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HOW TO BE DIVORCED IN YOUR TWENTIES
by NATALIE ZACHER
art by DANIEL WORKMAN

  • Step 1:
    Fall in love with the first person you notice in high school. Fall in love with the way the choir teacher calls her name. The way she is instantly cool because she’s 14 and wears crop tops so everyone knows she has her belly button pierced. Fall in love with the only girl in Pre-AP Bio that isn’t a boring white girl. Fall in love with her from a distance until you talk to her and she’s nice to you! Talk to her more and more and more. Fall in love with her before you even fully realize that you’re gay—I mean, hiding in the bathroom so you didn’t have to kiss your first boyfriend should have been a sign, but being oblivious will help with future steps.

  • Step 2:
    Tell her how you feel. I know she said it first, but that’s irrelevant because you still said it back and that still takes courage! Once you start dating, tell her how “I’ve never felt this way about anyone before” and share your life story with her, even the ugly parts. Tell her your favorite color and how you realized you were gay watching Transformers with your dad (not only is Megan Fox super-hot, but you actually think it’s a good movie). Tell her about your average, middle class, white, suburban childhood and how depression came for you anyways. Tell her everything about yourself. Give yourself away.

  • Step 3:
    Publicly come out on Instagram by posting with her. Your coming out will always be intrinsically intertwined with her and your relationship because of it. Who cares? You guys have only been together for four months, but this is what everyone says forever feels like, so this must be it. Attach your identity, or at least your queer identity, to her right out of the gate. Make it so that when people think of you—the new, gay you—they also think of her. Yes, you are proud to be gay, but what you are really proud of is her.

  • Step 4:
    Give her your first kiss. By give, I mean she’s been to third base with a boy but still insists you make the first move to ensure that this moment lives in humiliating infamy for all time. Kiss her hard and quick and with your mouth closed on the bleachers after sophomore Homecoming, your heels in your hands, your red lipstick staining her lips as the only proof it happened at all. Allow her to be your first and begin to fantasize about her being your last. Only kissing one person your whole life is so romantic, isn’t it?

  • Step 5:
    Actually let her be your first. Yes, your FIRST first. It’s December and you’re 15 and in her bedroom and—to be honest—you don’t actually remember your first time, but you know it happened. What you do remember is your first orgasm, which she gave you. Convince yourself that because she helped you discover your sexuality—not in the sense that you’re gay, but in the sense that you are a sexual being who can have and enjoy sexual activities—that maybe you’re not a lesbian, but only sexually attracted to her. Like, if your sexuality had a name, it would be HERNAME-sexual and that’s it. Start to narrow your world view down to one person.

  • Step 6:
    Start writing her letters. Like, handwritten letters on college ruled paper in AP U.S. History and hand them to her during passing period. Don’t be sad when hers are shorter or when she doesn’t write back. Keep all the letters she writes to you; they will come in handy later. Write poetry about her. Write poetry about her complicated relationships with history and her father. Write poetry about her that is so good that she shows her mom and her mom cries. Write and write and write. Learn that you love to write and that you are good at it. Get some form of love out of this relationship.

  • Step 7:
    Ignore when the red flags start. Does she break up with you if she doesn’t see you in person for three days straight? Like clockwork? Like, if she’s going on a trip, you mentally prepare for a breakup even though you know when she gets back you’ll go over and she’ll kiss you and say she wants to get back together? That’s totally normal. Well, maybe not normal, but every couple has their thing, right? If you don’t fight, it’s unhealthy, right?

  • Step 8:
    Put her above your friends. What I mean is, when your friends tell you they feel neglected because you are in an unhealthy relationship and it takes up all your time and energy, accuse them of being jealous and single. When they start shit on Snapchat, cry and then cut them off instead of trying to fix it or talk to them. Call them bad friends. Decide that you don’t need friends because you found a best friend and lover for life, so screw them! You don’t need shitty high school friends. Fuck that!

