Photo from AmazonIt's no wonder Redbook Magazine is such a success. Interviewing editor-in-chief Stacy Morrison about her new book, Falling Apart in One Piece: One Optimist's Journey Through the Hell of Divorce (Simon & Schuster, 2010) was like chatting with an old friend. In fact, her whole book, just out this week, feels like a heartfelt tete-a-tete over pedicures and lattes. I caught up with her in her office to talk about the book, her life, and her advice for moms going through the same hell.
Let's go through the laundry list of all the things that happened at once: You had a 10-month-old baby, you had just bought a house, you were interviewing for your dream job as EIC of Redbook -- and your husband of 9 years says he wants out of the marriage. Do I have that right?
And I had been fired from a job I loved, just a few weeks before, which was also destabilizing. At the time, I thought "It's a busy, hard time, but things are good." I knew we were in a struggle, but I didn't think it was a struggle about us. Yet I knew enough to say that snarky thing to him (see the excerpt) -- “Want to tell me what you hate so much about your life today?”
You knew, unconsciously, something was wrong.
That opening moment captures the whole story: This is what life is. It's never just any one thing, though that’s how we like to tell the story to ourselves.
I know how weird it feels when someone says "You're so strong" because you're calm in the face of a disaster. I always wanted to say, "What choice do I have?!"
That's what I said! Every time someone said "You are so strong," it hurt. I felt like they were taking a piece of me. I felt like I was dying. I wanted people to say, "You must be feeling weak right now. Are you okay?"
You also describe feeling like you had sliding screens you could close when you had to go from panic-mode to survival-mode.
I felt like my divorce was two years of Zen living, because the constant reversals meant that two things were true at the same time. Like the title of Chapter Six: You Are Not Alone, and, Yes, You Are Totally Alone. I finally realized that living in the ambiguity of in-between was all I was going to get. I had to find that balancing point and realize that's what it was all about.
Before that, I was very all-or-nothing, and I thought it was soo cool to be intense and driven. I finally realized it was better to find that in-between place.
You say you didn't want "the cruddy consolation prize of being the one who was 'wronged.'" Your assessment of the divorce is complex -- you were both at fault .Why do you think so many people – men and women who've been divorced -- seem to want things to be black and white?
How could you not want that? In those first horrible weeks when the person you believe loves you most in the world, besides your mother, rejects you -- how could you want anything but the story that makes you look good? The one thing that helped me not do that was that I was so blindsided, I just had to know everything that was going on in him that I didn’t know about. I was driven to know: What had I missed?
What I love is that I have written 100,000 words about this and I have no answers. Because there is no one real story. You think you can make one, but the fact that you're looking for one means there is no one real story.
How are you different now?
I'm quieter. I still talk too much, but there is a quiet place inside of me that listens.
What did you learn about moving through crisis?
Wisdom doesn't come to you like an arrow through the heart; it comes when it comes, and we have to be listening to catch it because it can be hiding in something we don't want.
And it doesn't come all at once. I would think "There's my revelation, I'm done," and then I'd be back on the kitchen floor, staring at the crumbs under my stove. Knowledge looped back around and came to me bit by bit.
How are you able to stay such good friends with your ex?
I spent 13 years with Chris. I met him when I was 21. The thought of giving up everything I had learned from 21 to 34 -- are you kidding me? I needed to preserve those memories and experiences without their being attached to hurt or doubt.
How did other people react to your divorce, and what did that teach you about marriage?
It made me so angry that people wanted me to bury this marriage. People wanted him to have had an affair -- they would ask, and you could tell it was because they wanted to get those details and then be furious with him, and I could be the saint. I finally saw they were trying to secure their own magic: "This won't come to my relationship." But we need to live daily in the truth of This could all be gone tomorrow, so who cares if he put the milk in the wrong place in the refrigerator?"
How did your fix your relationship while getting divorced?
I had to think: Who do I want to be on the other side? I wanted to be at peace, wise, calm, and for my son never to feel the bitterness. But I didn't do this for him. I did it for me.
We are better partners to each other now than we were when we were married. About a year and a half after we split, he went through a very hard personal thing. I was scared, on the phone with him, and I found my strength to help and guide him through this process. And when I did, he was blown away -- and I said "I'm sorry it took us breaking up to realize we are two separate people." If you learn the lesson too late, who cares? Just learn the lesson, because then it's not too late.