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Theatre of the absurd

It is really, really, hard to process a divorce. It’s no doubt entirely unoriginal to say it has many similarities with bereavement. It’s why I think it has been hugely triggering for me in terms of reassessing (or perhaps only now properly addressing) my parents’ deaths which occurred in quick succession in my early twenties.

But bereavement happens to you, and whether expected or not, it is nonetheless an affliction you can’t escape. As such it provokes sympathy by default. Society is set up to rally to your aid. Yes, there are legal processes to follow, but many sentimental journeys to go on too and traditions of mourning designed to soothe and heal the spirit in its time of loss.

There is no emotional rule book for a divorce. Even if it comes as the result of unforeseen circumstances, it is in effect a conscious decision – or set of decisions as I am discovering – making it very hard to escape the feeling “I brought this on myself”. And this is regardless of how much it makes long-term sense (something it’s impossible not to at least occasionally question).

This constant internal debate and self-doubt (why did others stick when I twisted?) prompts a slightly out of body state. As if you’re not quite living your own life but watching a surreal drama, in which you play the principal role, where the script is both entirely in your hands and completely beyond your control.

I studied Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter as part of my university degree and I know that the label Theatre of the Absurd does not directly apply here. If I may take liberties however and make use of the individual words rather than the official literary application, then I think the phrase rather neatly sums up a divorce.

There are elements I have experienced to date which I think fit into this sense of taking on, quite unexpectedly, a part in a singularly strange (amateur) production. These include an attempt to spin a number of plates that even the most skilled circus performer would struggle to keep aloft and a sense of seemingly never-ending limbo (and not the party game either).

And this is to say nothing of the other players. True stage success comes from a synergy between actors – reacting and responding and not just delivering your own lines. Unfortunately, the natural state of severance in a divorce means the narrative is played out as more of a battle or Mexican stand-off, each person delivering their own monologue across the boards.

You can continue the theatrical analogies ad infinitum. You can expect mixed reviews. Members of the audience may stand up and leave halfway through. Others will stay to the end and even come back for a repeat performance. There are many people involved behind the scenes. You may receive (or give) a dressing down.

Perhaps it’s important also to acknowledge that divorce, like bereavement, is a tragedy. Tempting as it is in more buoyant moments, or when in it’s a case of laugh or I’ll cry, to call it a comedy of errors (even if it feels like one) is to downplay the huge impact it has and the ongoing ripple effect.

And what do we do with a tragedy? We let it play out, even when we know the ending in advance. We experience it, we consume it, amoeba-like, and let it consume us in another example of the bizarre state of both inhabiting and observing ourselves. Divorce is absurd, but sensible too and once you’ve set the scene (and contrary to earlier comments) ultimately unavoidable.


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