  • Step 9:
    Start to resent your parents. Sorry, that’s not actually how it happens. Allow her to convince you that your parents resent you. Believe her when she says that your mom is a narcissist and that has it out for you (she’s projecting! But you’re not allowed to know that yet). Believe her when she says that your dad is a racist—okay, to be fair, he does make weird comments towards her sometimes, but he’s a boomer and thinks that he can say whatever he wants as long as he doesn’t mean it. Have screaming fights with your mom and hide in your room when you are home, which isn’t very often. Have sleepovers on the weekdays and have food in the pantry at her house. Move in with her as much as you possibly can.

  • Step 10:
    Become Pescatarian. Now, this one is interesting. So, you’ve always been a “meat and potatoes” kind of girl, but she’s a pescatarian. If she doesn’t need meat, then you don’t need meat. It doesn’t matter if you crave steak and pulled pork and Auntie Anne’s Pepperoni Pizza Pretzels on a monthly—no weekly—no DAILY basis. Also, stop going to the zoo. Even if it’s AZA[1] approved. You LOVE the zoo. You grew up with a membership to the zoo. She hates zoos; stop going.

  • Step 11:
    Quarantine with her. Okay so this one only works if there’s a global pandemic, so if it’s looking like you aren’t going to live through one, start looking for contagious spores on the black market. Some key parts of this are: spend 24/7 together in close proximity. Doordash a BUNCH. Make and post public TikToks that reveal more information about your relationship than you want.

  • Step 12:
    Get voted cutest couple. Like, in your senior yearbook on the superlatives page, there is a picture of her giving you a piggyback ride and smiling at the camera. Don’t think about how painful this will be if you ever break up. Celebrate the win. If nothing else, this is a win for queer joy. Who cares if it will haunt you? Hopefully it will make all the queer freshmen feel a little bit better, a little bit safer. Celebrate, take, and send in the picture, and smile when you see your face on the superlatives page. That means people voted for you. They typed in your name. You are the cutest couple! You were not wrong for defining yourself by your relationship because everyone agrees that it’s the most important thing about you. If everyone agrees, then it must be true. 

  • Step 13:

Decide to get married. There will be no proposal, just a conversation. It’ll go like this:

Her:

You know college?

You:

Yeah, it’s that thing we both need to do to get a job that will put both of us in debilitating debt. 

Her:

Well, if we get married, then college is free! 

You:

No way, that’s crazy. 

Her:

But think about it, we are going to get married one day anyways, if we just elope now, we can start our life together debt free. We can always have a full-on wedding later, but let’s do this now. 

You:

Wait, that’s not a bad idea.

It doesn’t matter that this will be the straw that breaks the back of the relationship you have with your parents. It doesn’t matter that it’s unconventional. You love her and she says she loves you. And you believe her. That’s all that matters.

  • Step 14:
    Get married over spring break instead of going to Mexico, as is tradition. Okay, so you know everyone always goes to Mexico for spring break senior year because everyone is 18 or has a fake ID so you can all go drink in public and your parents can’t be mad at you about it. Instead, meet your mutual friend—the bitchy one that’s always making fitness TikTok’s and telling her followers that it’s not her fault that they’re fat—at the courthouse in the town over and sign the papers. Your bitchy friend will be the witness, so she’ll sign too. Go to the hotel that your mother-in-law—you have one now! —sprung for as a “wedding” present. Your wife’s—you have one of those now, too! —present to you is herself in new lingerie and you eat room service dinner in bed and get crumbs everywhere. The hotel tries to send you a bottle of champagne, but they can’t because neither of you can legally drink yet (don’t forget, you chose this over Mexico). You forget the rest of the world exists for one night. You meant the promises you made, so you expect that they’ll be kept.

