'Rewriting My Happily Ever After' (a memoir of divorce and discovery)
Our editor Samhitha had a conversation with writer Ranjani over Instagram Live to discuss divorce, stigma, and support for women (divorcees and otherwise!) Here is the transcript of their conversation. We hope it has brought awareness and helps foster a culture of empathy and honesty.
List of support and resources to empower women and men in unhappy marriages down below!
Samhitha: The first thing that comes to mind to many when you say divorce is the stigma surrounding it. How did you handle the stigma and what would you advise others who are held back by this?
Dr. Ranjani: Divorce is seen as a failure and is not spoken about, especially in conservative cultures. And to top that, breaking a relationship is difficult – be it a break up, divorce, or cutting ties with someone. In my own case, I was married for 16 years before making the decision to leave. But at that point, I was beyond “what would people say” and thought to myself that I just had to get out and focus my energy on making my new life work. So, I would advise people to think a lot, but when you make the decision, have a good vision of a better life ahead of you and work hard to get there – it’s really an empowering journey. Don’t get swayed by negativity because other people will talk today and forget it tomorrow.
Samhitha: You’d say lay the path for yourself. This touches on the theme of independence which you also dive deep into in your book. How did you redefine independence in your journey?
Dr. Ranjani: The better term to use for divorce would be inter-dependence as we are all dependent on each other, say, in our community and workplace. What I meant by independence in the book was that I had to learn to make decisions – big and small – on my own. This was new to me. During or before my marriage, I never had to make decisions alone because either my parents or my then husband were my primary support. In many ways, it made my life easier back then, but it also made me dependent. And suddenly, when I left my marital home, I was all alone. I had to learn how to travel alone, buy a car and furniture alone, pick a house for renting alone, etc. So, I had to rely only on myself. But it is a good thing – what independence does for you – the ability to make decisions and stick by them. And it makes you more confident as an individual.
Samhitha: I’m sure many would relate to that, especially those from cultures where youth is not expected to move out before getting married. This segues into the theme of finding yourself, which you touched in your book. One of the quotes from there was “If I was not a wife, who was I?... was I still “me” without that label?” So, how would you describe your journey of finding yourself after that label no longer applied to you?
Dr. Ranjani: In my experience, this is particularly a women's problem because society looks at women through the lens of relationships and women anchor themselves in their relationships too. So, when the relationship breaks, the anchor is gone, and it becomes harder to redefine yourself as a woman. In my journey, I re-prioritised my roles and what I want from life. It took a lot of introspection to understand myself and consciously choose what I wanted to be. So, I would highly recommend for people to have a good sense of self before getting married or getting into a relationship. When you ask yourself “who are you without this relationship label” and you have a clear answer, chances are, you will be okay when you decide to walk away.
Samhitha: That's really great advice, thank you! You also mentioned you had other social roles like being a mother. How would you say your divorce impacted your role as a parent as opposed to a wife?
Dr. Ranjani: Many times, another thing that stops people from leaving an unhappy marriage is the fact that they have children. But to say that divorce equals a broken home and will invariably have a negative impact on a child ignores the alternative of a child growing up in a toxic home environment. It’s like a garden with too many weeds – it doesn’t help the flowers grow. Children need nurturing and support to develop well into adulthood. So, parents need to acknowledge that maybe it is better for the child to have two parents that live separately to prevent the negative impact of the dysfunctional relationship on the child. They then have to model good behaviour that shows their child how to travel through the ups and downs with grace and compassion. This also prevents the passing of trauma and negative communication habits.
Samhitha: In cases where one of the parents has passed on, or when it is an amicable divorce or a separation instead of a toxic marriage that had to break, what would you advise single mothers?
Dr. Ranjani: The most important thing is to take care of your health and finances for the healthy functioning of a family. The moment you give away your financial freedom, other people will control your choices. So financial freedom becomes very important. And to get there, taking care of your mental and physical health becomes essential. This also breeds respect in people, and I can say that from experience. It makes them perceive you as an equal and they’ll be of support to you as well. You’ll end up building a whole new set of relationships. This is what I would advise to all single parents – divorcees or not.
