I came across this blog post a couple weeks ago and have chewed on it for a while. I’ve heard things similar to this person’s blog in many different places and ways. It unsettled me for reasons I’ll get into. But what really stuck in my mind were the comments beneath it. I found many of them to be alarming and strange.
If you don’t feel like reading the post, the author, Glennon, is disclosing to her audience (which, apparently, is quite large… I know I’ve seen this website before) that, right as she is releasing a book called “Love Warrior,” she and her husband are separating. Divorcing. Her rationale for the decision, which was her idea, read thus:
But what can happen over time is this: You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary. When you let yourself die, there is suddenly one day: new life. You are Different. New. And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying.
Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.
There is much more in her post, and I encourage you to read the entire post (and more- she’s a good writer) for context.
Let me say a few things first:
-I find her willingness to disclose this right as she is supposed to be selling books and event tickets to be admirably direct and honest. She stood to lose a lot by telling everyone this but she did it anyway. I really, really appreciate that.
-Glennon is purposefully vague on some things, so we do not know what was going on in her life or in their marriage. There are legitimate reasons to pursue divorce. I am not privy to what was going on in that relationship that prompted her choice. It is not hard to find in her blog archives the truth that, four years ago, her and her husband dealt with her husband’s infidelity (of some kind). Apparently, they dealt with this painfully and slowly but seemingly very well. Glennon speaks highly of her ex-husband and doesn’t cast him in a poor light at all. Four years ago, we know, they experienced significant marital trouble. Four years ago is both a long time ago and not that long ago. I do not, in any way, want to pretend that I know anything more than that. I do not. Frankly, I’m uncomfortable with how much Glennon discloses in that post to people who are, in actuality, strangers. “Blog friends” are 99% not real friends. I don’t want to pretend to be her friend or to know her like a friend. She is, I’m sure, working this out with her friends and family and church (she writes as a Christian). That’s good. I’m not one of those people. What I’m trying to say is: I don’t her and don’t want to pretend to talk like I do.
-She says “separated,” but the rest of the post leads me to believe they are pursuing divorce. Perhaps my reading is wrong, but I’m operating under that assumption in the rest of the post.
-Divorce is painful and complicated and the last ingredient a divorced person needs from the church is unreserved shame and scorn. Again, relationships are difficult to parse. If I don’t know you and your situation, if these words are not your words, there’s a good chance your own story reads differently. I know that. I hope you know that I know that.
I’m not here to judge Glennon (again… a person I do not know). I do want to look at her words, though. Because they matter.
Suffice it to say this kind of rationale is particularly novel. What I mean is, obviously, divorce is uniquely common in our day. In Biblical (and inter-testamental) history, men (or sometimes women have been able to dot his too) could end a marriage for any old reason, but there wasn’t really a need to explain or seem justified in divorce. People could just do it. But mostly they didn’t. Divorce is far more common now than ever before, culturally. Increasingly, it is a coin flip whether kids will grow up with their parents. I say all this only to point out that reflecting on the choice to divorce is a much more recent phenomenon than any other time or cultural condition that I’m aware of.
I’m struck, though, by this particular conception of marriage. At least the conception that we can take at face from the words themselves. I think it’s a very common, very normal way to think about marriage. “I found the person with whom I fit together as a puzzle piece.” This speaks to our cultural expectation that things will/should “click” and that this is a very, very singular event, a special miracle.
The problem with this idea about marriage, though, is that people do grow and change. Glennon appears to have gone through a very significant and possibly very traumatic season of growth. So she finds herself married but changed from the person she was when she verbalized her vows. Now, the pieces don’t fit. Therefore her marriage is overly restrictive. The need for authenticity (“because pretending makes you sick”) now tells her that the solution is that the puzzle must be disentangled.
There is perhaps no higher virtue in our society than “authenticity.” To be less than “true to yourself” is the highest sin. The need for authenticity and the puzzle piece philosophy of marriage appear to be exerting incredible strain on her, thus her decision worked out between the two of them. Leaving aside the dynamics of their marriage (which, again, I know nothing about), I think it’s necessary to stop and put our finger on these words and interpret them together. Let’s sound them out together and see what they may mean for all of us.
What I would suggest about these words is this: No marriage will last. If this rationale is good and true and right, no marriage can stand the test of time. I will tell you a secret about marriage (and I’m an expert because I’ve been married for 10 whole years /sarcasm): You will change. In fact, you will radically change. Frighteningly, your spouse will also change. You will both change significantly over the course of the days and months and years. And if your puzzle pieces felt like they fit into place before, they probably won’t later. Because the pieces have morphed.
I promise you, this will happen. Time and life and circumstance will change you. In fact, I’d suggest that that’s one of the chief purposes of marriage: To change you. Marriage is not a cure for loneliness. It is not a happy factory (something I’m sure Glennon would tell you as well). Fundamentally, I think marriage was made to make you holy. For a Christian, that should absolutely be the goal. And at some point, that process will start to work. And it will also not work because people fail God and people fail one another. But all of those forces will change you.