  • Step 15:
    Graduate high school and go on vacation. Congratulations! You graduated high school with a deceivingly high GPA, 0 friends (other than your wife), and at least 1,600 cords around your neck—this is a rough estimate based on how heavy they were, but there were too many to count. In honor of this, you have won an all-expenses paid (by your parents) trip to the exotic, multicultural, fantastical world of Universal Studios Orlando! You are staying on property, and your dad will make you go on the Transformers ride 87 times (unfortunately Megan does not make an appearance)! You almost pass out from nerd-induced excitement when you turn the corner and see the Jurassic Park entrance as the theme music plays from the speakers in the tropical bushes! You eat chocolate bread for dinner and half a rotisserie chicken for lunch! This is an endorsement for Universal Studios Orlando. You can take your kids to Disney World, but take your grown, adult offspring to Universal Studios Orlando.

  • Step 16:
    Announce your wedding with a cheesy-ass photoshoot. This will include photos of you both in lacy white dresses and nude heels at the Premier Local Outdoor Nature Photography Spot. It will include photos of you kissing, close-ups of your rings with your hands overlapping, staring longingly into each other’s eyes. Wait to post these photos until the day after graduation. It’s a middle finger to the people who doubted your relationship or thought they would ever have a chance with you (no one else actually wanted to date you but you can pretend because even if they did, they couldn’t). Let this be the nail in your social coffin.

  • Step 17:
    Win “Most Likely to… Surprise Everyone by Saying She’s Married” for your Campie (A Campie is a Dundie for Summer camp, and a Dundie is a reference to The Office. If you haven’t seen The Office, that’s on you). That means someone decided that being young and married was the most interesting/important/memorable thing about you. Probably multiple people only knew you as “the married girl”, so it’s really not that weird. Plus, in case you forgot, this relationship is your whole personality now. It has been for YEARS—plural—at this point. For good reason, too. They aren’t wrong that it’s the most interesting/important/memorable thing about you. Without this relationship, you are nothing.

    [1] n.d. AZA.org: Association of Zoos & Aquariums. Accessed April 14, 2024. http://aza.org. 

  • Step 18:
    Officially move in together. Buy a TV and a $700 couch to start off your lives right. Build a shrine to the Trolls franchise in your living room. Get told you have the cutest apartment in the complex. Note the absent dishwasher and empty refrigerator that will become constant reminders that you are now an Adult. Spend absurd amounts of money that you do not have on Halloween and Christmas decorations. The university isn’t just paying your tuition but your on-campus family and graduate housing apartment rent, so you aren’t worried about money outside of buying groceries. This is still a TERRIBLE investment. You must make it anyway.

  • Step 19:
    Open your relationship. You’ve only ever had sex with one person and you're 19 and you're horny. And the problem isn’t even that you are too horny for a monogamous relationship, it’s actually just that you’ve been told countless times in the past three years, “I’m scared that I’m going to resent you when we’re older. I mean, I always thought I would have really slutty college years, and I never really saw myself settling down at all, let alone this early, so, like, I’m scared I’m going to blame you for not letting me live out my imaginary whore twenties.” And you don’t want your partner to resent you! So you open up your relationship, you download the dating apps, and you watch her meet up with people. You sleep with a couple people she introduces you to, but you don’t ever really get into the open relationship. You’re a monogamist, and you never really had a problem with that.

  • Step 20:
    Go on vacation, lose your wedding rings, and introduce her to your extended family (both sides). Okay, so the key to this is to go on the exact same vacation you did when you graduated, but, this time, with your dad’s entire side of the family. Yes. The Catholic side. That part’s fine, though. You aren’t the first open lesbian in the extended family, so they are pretty chill. It’s really not that big of a deal. You’ve already met her entire extended family. Now it’s her turn. It goes well. Except that, at some point, you lost your wedding ring. It could have been on a ride or behind the TV in the hotel room or in the trash at the Classic Monsters Cafe or in the pocket of the suspicious woman with a stroller that bumped into you while you were waiting in line for butterbeer, but it’s gone, and you are never going to buy a replacement. Universal Studios Orlando saved you the trouble of having to hock the rock—another of the many perks enjoyed by those who stay on property! When you get home, she will meet your mom’s side of the family. You realize she’s judgy because she tells you that she liked your dad’s side better. Ignore this.