Samhitha: How does one broach the subject of divorce or separation to your own kids?
Dr. Ranjani: It depends on the age and ability of the child. Generally, children as young as 8 can understand this topic. Children are very accepting of new ways of living. So, as long as you explain that it is not working out between you and your partner, and explain to them that it is not the child’s fault, they will be able to understand. There are resources out there to help people in this matter.
Samhitha: I agree, having a support system definitely helps the mental health aspect which often gets swept under the rug. Everyone could use advice like this! Apart from such great advice, why should unmarried or happily married people read your book?
Dr. Ranjani: I was very surprised to see such a diverse demographic of readers for my book! From their comments, I realised that other than divorce, there are so many more experiences that resonated with people like pursuing a PhD, troubles with conceiving, or even buying a car on your own. Seeing your emotions reflected in someone else’s life story validates your own experience and makes you feel less alone. And another thing the book helped readers with is life-long learning. For instance, there was one comment from a middle-aged man who said he was able to understand the women in his life better after reading the book. So, the book helped readers change their perspective on multiple experiences. This process of learning helps you discover yourself, and I believe self-discovery is the first step to self-empowerment. It’s something everyone could use.
Samhitha: I totally agree with the readers. There were a few things that resonated with me as well – an unmarried woman in her 20s. On the note of self-discovery, is there anything you discovered after publishing the book?
Dr. Ranjani: After releasing the book, I discovered that my hunch was right in that people needed to talk about this topic and move the conversation forward. But a book needs to stop at a certain point whereas life goes on. So, instead of adding to a book that is complete, I am choosing to keep the dialogue about divorce open through a new podcast, Rewriting Your Happily Ever After, that I will be launching shortly. Hopefully, it gives other divorcees a platform to share their stories.
Samhitha: We are looking forward to that! You also have your own imprint – Story Artisan Press. Could you tell us a bit about it, and why this work is important to you?
Dr. Ranjani: The publishing industry is mostly driven by profits. It is disheartening that many niche stories by the common man without a big social media following or celebrity status are often not given a chance to be published. As was proven by my book, there is a need for personal stories to start conversations on taboo topics. Story Artisan Press is an imprint that helps me and my fellow writer partner get such stories out. It may not be directly in the goals of a publisher but for me, it forms my life’s work.
Samhitha: Your book definitely has been breaking the stigma. When it comes to the laws surrounding divorce, what is your take on amicable divorce**?
Dr. Ranjani: Allowing for ‘divorce by mutual consent’ is a great step forward in acknowledging that sometimes marriages are truly ‘irretrievably broken’. Most couples who enter this stage are aware that they have crossed a threshold beyond which reconciliation is not possible. Continuing to live together or apart but staying legally married does not help the individuals, families or even society. By letting couples (and families) in such ‘broken’ marriages without proving dramatic facts like adultery or desertion is certainly the right step.
Samhitha: How about the support systems for divorcees? From your experience, where is the gap?
Dr. Ranjani: There is a lot of help in the legal and administrative aspects, but we could use more support groups by fellow divorcees. Many of my readers who are going through divorce say that even with kind and supportive family and friends, they feel isolated because they feel others don’t really understand the toll it takes to rebuild your life. Comments like “you are strong” and “things will be okay” come off as hollow remarks. Sometimes you need an empowering community which offers a listening ear and advice from first-hand experience.
This Interview has been edited for length and clarity. Watch the interview on our Instagram page for answers to the bonus questions!
Below is a list of support and resources to empower women and men in unhappy marriages
Type of Support
Support group, $100 registration fee. Only for women who are in the midst of divorce proceedings or who have been divorced for less than 2 years.
Family Central: Divorce Support Group & services for legal guidance, housing issues, parenting issues, mental and mental support
** In Singapore, a recent amendment to the divorce law states that married couples can get a divorce based on mutual agreement, without having to prove that they have experienced: a prolonged period of separation; adultery; desertion; or unreasonable behaviour. The latter facts were the basis of divorce previously.