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Thursday, February 26

When Neil Sedaka said "breaking up is hard to do," he wasn't lying.

I have met many women over the years who hesitated----for years after the term hesitation ceased to be applicable---to get a divorce, on account of they were scared---or as some around here say, "skeered" and often skeeet. One day there'll be a Berlitz language course in Hillbilly-----Y'allbonics, maybe---but for now I'll just try to explain things as we go. Hillbillies, of course are completely capable of pronouncing words in their correct and original phonetic state. For them, the word would be "scared" with a long a sound. The same folks who'll profess to be "skeet half to death" by something will also tell you that it was the "skay-ri-est thang that ever was," switching to that long a and giving it a few extra yards of length even. No one knows the why of any of this, but we do all understand it when it's spoken--and now perhaps you can, too. All the words mean the same thing, but you have to admit, skeered does sound scarier.

Anyway, the point is that women fear a lot of things when it comes to getting themselves together to get a divorce. Many women get skeered about money when they think about divorcing. I understand this. Let me tell you that someone very close to me (wink, wink) found herself married to a true compulsive spend-freak. And, as so often happens with these folks, his credit was crap---years of charging without the fuss and bother of repaying had seen to that. He always seemed to think that those pesky statements the credit-card companies insisted on sending out each month were mere suggestions or hints for payments rather than reminders of his legal obligation. And he took very personal offense at the presumptuous calls from stiffed creditors. It didn't take too terrible long for the word to spread about him amongst lenders, and he found himself labeled "persona non credit" on pretty much a national basis. That only left her credit---which was so handily impeccable---for him to use and, of course, he conned (and browbeat) her into giving him permission and a card to go with it.

Several years and many, many thousands of dollars later, she decided she could no longer afford the questionable luxury of that marriage and began making inquiries into the fees of various divorce attorneys. Besides paying her attorney, she knew she was going to be faced with having her income cut by more than half, and it was a pretty safe bet that, judging from her soon-to-be-ex's track record with honoring debts, she was more than likely gonna have the pleasure of choosing between filing personal bankruptcy or personally repaying all the bills he'd run up in her name. After selling several assets and paying off thousands of dollars' worth of crap he'd bought---for himself---over the years, the final tally of outstanding credit-card debt still stood at more than thirty thousand dollars. We never calculated what it would cost to repay all that based on minimum payments and 18 percent interest, but we were pretty sure she'd never live that long, anyway.

To say that this was a daunting prospect just woefully understates it. She was nauseous for months just thinking about it, but meanwhile, he was still finding ways to charge things in her name and she finally knew she had no choice and she sucked it up and did it. She divorced him and cut him off from her cards.The first thing she noticed was that her credit-card balances stopped going up every month. The next thing she noticed was that, even without his income, she still managed to have money for herself and her children that she never had before. She figured up what the total of her minimum payments were each month and budgeted that amount as Sacred Funds---nothing could touch it. Then she started with the smallest bills and concentrated on getting them paid off completely. When one was paid off, she would add that amount of its previous minimum payment to paying off the balance of the next one. She never missed a payment on a single one and she paid it all back, every single solitary dime, with not one penny's worth of help from the sonofabitch who created every bit of the debt.

She had to learn that she was ultimately responsibility for her situation. Yes, he did all the charging, but he could not have done her one dime's worth of damage without her permission, and until she found balls enough to withdrew that permission, she was helping to rack up the balances. He had her convinced, on some level, that she could not survive him being unhappy---but somebody finally succeeded in pointing out to her how very easily he tolerated her unhappiness.

My point here is, yes, the price of freedom from this guy was exceedingly high, but the cost---financially, sure, but more importantly, spiritually and emotionally----of staying with him was far, far greater. The price of the lesson she learned about letting somebody browbeat you into violating your own standards in order to pacify them was a high one. We can only imagine what the ultimate cost would have been had she failed to finally learn her lesson. Pay the price and move on.

And see, that's where I think divorce is---or can be--a positive thing. I believe that we're brought together with people for a reason. We bring out the very best in each other and that's why we fall in love. Then, before long, we commence bringing out the very worst in each other so we can learn about ourselves.

I have learned----or at least I hope to Gawd I've learned---that we are not, as I previously thought, put in each other's lives to order to observe and correct the flaws in the other person (as clear and easy, not to mention fun and totally gratifying, as this process would admittedly be). I mean, how hard is to see in the case I just mentioned that all he needed to do was grow the fuck up and stop spending more money that the two of them could possibly hope to earn? Pretty danged simple if you ask me, but of course, nobody did----certainly not him.

Trust me, she did spend years focusing on that aspect of the situation----trying with absolutely ze-ro success, to get him to see the error and folly of his ways, and to change. All that happened was that he got surlier and the balances got bigger, in direct proportion to each other and to how much she nagged and whined. It reminds me of Aunt Vonnie's bird, which kept on pecking my cousin Anita's little-girl fingers till they bled every time she poked them in the cage. Anita spent much of her childhood standing at the birdcage, yowling, "Aunt Vonnie, your bird's biting me again!" She could not get that stupid bird to stop biting her, until one day, on a whim, she stopped putting her fingers in the cage and miracle of miracles, the biting stopped!

For him to stop overspending was his lesson, and she could not learn that for him nor could she cause him to learn it. Her lesson, on the other hand, was to stop enabling him to overspend. And all it took was two little letters of the alphabet---those being N and O----coupled with determination and resolve, creating a resounding NO! Why is it we can scare ourselves nearly slap to death saying that little bitty word no?

Some women aren't so much worried about money and afraid of big stuff as they are the loss of the convenience and routine they've become accustomed to in married life. A good friend of mine was in just such a situation. She had a great job, financial security of her own, tons of friends---and excellent life, except for her drinkin', cheatin' mean-ass husband. But, sweet thing, he did regularly take out the garbage, washed her car real good, and changed all the burned-out light bulbs. She actually stayed married a long time to this man, who was breaking her heart on a regular basis---and not being one bit sorry about it---just because she couldn't figure out how she was gonna get all those chores done herself. Now, this woman is not dumb, She's as smart as they come. But she couldn't see the illogic of her predicament. She was scared---scared of breaking out of normalcy and habit and tradition, and there's no question, their pull is powerful.

Finally, I jerked her up and said, "You can pay somebody minimum wage to do all that and more. And while we're talking about hired help here, let's just imagine that your housekeeper came to work drunk, lied to you all the time, cheated on her husband and used working at your house as a cover, stole from you, and was just plain mean to you besides. How long would you employ this person?"

"Here's what we're really dealing with here," I explained. "You're married to a man who's a lousy husband but a halfway decent domestic flunky. And you're in a quandary about it? Hunny, I will come take out your garbage and change your light bulbs. Be done with this guy." And so she was. Now she's got the shiniest, cleanest cars in town and household help begging to take out garbage.

If you find yourself in a similar quandary, I'll come take out your garbage, too. Quit investing your life in a relationship that'll bring you only minimal returns. If you find yourself burdend with an overload of skay-ry things on your mind as you head down the road towards the breakup, don't be skeert of going for more and concentrating on yourself, which is something society tells women not to do.

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