  • Step 21:
    Cry on your birthday for the THIRD year in a row. The first time, you are turning 17. You cry because your friends suck, and you aren’t having a party because you don’t want one. You only want to spend it with one person. Her. She promised to come over right away. But she doesn’t. She pushes it back. And pushes it back. And pushes it back more just because you are upset that she’s pushing it back—and even on your birthday you need to learn a lesson. The second time, you are turning 18. You are crying because you have no friends, not even sucky ones. That year, you want to have a party, but you have no one to invite, so you cry. The third time, this time, you cry because she is being so mean. You are helping her clean the apartment because you guys are having a party! By party I mean your three “friends” are coming over to get drunk and play board games: aka your ideal night. But while you are cleaning, she is being cruel. You are acting strong. You are powering through. Until you break down and sob, “Why are you being so mean?” and she replies, “Because you always cry on your birthday. I just wanted to get it out of the way before our friends get here.” She shrugs, walks away. Gosh, she’s just so darn smart! She starts to be nice, to act like she loves you again. You sit there and try to remember if you had ever cried on your birthday before you met her. You know that you didn’t.

  • Step 22:
    Get her a job at the summer camp you’ve gone to since you were ten. This is your happy place. This is the job that made you realize what career you want to pursue. If she works with you, she’ll understand why you don’t text her as much in the summer. If she works with you, then you’ll be allowed to go to coworker social events because she can go (she could’ve gone last year, but she “didn’t know anyone”). You share your love and pride and joy with her. You gave her your last name, and that buys her a golden ticket into temporary employment at your version of Disney World (you might have expected Universal Studios Orlando, but Universal Studios Orlando is your Universal Studios Orlando). You are excited to share this, but you are even more excited to be taking away excuses she’ll have to start a fight.

  • Step 23:
    Watch her fall in love with someone else. There’s nothing you can do to stop it. You just have to watch. You just have to listen to her talk to you about it. About all of her Emotions and Doubts and what they mean. You could try to stop it, but you know that would just backfire. That she would take her emotional cheating, her breaking the boundaries you agreed on for your open relationship and say it was something she needs and that anything you do to stop it would only be you holding her back. You think it would just be you holding her down. She doesn’t seem to understand the difference. So you watch her as she starts to play with a shiny, new toy, no girl—I guess the distinction doesn’t matter, it’s all the same to her—and you know she’s in love before she even does. 

  • Step 24:
    Officially break up. Well, to be fair, you don’t actually have to do anything except grovel. She will do all the break-upping and you just have to cry and beg for her back. She’s the one who is putting in all the effort to end it, you just have to be upset about it. Which is easy. Because you are.

  • Step 25:    
    Believe her when she says she wants to stay married and that you guys might get back together some day in the far-off future. Let her convince you that you are still her soulmate. Still her best friend. A pawn in her game. A baby bird in the palm of her hand. Still a loser. A backup plan if something goes wrong in her new relationship. Still nothing without her attached to you. Decorate your shared bedroom. Continue to share a bedroom. Continue to share a bed. Continue to scratch her back until she falls asleep. Continue to do all the cleaning. She’s never home anyways. She’s always with New Girl. You get the bed to yourself half of the week because she is sharing New Girl’s. Continue to love her, even though she stopped a long time ago. Even though maybe she never did.

  • Step 26:
    Push her off of you. This one comes with some context: You moved into the new house with her, her mom, her best friend, and this other girl she met on Tinder that you guys are now friends with. You decide to get drunk with the roommates under 25 to celebrate moving in together. It takes 0.2 seconds for her to be blasted out of her mind. She’s texting New Girl and whispering in your ear “I really want to kiss right now. If I try to kiss you, you have to stop me” even though she KNOWS you’re still in love with her. She will continue to drink until she can no longer use her phone, but instead of ending her conversation with New Girl, she has you read the texts out loud and dictates what you need to send in response. This includes aiding and abetting her while she says “I’m in love with you” to New Girl for the first time. Five minutes later, she will try to kiss you. Tell her no. Now the next part takes two seconds, but you will still be able to feel her lips on your skin over a year later. She will try to kiss you again; you will swerve like she is a deer in the headlights even though you are actually the deer and she’s less of a car and more of a hunter. As you swerve, she grabs you and holds you—you’re taller but she’s stronger—and refuses to let you get away. Since you refuse to face her, she will make out with your neck. Push her off of you. ​

