Currently, I'm going through a divorce, and it is MUCH WORSE for me than my chemo and radiation and the second (different) kind of cancer, because there everyone is rooting for you. With cancer you think you might die, because you might! Divorce has hit me in the gut and ripped my brain like a violent roller coaster. I was the one who filed due to emotional abuse and his alcoholism. It HURTS! It SUCKS! And it doesn't ever completely end, because some day we will be at our child's wedding, and he will screw it up somehow. It hurts to have spent years protecting a child from their father and to have that child turn to the now attentive, poor daddy and feel like it is their responsibility to take care of the SOB! The mom is chopped liver, so yes, if you don't know the pain, confusion and crazy-making of the explosion/implosion of a family that has lasted 29 years, then STFU. You don't know my life.
Not to exaggerate too terribly much, but we are all hyperbolic as fuck now. No, most things hardly qualify as truly "awesome" in spite of rampant use of the word, and checking out someone's Facebook photos, the ones they posted deliberately with the explicit understanding (or hope) that they would be looked at does not make you a "stalker," and in most uses, that woman you're calling a "psycho" has merely committed the crime of still being around when you said get lost. Some of these instances of word bloating are more egregious than others.
"Stalkers," for instance, are a terrifying reality for many people, mostly women, who given the choice, would I'm sure be over the moon if the dude who is plotting bodily harm or worse against them would just "stalk" their online photos instead of, you know, hiding in their bedroom closet with a weapon.
Using the term "survivor" for things that don't always literally involve your life/death though, doesn't quite warrant the indignant response it is getting in a piece over at the Good Men Project called "Newsflash: You're Not Special for Going Through a Bad Breakup."
In it, Ward Anderson posits that the use of the word has gotten out of hand. That people going through divorces shouldn't get to claim they "survived" anything (or be applauded), because contrary to what they seem to think by using such a term, they are not, in fact, special, or unique, or snowflakes, or any other thing that signifies being worthy of a such a word. Everyone goes through breakups, he tsks. Most of them are bad. In fact, over half of marriages end in divorce and nearly all relationships will end. So get over yourself.
Patting yourself on the back for "surviving" it is just a slap in the face to those who actually deal with life-threatening situations.
You and the ex argued a lot and screamed at each other? That doesn't make you the victim of domestic violence. That makes you a bad fit with your chosen mate. You lost a lot of money in the divorce? That doesn't mean you were inches away from death's door. It actually makes you pretty much just like most people who go through a painful split.
The problem here is not people's feelings of self-importance; it's the devaluing of certain words. Pre-9/11, we called a good athlete a "hero." Calling someone who had a bad break-up a "survivor" is a similar kind of First-World-Problems hyperbole. But it belittles those who actually persevere and overcome true, life-threatening obstacles. Imagine telling the rugby players who resorted to cannibalism in order to survive that plane crash in the Andes Mountains that you're on a similar level because you married a passive-aggressive jackass.
Huh, where to start. Well, for onesies, people don't say they "survived" because they feel special, they say it because they feel they SURVIVED something terrible. Also, for two, I find it super hard to believe anyone would suggest they are on a "similar level" as a temporary cannibal if they ran into a plane crash survivor at a cocktail party. If you actually met a rugby player who resorted to cannibalism to survive in a terrible crash in the Andes Mountains, you prollz wouldn't relate the story of your divorce as a way of trauma bonding. You'd definitely know that the two situations were wildly different and I bet your divorce wouldn't come up at all, unless, say, maybe you hit it off and wanted to let them know you were single.
That doesn't mean you didn't survive your own terrible situation. Most people won't endure such a god-awful scenario as a plane crash. What most people WILL endure, is a divorce or a breakup. Doesn't matter how common it is, it's one of the top stressors for everyone over the course of a non-robot life. The frequency of a thing across all humans has no bearing on the degree to which it sucks, otherwise it would be no bigs to get mugged. Muggings are super common. Stop bitching already, people who got mugged! says Ward Anderson. ALso, lots of people starve! Who cares! goes this logic.
Relationships ending, either by death, divorce, or separation, are the TOP THREE STRESSORS in a person's life. Major personal illness or injury is actually sixth on the list. In order to understand why things ending sucks so bad, you have to understand what it's like when they're happening and good. Couples have all sorts of interesting physiology between them in relationships, from their heartbeats actually syncing up while sleeping to their brains in love replicating the same response a drug addict has to cocaine or nicotine.
So when it's over, it can be devastating. For instance, the brain believes it is still in love for some time, and parts of the brain even try to override other parts to get away with doing crazy things to get the person back. And, in one study, when the heartbroken person saw images of their rejector, their brain still looked hopelessly addicted in spite of all logic. Dumpees also experience actual pain, chronic and temporary — and that pain comes from the same place that it would in your brain when you touch a hot probe. (Please, for the love of science, insert your own probe joke here to lighten this terrible downer of a subject.)
To say nothing of the ways people's actual lives (and livelihoods) can be wrecked by divorce. Don't even get me started on situations where kids are involved or there is deep, awful betrayal. So if you're one of these people who still managed to get up every day and lift yourself out of bed, to eat again, to breathe in and out, to move beyond the pain/paralysis, to imagine being vulnerable and trusting someone again, and to eventually do that successfully in spite of all you've just learned about humans, well, you are not an asshole for busting out some Gloria Gaynor.
So I think yes, we do survive breakups and divorces. Among the most important things we endeavor to do over the course of our lives is love other people, and so it follows that what can fuck us up the most is whether those fucks actually love us back. This drama is far more likely to shape you, fuck with you, keep you up at night, keep you in bed in the morning, make you crazy, rock your world, devastate you and spur you to do some of the greatest/worst things you'll ever do, more than most anything else you'll experience. (Aside from a hot probe.)
Not, so, says Ward Anderson:
Somewhere out there, there are actual "survivors" of awful break-ups. Victims of abuse, marital rape, con-artist spouses, and those who can claim to have lost more than their pride and condo. These are the people who deserve to use the term "survivor," not the person upset she had a bad relationship with the guy that lived in his parents' basement until he was 30 and never learned to wash his own clothes. You weren't on the verge of death; you just have bad taste in men. Same goes for my friend whining about losing his "Man Cave" because he married someone who couldn't put up with his crap. It's not like he had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy. If you come through your break-up with your limbs attached, your skin unbruised, your body unviolated, and your future ahead of you, don't label yourself a "survivor."
No, victims of marital rape, con-artist spouses and the like are survivors of abuse. And you left a really important kind out: emotional abuse. That doesn't break your body, but it breaks your spirit, and some people never come back from that. Those who do have every right to celebrate, too. I'm not suggesting that those types of abuse aren't worse or different. I'm suggesting that this is not a zero-sum game.
If you really feel like you survived a terrible devastating breakup, you can say so! And also, on a separate note, definitely always try to be aware that there is ALWAYS SOMEONE WHO HAS IT WORSE THAN YOU. That is just being aware of your privilege.
And while we could all dial down the sensationalist language on occasion, I personally don't need to know if you were beaten in your relationship or not in order to give you permission to be fucked up about it, or to celebrate coming out the other side of it, or to say you "survived" it. There are matters of the body, and matters of the heart. And you can certainly die from both.
Image by Jim Cooke. Source image via Shutterstock.