made know my opinions about marriage before I even talk about getting divorced, which I know is because it’s much easier to talk about those. Before getting married, I didn’t ever think deep-down that I would because of where I stand politically and, right now, I know I’ll never do it again for those same reasons. I won’t lie to y’all and say I don’t love a good wedding — I’m a sucker for love and romance, so I really do. But I can barely envision one for myself, and I’ve already gone through it once.

Regardless of all that, I do sometimes still have to tell people it happened. It is a part of me and who I’ve become since, even if I don’t want to discuss every difficult aspect of it. I’ve noticed that when I do, though, it elicits some interesting reactions, which brings us to the point of this whole project here. While I don’t have much interest in immortalizing my experiences with divorce in a lengthy personal essay that would get into the gritty details of what happened at the moment, I’m not above discussing some of the reactions I’ve gotten over the last few years when I reveal the fact that I did go through a divorce. Just for fun, I’m going to rank them in ascending order, from the ones that bring me the least joy to the ones I’d like to hear more often.

“Damn, that’s wild.”

This is at the bottom for obvious reasons. It’s a very standard, “Wow, this thing has taken me by surprise” response and not as interesting or creative as other responses. Sure, the simplicity of it does lend itself well to me responding, “I know, right?” but it also doesn’t help enrich the conversation in any way. I think it’s best when someone who really doesn’t know me that well says it. Then it feels like they’re just trying not to pry (which I think is appropriate).

“YOU were MARRIED?”

You have to read this one with the emphasis on the words for it to make sense. This isn’t necessarily a terrible response, but when you first hear it, it does kind of feel like an insult. I know it’s not. It never is. It brings up these feelings that I know have been socialized into me about marriage; that it’s one of the last bastions of adulthood that we can and should undertake if we want to be considered legitimate grown-up humans in the world. The immediate feeling is always “Shit, why NOT me?” which doesn’t make sense for who I am as a person and I don’t like it.

“Like DIVORCED divorced? Or you were just in a long relationship that ended?”

The confusion of this one is quite fun. I don’t know if there’s another way to be divorced besides actually just being divorced but the few people who have said this over the years seem to think it’s a possibility. If I wanted to talk about a long relationship that ended, I would just say “We broke up” because that’s not a divorce. A divorce is a legal matter wherein two people dissolve the contract they signed telling the state they are married. There’s a bit of difference there in terms of what happens, in addition to the cost of actually going through said legal proceedings.

“You never told me that!”

Yes, exactly. That’s why I am mentioning it now…in this conversation where we’re talking about marriage and divorce.

“You used to be straight?!”

A weird thing about this one is that it’s happened multiple times. Obviously, I’ve only heard this from straight people, but still, it’s kind of revelatory that I’ve heard it more than once. It really shows how far we haven’t come yet. I guess I should be a little more offended by this, but I’m just amused. It’s kind of cute they thought there was a possibility that I was straight-identifying at one point, and it’s kind of ridiculous their knee jerk reaction is clouded by heterosexism.

“Was it expensive?”

I like this one because it always feels like the person saying it is trying to collect data to make their own decisions about life and love a little easier. This question feels as if they’re saying “Ok, let’s get down to brass tacks.” They’re just being pragmatic, and maybe, they’re trying to divert the conversation from the more emotional aspects of what could be. I appreciate it. (And if you’re wondering…yes, it was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as it could have been.)

“Whoa, you got GAY divorced.”

This is just a classic. It’s funny to imagine that a gay divorce might be different from a straight one, even though as I said before, a divorce is technically just a legal situation you’re getting out of through arbitration and mediation. In that way, it’s not different at all. In fact, it’s the exact same. But I understand what they’re getting at here. You don’t hear about two queer people getting divorced very often because, well, they just let us start getting married in the first place. And I think there’s also the impetus in the queer community to keep our interpersonal problems under wraps so people don’t have more reasons to work against us, which sucks. Gay divorce does happen though, folks. We’re out here.

“What was that like?”

If I was writing this three years ago, this question would’ve been down at the bottom. Now that I’m a little more comfortable talking about it, I really appreciate people opening the pathway for me to do so when I tell them I’ve been divorced. I treat it like a little nudge reminding me it’s cool to go down that road with them, to let them into my inner world a little bit more. Over the last couple of years, I’ve noticed this question pop up more and more, and I think it’s because I’ve also been creating friendships and building relationships that will last a long time.

“Me too.”

This is the rarest response of all. In fact, I think I’ve only gotten this response three times so far since I’ve been divorced. Not to get extremely sentimental here, but it’s at the top because it makes me feel less alone about the whole thing. A lot of my friends have had messy relationships and breakups, but not many of them have gone as far as I have, so encountering others with similar experiences helps it all feel less strange and much more mundane. Because in a way, it is. Divorce isn’t an anomaly and it’s not the final part of anyone’s life. Life does go on afterward, sometimes even better than it was before.


Divorce Week is a celebration of taking a life-changing step, of coming out the other side of devastating trauma and being all the better for it. It’s co-edited and curated by Nico Hall and Carmen Phillips. Remember, you may be divorced, but you’re not alone.

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Stef Rubino

Stef Rubino is a writer, community organizer, and student of abolition from Ft. Lauderdale, FL. They teach Literature and writing to high schoolers and to people who are currently incarcerated, and they’re the fat half of the arts and culture podcast Fat Guy, Jacked Guy. You can find them on Twitter (unfortunately).

Stef has written 80 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. I have never been married or divorced but I can definitely relate to the “something intense happened that I made my entire personality at the time but don’t talk about as much anymore and when I do disclose, it tends to surprise people and lead to a lot of follow up questions” of it all. It’s strange especially as you get further away from it and start developing relationships with people who didn’t Know You When. Thanks for sharing, and I hope AS divorce week brings you some gay divorce connections!

  2. Thanks for this article. I’ve never been married or divorced but it’s interesting to see the different reactions people have.
    I don’t know if it’s different in the U.S. but I’ve known a few people here in Canada that were never legally married but lived common-law for long enough that they still had to get a separation agreement in court to divide shared assets. Maybe that’s what people mean by “long-term breakup?”

  3. Thank you for sharing this! I got married probably too young and got divorced after almost 7 years together total. The divorce itself was not bad and didn’t happen at the peak of issues in the relationship. The relationship itself was painful in so many ways for myself (being cheated on several times, manipulation, isolating, and more). I don’t talk about it and don’t want to. It feels like a lifetime ago and when I was a completely different person with healthy boundaries, healed, and in an incredibly healthy relationship. That chapter is so closed, and no need to read a book again I didn’t like.

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