  • Step 27:
    DO. NOT. KILL. YOURSELF. This one is very important. Again: DO. NOT. KILL. YOURSELF. You are allowed to not get out of bed unless you are going to the bathroom. You are allowed to stop sleeping. You are allowed to lose 20lbs in three weeks. You are allowed to get checked into the hospital for your depression (this is not recommended; they will send you home with a business card to an online therapy service and a $3,000 bill). You get to be depressed; you get to mourn. You just lost the thing you’ve been trained to value more than anything. You were hollowed out and filled up with someone else. You were bashed to pieces and remade to worship. Now you have been stripped of the one thing everyone told you gave you value and purpose. You are allowed to feel empty but DO NOT KILL YOURSELF.

  • Step 28:
    Let your dad take you to the zoo. After you go to the hospital—even though you were warned against it in the previous step—your parents are going to become concerned. They feel this way because they aren’t narcissistic monsters that are out to get you! They are going to force you to come home for a couple days. You pack a bag and let them drive you home. On the second day, your dad will offer to take you to the zoo. Start by protesting, but eventually agree. It is a cloudy wednesday in September, aka perfect zoo weather and an empty zoo. Walk around. Look at all the new exhibits they’ve built since you were here last. Try to explain to your dad why it’s okay that you continue to share a room with your ex over noodles. Go to as many of the educational shows as you can. Pretend you can’t feel how sad your dad is for you. Pretend you can’t see how hard he’s trying. Force them to drive you back to your new house that night. You’re still in love with her and you still believe in her. That means you still believe everything she told you about your parents, even if they are showing you it isn’t true. Do not trust them. Run backwards.

  • Step 29:
    Go to her sister’s baby shower. By go, I mean get there early and set up with her mom. By get there early, I mean that she was supposed to be there to set up and she isn’t. By she isn’t, I mean she gets there three hours late because she was hanging out with New Girl and just couldn’t stand to leave her. By three hours late, I mean you are crying in the car because other people need to use the bathroom, so you can’t cry in there. By crying in the car, I mean that her Godmother comes out and tells you that you are better off. That she is mean and that “I never liked the way she talked to you.” Her Godfather comes out and asks you, “Do you remember how different you were 5 years ago?” and you nod because there are too many fluids on your face to talk through. He says, “That doesn’t stop. The change. Five years from now you will be that different from who you are now. That never stops. I am much older, and I am that different from who I was five years ago. We never stop changing.” This changes your life. This SAVES your life. This keeps you up at night with hope. This is the advice you give to everyone who asks for some. Never forget this.

  • Step 30:
    Move out. Do it while she’s out of town, visiting with New Girl. Do it behind her back so that she can’t put up a fight. Take the shit that is yours and yours alone, nothing that will start a fight or an argument. Leave the $700 couch you shared. Leave the posters that you bought but that she likes more. Leave both TVs. Leave the shampoo and conditioner. Leave the ugly clothes she bought you for Christmas. Leave any dishes that are sitting dirty in the dishwasher. Leave the box of love notes and cards you had saved from her. She can decide what to do with them. Fill the U-Haul and run. Put the Extra-Small Home Depot box of stuff that doesn’t fit in your childhood bedroom into the basement and pretend that you don’t feel small. Like your whole life fits in the room you lived in from ages 1-18 and an Extra-Small cardboard box. Pretend that you weren’t reduced to a shell. Admit that you are a shell. Start working on filling that shell back up.

