Deciding to Live in a Smaller World

Everything I’m sharing with you on this page is anecdotal, not empirical. I have no facts, figures, or statistics to back me up on this. But my anecdotal observation is – if you will allow me to say so – remarkably accurate, because I have the chance to observe so many divorcing couples each day. I’m intrigued by the number of divorced and separated women who seem able to live on, and seem happy living on, far less than they consumed when they were married. I’m sure there are men in this same category, but I’ve noticed the women, so I’m telling you about them.

Shanethia and Akeed are typical. Married 21 years, two adult children. Shanethia and Akeed lived comfortably during their marriage on Akeed’s income. It was never clear to anyone except Akeed exactly what his income was, because he had two or three different sources including lots of cash, but he admitted to making $110,000 per year. They lived in a house that sold for $375,000, and both drove late-model luxury cars.

After their relatively calm and cooperative divorce (Akeed was the leaver), Shanethia moved from the affluent suburb of the big city where she and Akeed had lived together to a small town near her mother and her brother. She rents a small apartment and works part-time at a Wal-Mart within 15 minutes from her apartment. She receives $1,200 per month of alimony from Akeed plus the $650 or so per month she makes at Wal-Mart. She travels rarely other than regular trips to see family members, to church, and to the store where she works.

I spoke with Shanethia the other day.  After the obligatory dig at Akeed for being so cheap and refusing to share more of his wealth with her, she said she was much happier now than she had been during the marriage. “I get to decide where to go, what to do, and who to see,” she said, “and I can’t tell you what a relief that is.”

Shanethia is just one of scores of divorced women I know who are seemingly content to shrink their world after divorce. No, they’re not traveling to Europe or driving a Lexus or eating out at nice restaurants any more, but that just doesn’t seem to bother them.

I think Shanethia’s outlook is healthy, and I’m happy for her. That’s not always the case with these women, however. For some of them, their small world takes a dark turn, as they allow their depression to take center stage in their lives. Ruth is probably typical of them. Everything I know about Ruth comes from what her adult son tells me, so I may have it garbled. Ruth and her husband raised three children, the oldest of whom was still in high school when she and he divorced. Ruth  got custody.

Now, as a single parent, she gets up each morning to see her daughter (who now drives) off to school, and then (we think) goes back to bed. She sleeps until noon or so, gets up, showers, puts on her makeup, and (usually) meets her daughter when she gets home. If Ruth needs to go to the grocery store or run other errands, she does it in the afternoon and early evening. She is generally back home by 7:30 or so, when it’s time to start drinking. She will drink the equivalent of 6-7 (but who’s counting?) cocktails by the time she goes to bed, about 3:00 am. Then the cycle starts again the next morning.

Both Shanethia and Ruth have chosen to allow their world to shrink. Both are able to survive and find contentment spending far less money than they did when they were married. Both have changed far more after their divorce than their ex-husbands. I believe Shanethia’s choices are healthier than Ruth’s, but I know less about Ruth, so I must be careful not to judge. What I do know is that even Ruth seems to have found a measure of contentment in a smaller world, perhaps in a way she could never have imagined while married.

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