You will not fit like you once did.
At that point, your not-fitting is not, or should not, be the cue to leave. I think, again, there are 100% legitimate reasons to leave a marriage. But if we admit this reason, this puzzle-fitting reason, then all of our marriages are doomed. We will all fall into discord as things shift and change over the years. But on the other side of seasons of feeling lost and strange are seasons of reintroduction and synchronization and the music harmonizing again. All of that is marriage working.
Again, though, what particularly bothered me were the comments that followed.
I think many words could be spilled about the nature of online communication and the feelings of false intimacy that are created. You can read many familiar words and seeming unconditional love from faithful readers, people who seem to feel that they are friends with Glennon (and perhaps that’s what she thinks, too). Lots of modern electronic communication fosters this kind of dynamic. I don’t think it’s unique to the blog world. But I do see it a lot there.
What I found most interesting and disturbing was the overwhelming number of people who speak not just words of love to Glennon (“we love you no matter what and are praying for your family in this traumatic time”) but 100% affirmation and acceptance of the decision as the right one. Many people chime in with their own stories to verify the judgment that what is happening is good. Plenty of stories contain tales of adultery or even abuse, which are certainly good reasons for divorce.
Occasionally, though, some of Glennon’s readers that are Christian like her question her decision. They question the rationale, the acceptance of divorce as the outcome. And for a Christian, isn’t this question natural? We don’t have (or shouldn’t have) a view of divorce that matches with culture. We believe marriage is more binding, more permanent, a little harder to shake. If Glennon, as a Christian, is going to put this out there, shouldn’t it be normal to expect others who are a Christians to say, “Uh…. what? Why is that ok?” I know the PS in her post tries to shut that down, but the comments section is still open. So…
The response from Glennon’s blog-friends is swift and clear and, I think, pretty severe. “You’re so judgmental.” “You’re shaming her.” “Oh <condescending address>, you don’t know what you’re talking about.” Some of the people who comment, I’m sure, are insensitive in the way that they frame their questions. Perhaps some of them deserve rebuke. But it seems to me that merely asking the question: “Is this really ok?” has been deemed a sin in and of itself.
I take a good-faith reading of those comments. I think they want to protect someone in a vulnerable place. But I don’t think the correct thing, the right thing, the kind thing to do is to accept a rationale like the one laid out above. Perhaps the real lesson is that this kind of thing really shouldn’t be worked out over the Internet. But I think these words need to be addressed. And addressing them is not mean or judgment of the person who says them.
We fundamentally believe the opposite as a culture. Have you ever heard someone talk about “my truth”? It’s an increasingly common refrain that has the function of shutting down any critique. And I’ve heard “my truth” used to justify some pretty terrible things. But we need friends, we need moments of sanity where we’re asked, “But what if you don’t even understand yourself properly? What if you’re wrong?”
What’s perhaps the most distressing aspect of this is those voice that pop up in the comments that are very clearly in marital trouble. They are wondering if they should stay or go. If they will be left by someone. They are wondering if things will ever be better. And you can hear the relief that here they may have their roadmap out of difficulty. Sometimes people in danger need to be told to get out. Sometimes infidelity cannot be overcome.
But sometimes friends need to be encouraged: “Stay. You will make it. You can survive. This is not forever.” And that encouragement is not always what someone may want to hear in the moment. It doesn’t make it less right.
There is no real space for that with these blog-friends. Disagreement is judgment. Questioning is shaming. There is no loving way to point to a different way.
When we are in a place where we cannot look each other in the eye, we do not solve the problems of loneliness and shame. We condemn each other to islands of autonomy. Everything rides on our interpretation, our truth. And when we are inevitably wrong about this thing or that thing, we are alone. We have brought ourselves to this place.
“My truth” is rubbish. Things may feel true to you, but friends tell you when you’re seeing things rightly. The autonomy of our own empires is not what we need. We need communities who love strong enough to hold on tight to us and tell us when “my truth” is a load of lies. Sometimes we think we see ourselves clearly, but we really don’t.
I don’t know about Glennon’s marriage. I don’t know what the right thing to do is in the actualities of her marriage. But I do know that her words sell marriage short. And her blog-friends, her commenters are not building a framework for transformative love. They are providing the means for people to push off into the great unknown entirely alone. I hope we can all take cues from Glennon’s willingness to be open and talk. But I hope we leave her puzzle pieces and her “blog-friends'” defense and set them aside. They don’t provide a better way forward for us. They muddy the water.
Sometimes the puzzle pieces change and shift. And sometimes we’re not being judged. Sometimes we’re just being told that we’re wrong. And all of those things are ok. Who knows what’s on the other side of all of this? But I think we can do better than this. I think we must.