  • Step 31:
    Send her a petty text and get in a fight over iMessage for the last time. By petty text, I mean a poem you wrote about her way back in July followed up with an “I wish you had loved me that much.” By fight, I mean she insists that she is not solely to blame. She tells you in length how much of a burden your mental health was. That she was sad because you were sad. You remind her that you were sad because she was mean, but you apologize for hurting her. You take responsibility and say, “I’m sorry.” You don’t list the 101+ ways that she hurt you. You do not get an apology. You instead get a TikTok with screenshots that paint you as a villain. It will be on your mother’s feed. Your friends will text you saying that they saw it, that they also don’t recognize her anymore.

  • Step 32:
    Acquire the divorce paperwork. Even though she said she wanted to do it. She’s “too busy” to file for divorce right now, so you’ll do it. She’s “too busy” with her job, her school, her friends, her sister’s baby, her girlfriend. You want nothing to do with her other than get away but she still doesn’t have time for you.

  • Step 33:
    Fill out said paperwork. Don’t worry, your mom will help you. Don’t worry, your mom will take it to the café to meet with her so that everyone’s signatures are right. Don’t let the financial section remind you of the TVs or the $700 couch or the hospital bill. Don’t let that convince you to ask her to pay the $200 fee to file the papers, just pay it yourself. Walk into the courthouse in your Ugg boots and sweatpants and turn in the paperwork like you aren’t freshly 20 but, instead, an overworked and underpaid 40-year-old who is DONE WITH HIS SHIT. Put on a mask (not literally, the global pandemic is a lot more chill now) and pretend you are someone else. Get through this. It’s almost over.

  • Step 34:
    Wait. While you’re waiting, get a job. A fun job. A job with coworkers that will turn into friends that will turn into family. A job you’re proud of with a boss that doesn’t make you want to quit. A job that makes people think you are interesting, or at least one people ask questions about. A job that has a future for you but isn’t a career. A job that reminds you why it’s important that you leave the house. A job that reminds you of your value.

  • Step 35:
    Wait. Yes, this is different from step 34. While you’re waiting, start eating meat again. Make a bucket list of all the meat-y meals and snacks you’ve craved over the past three years and cross them ALL off. Eat a steak from a fancy restaurant. Go to the BBQ dive and get a pulled pork sandwich. Eat bacon with breakfast, even though you don’t even like bacon that much. Get the Bao buns at the farmer’s market. Finally, go to the motherfucking mall, stand in line, and order that greasy pepperoni pretzel at Auntie Anne’s, and try not to explode right then and there.

  • Step 36:
    Wait. Different again! While you’re waiting, realize that life is actually amazing. Realize that you are amazing. Realize that everything around you has a beauty that’s been hidden from you. Listen to Last Hope by Paramore and the American Authors’ debut album (titled Oh, What a Life) on repeat. Design your room for you. Design your wardrobe for you. Do your hair for you. Stop surviving and start living again. Not for her, or for anyone else, but for yourself.

  • Step 37:
    Wait. No, this isn’t step 35 again. While you are waiting, go back to school. Realize that you are capable of putting effort into something. Read and participate and make jokes (people will laugh, it's a promise). Realize that college isn’t nearly as scary as college in an abusive relationship. Realize that you are a person with purpose.

  • Step 38:
    Have nightmares about the girl she left you for. Not the nightmares other people would think you have. The dream starts with you in the car. Your mom is driving, and your friends are in the back seat, but there’s one empty spot. You pull up in front of a familiar apartment. You get out, run up the steps, and knock. She opens the door. New Girl! You grab her by the wrist and start to drag her towards the car. You shove her into the open spot, hop in, and your mom puts the pedal to the metal. As she drives, you turn around. “I’m sorry. This is crazy, but I had to get you out. I thought about writing or texting you, but you wouldn’t have believed me. I had to get you out.” You barely got her out in time. You wake up.

  • Step 39:
    Get the paperwork in the mail! The waiting is over! It’s official! You’re divorced. You aren’t actually at home when the mail comes, but your mom calls you at work to tell you the news. Your coworkers are so happy for you that they make you drive to the Safeway across the street to buy a cake and frosting. You bring back a Spiderman themed vanilla and a tube of red, and your coworkers make you a Spiderman themed divorce cake. It will read “LEGALLY SINGLE #DIVORCED” and your coworkers will take a 100+ picture photoshoot of you with it. You will all eat big slices, and you will feel joy and love fill the small room you occupy. This life is more than you could have ever imagined.

