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Lessons From the End of a Marriage

A “How to Thrive” Guide After Divorce

A Woman I Used to Know

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The student pulled a clipboard from the bin.

“Who’s Mrs. —?” he inquired, reading my old married name off the back of the clipboard.

I smiled, “Oh, just a woman I used to know a long time ago.”

Ain’t that the truth.


Many of the items in my classroom are labeled with my old name. When students ask who she is, I’m vague. Most have concluded that she is a retired teacher who gifted many of her classroom items to me.

In a way, they’re right.

She’s certainly retired. Not from teaching, but the old Mrs. — is no longer around. There are those who remember her and tell stories of those days, but they are behind us now.

Mrs. — has been replaced.

No, that’s not quite right.

She’s been transformed.


One of the more difficult aspects of a major life renovation such as divorce is that we struggle to imagine ourselves any way other than we are in that moment. If you asked the old Mrs. — who she was, she would speak of her role as teacher and tutor, she would talk lovingly about her husband, she would tell stories of her dogs and you would be cautioned from getting her on the subject of plants.

In those days when all was washed away, I remember feeling homeless in my soul. I didn’t know who I was anymore. Who I would become. I knew I would never be the same yet I couldn’t imagine anything but what I was.

And that was a scary place to be. Not the old me anymore and yet not the new one either. A limbo of self.

Scary and yet empowering. Because when you’re rebuilding your life and your identity from the ground up, you have the power of choice and the wisdom of experience. And that’s a powerful pair.

And the main choice I made was to be happy. Not happy because of the tsunami divorce. Happy in spite of it.

Everything else was secondary.


And now, here I am. Mrs. again. Dog momma again. About to plant again.

On the surface, much may be the same.

But beneath?

Everything has changed.

Because you can’t go back.

But you can always move on.


The old Mrs.— has retired. And now she’s just a woman I used to know.

And if you happen to see her, please tell her thanks for clipboards.



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19 thoughts on “A Woman I Used to Know

  1. When I was married, I used my maiden name and my married name sans a hyphen, as a part of a compromise with my ex-husband. I wanted to keep my maiden name when we married, but he took issue with that, so, I used both. Our two daughters have his last name, so, when we divorced, I wasn’t sure what to do about my last name. Keep it or change it?

    Even after 18 years of marriage, I never felt like his last name suited me, but I didn’t want him, our daughters, or his family to feel hurt if I changed my name. So, I consulted with my ex-husband and our daughters, and as a family, we decided that I would change my name back to my maiden name. It is truly how I am, and to have their support and blessing made it even more meaningful.

  2. I wonder whether you are actually happy BECAUSE of your divorce not in spite of it. Are you happier now than your old self? If the answer is ‘yes’; then it is because of your divorce.

    1. I am happier now but not because of the divorce directly. I was happy in my first marriage and happy with my first husband. The changes have come from within as a result of the divorce. It brought up old hurts and allowed them to be healed. It gave me a gratitude I didn’t have before. And it’s been very intentional rebuilding. So, indirectly, yes. But the divorce didn’t make me happy. The choices I made did.

  3. Just today I labeled scissors in my classroom with my married name and then asked myself why I did that, it won’t be that much longer so why did I do that? I long for this to be me on the other side of my own tsunami divorce. Thanks for your great blog.

  4. I loved this post. My name was just officially changed back to my “maiden” name (by the by, can’t really stand that term…just because I’m unmarried, does not make me a maiden…) And I didn’t make a grand announcement to my students about my divorce, but officially at work all the staff address me by my former (and now new again…) name. I was reluctant to go back to it because now I have a different last name than my 4-year old daughter, but much like the other commenter said, my name is me… thanks for sharing.

  5. I have to say I respect your honesty and introspection, I had a friend who is facing divorce distance herself from me when I did not give a glowing report of how divorce has made me happier. For me, I have the chance of genuine happiness now that the house of cards fell and I will be happy in spite of my divorce just like I was happy in spite of my dysfunctional marriage of years ago. Perfectly said. Your post reminded me of how grateful I am for the Ms. pre-fix. For me, it will stay Ms. and not change again.

  6. My husband tried to force me to change my surname to his. I didn’t want to, so I didn’t! He wasn’t pleased. I left him and he found someone else. He and I are still legally married, but his “fiancee” uses his surname instead of her own. Good for them! He’s finally found someone who’s willing to do as he says/wants. And here I am, still content with my maiden name :).

  7. The first thing that I wanted to do was go back to my maiden name. I’m also a teacher and every time one of my students called me by my married name, I’d cringe, because it linked me to him. I made it through the rest of the school year and had my name at school changed for the next year. I had a little explaining to do, but everyone was understanding of the situation. My maiden name is me, that’s how I feel most comfortable.

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