  • Step 40:
    Block her on EVERYTHING. Since the divorce is final, you actually have no reason to ever contact her again. You hit block on her number first. Then Instagram, Snapchat, VSCO, Venmo, Spotify, Pinterest, and any other apps she might try to contact you on. You almost make a Facebook account just so you could block her on it—yeah, she has a Facebook, she’s the worst. Delete all of the pictures and videos you can find. Erase all the evidence you can. Not out of embarrassment, but because it’s actually over. You don’t want the reminders, and you don’t want her to ever even think that she can have you back. You want one thing and that is to never have to interact with her again (SPOILER! This does not happen).

  • Step 41:
    DM the girl she left you for. Tell her you saw her on the summer camp schedule. Confess that you don’t blame her. Not even a little bit. Even though she knew you, and she knew about the marriage. Tell her you understand, probably better than anyone, that it wasn’t her fault. Confess that despite it all, you like New Girl or Newer-Ex-Girl. She’s just a girl. You want to be friends, if that’s possible. She says she agrees. She says “Thank you”.

  • Step 42:
    Go back to summer camp. She will be there. Why? Only God knows, and you don’t believe in God. The amazing thing is that you can ignore her. You can have fun and make friends and do a good job and she can watch you. Or she can ignore you. All that matters is that she can’t stop you. She can be there, but she can’t control you. She can exist in the same space as you, and you can be happy despite her. You can thrive despite her. She tried to kill you and couldn’t and you are living proof of her failure and the only person that is hurting is her. You are being strong, not just acting. You are powering through. You are refusing to give up this $700 couch! Oh, wait, this time it’s a job. You are refusing to give up this summer camp! You’ve loved it since you were ten. This is your camp (you know this because you literally have nightmares about working there in your 50s)!

  • Step 43:
    Become BEST FRIENDS with the girl she left you for. This is what a real platonic soulmate feels like. A person who gets you for all the little weird things you both experience. Someone who speculates about having undiagnosed autism as much as you do! Someone who can trauma bond with you about your ex because she gets how awful it was. Someone who never judges you. Someone who reminds you that you weren’t the problem, that you aren’t hard to love because she always makes it look so easy. (It helps if you confess all of this to her while you are both drunk and also sitting in the middle of the road on the 4th of July).

  • Step 44:
    Almost hug her. You and your new best friend may or may not have gotten a little too drunk and told some stories about your mutual ex in front of some of your summer camp coworkers. Now, because your ex was treating you badly, she is painted in a pretty bad light in these stories. She will become increasingly upset as it becomes harder for her to make friends with people who know who she truly is. She will tattle on you to your boss, and he will command you to “Fix it!” so you will talk to her. When you do, she is crying. Naturally, you start crying, but you are wearing your Trusty Sunglasses! This means that anyone who sees the conversation thinks that only she is crying (a small but important victory). Outwardly, you will “apologize” for “hurting her feelings” by “talking shit.” Inwardly, you are dying many small deaths. You feel empathy?!?! For this monster? This feels like a relapse. You have the urge to hug her. To comfort her. You leave and go sob and dry heave behind a building and remind yourself that you didn’t actually say anything untrue about her ever. If her own actions make her seem like a bad person, then you are not the person she should be confronting about that.

  • Step 45:
    Get her to quit summer camp. Okay, so don’t do this on purpose, but if you do everything in Step 44, she will eventually accuse you and your friends of bullying and quit. The HR investigation will silently disappear. Quietly celebrate this.

  • Step 46:
    Make more friends. Make friends to prove that you aren’t actually all of the things she called you—weird, annoying, lame, stupid, dumb, socially inept—okay she didn’t actually say that one, but she implied it a lot. Make friends to prove that you deserve friends. Make friends to prove that you can do it, even if you haven’t since you were seven. Make friends because friends make your life better. You are 90% more productive and 749% happier when you have friends, even when they aren’t physically with you. Cook Wednesday night dinner and be the permanent Designated Driver and make jokes that people laugh at. Prove, once and for all, that you can love other humans again. That it wasn’t all used up. Prove to yourself that other people can love you. Not because of her or because of who you are pretending to be, but because of who you are. You are enough.

  • Step 47:
    Make badly timed and ill-received divorce jokes. This one might not sound like good advice, but it’s a canon event, so you have to. Make them on the first day of class. Make them at the end of the semester after everyone already thinks they have a pretty good idea of who you are. Make them at the bar and with your friends and when you are high at parties. Do not stop if people don’t laugh. Don’t stop when that one weird guy laughs a little too hard. Do it because you laugh. This is for you. You are the one who survived it, and you get to determine how it affects your life.

  • Step 48:
    Realize that there are residual effects from being in a long-term abusive relationship. Okay, so maybe you can’t totally control how it affects your life. You can’t control the fear that keeps you up at night. The fear that maybe you’ll never be able to trust someone again. The fear that you used up all of your love on someone who didn’t deserve it. The fear that maybe you are the delusional one and that you were the problem. The biggest fear of all, that you didn’t learn your lesson. That it is all going to happen all over again. That you will fall for someone new, and they will do the same shit and that you will stay with them anyway, marry them anyway. The fear that you would let yourself be abused again just so you could pretend you’re being loved. Hearing this won’t quell these fears, but it’s important that you know. These are irrational fears. None of these things are going to happen, but you are not alone in these fears. Everyone who survives abuse has these fears. Fight to trust again. Fight to love again. Keep your eye out for the next girl. Maybe not the Final Girl, maybe she will be the slutty one who dies first (metaphorically). Maybe she’s the nerdy one whose knowledge doesn’t translate into an ability to make a relationship work. No matter who she is, trust her anyways, love her anyways. When the next girl walks into your life, hold the door open (I know it’s heavy, but just think about how emotionally ripped you’ll be afterward).

  • Step 49:
    Stalk her Spotify. Little known fact, because no one ever feels the need to block anyone on Spotify, is that you can still view someone’s Spotify account after you’ve blocked them. So you open your mutual friend’s account and scroll through their followers until you find her account. You click on it and *angelic opera singing* she has a public playlist about you. You know it’s about you because the cover photo is the cheesy-ass close-up of hands with rings wedding photo that you deleted off your phone a year ago. You look at the songs. A lot of them are melancholy lost love songs. A lot of them are by artists she used to make fun of you for listening to. Some of them blame you, some of them don’t. Some are angry. Some imply that she’s not over it. You. You realize what you’ve known internally for months to be true, you won the breakup. You don’t have a playlist for her. You aren’t obsessed with her. You don’t feel a need to respond to the implications the lyrics leave. You are over it and she is not. She still wonders what life would be like with you. You don’t. She wants more closure; you’ve accepted she is incapable of giving you any. You have moved on. You almost feel bad for her because she hasn’t. Almost. (People are going to imply that checking her Spotify at all means you aren’t over it, but it is not your fault that My Kink is Karma by Chappell Roan is super relatable, so please ignore them.)

  • Step 50:
    Keep living. And being in your twenties. And loving. And living

NATALIE ZACHER is divorced and in her twenties. She is also a student at the University of Colorado and is studying to be an English teacher. In her free time she writes poetry, reads poetry, and watches movies. She enjoys lesbian protagonists and long drives through the mountains. She currently resides in her childhood bedroom. Her piece "How To Be Divorced in Your Twenties" was that second place prize winner of the Hindsight Comedy and Prose 2024 Contest.

 

DANIEL WORKMAN obtained his AAS from the Isaacson School for Professional Photography and graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder. Daniel focuses his artistic energy into mediums such as writing, photography, filmmaking, and songwriting. With an interest in culture, anthropology strongly influences the work he creates. Daniel's accomplishments include work with Pulitzer Prize winning photographers at the Eddie Adams Workshop in New York.

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