How to Overcome a Divorce Pt4 – The Myth of ‘Moving On’

Argument divides relationships

‘Moving on’ is overrated…

If you haven’t already, read the first article of this series here.

The fist person to use this phrase to me after they found out that my husband of 23 years had walked out on me was a close friend, someone I had met during my years in the political bear pit in Solihull. It was said to me after only 6 weeks had passed since Andy had gone and left me feeling baffled (that someone who knew the devastating impact his walking out had had on me could say something so insensitive) and confused as to why this phrase is considered helpful or comforting.

“Oh well, you can start to move on now.” was the actual comment, when I explained that Andy had left our marital home for good, without any credible reason,  was renting a maisonette in Coventry, and wasn’t coming back.

Let us first explore what the dictionary definition of the word ‘move’ is. ‘To proceed’, ‘progress’, ‘advance’. Also ‘to accomplish, achieve and attain’. All words which suggest something positive and satisfactory. Something pleasant, something good. An enjoyable incident. An agreeable event.

The only things which had been ‘achieved’ and ‘progressed’ in my case were my abandonment at the hands of the person I had loved and supported for 23 years and my spiral into an unknown world of living without the person who I had shared exactly half of my life on the planet with. Nothing good, or nice, positive or satisfactory there then. Just a feeling of hopelessness and the sensation that exactly half of my life had been a complete waste of time.

‘Move on’ suggests that people who have suffered a catastrophic life changing experience can miraculously eradicate whatever event it is which has struck them. Rather like part exchanging your car for a new one, or moving house; ‘off with the old, on with the new.’It implies that the person can simply remove someone or something from their memory without a single trace. A bit like being hypnotized.

To all those people who have ever used this phrase or who are thinking of using it as a piece of advice for someone who is in a bad place, I ask simply this; would you be able to do it? If you have children, or a beloved pet, or a piece of jewellery of sentimental value, could you just get rid of it/them without ever giving it in another thought and erase it/them from your life in a second? No, of course you couldn’t, nor would anyone expect you to. So please think before using this phrase.

I have had it used to me hundreds of times since that first occasion and at first it angered me tremendously. Now I just accept it for what it is; a platitude which people feel obliged ‘to trot out’ because they can’t think of anything else to say. How can you ‘move on’ when you’ve had the heart ripped out of your life? How is it possible for someone to just ‘forget’ that they’ve been lied to, cheated on, and been made a fool of? How can you continue to live as if nothing has happened when the bottom has dropped out of your world? How do you lie down at night, alone and in the dark, when for 23 years you’ve been used to someone else being there, and go to sleep as if it’s just the end of an ordinary day and, when you wake,  tomorrow will be the start of just another ordinary day? How do you find the motivation to go to the supermarket and head for the ‘meals for one’ section when, for the past 23 years, you’ve bought groceries for two? How can you not be angry at having to watch how you spend every penny because now it’s just one income, when up to now you’ve had  decent lifestyle based on two livelihoods? How can you not feel sad and bitter at having to put back the block of Red Leicester cheese which is 350g in size because you know that it will now take you twice as long to eat it and will end up being thrown away? Who do you tell about the arguments over Shakespeare at the drama group rehearsals, the traffic on the M42, the price of chicken this week? Who do you ask if they’d like a cup of tea or a beer after you’ve shut the door behind you for the last time in the day?Who do you sit down to watch the football with, or Wimbledon, or the Swingometer on Election night?

Well, when you’ve ‘moved on, it doesn’t matter that you did all those things with another person who you had loved sufficiently to devote 23 years of your life to, apparently, because it’s simple just to pretend it never happened and the the fact that-that person isn’t there with you any more doesn’t impact on you in any shape or form.

Whatever is it that you have suffered; divorce, separation, financial ruin, bereavement, serious illness, it is not possible to simply forget it ever happened and just ‘move on’. It is such a meaningless phrase.

Of course, it’s easy to have a guess at just why people use it. They want to say something positive, something upbeat, to make the person feel better about themselves and the horrendous situation which they find themselves in. They want to make them feel better, or maybe they simply have no idea what to say, so say the first thing which comes into their head, usually some over-used senseless phrase, like ‘move on’. It isn’t the person using it who is senseless, it is the saying itself, and people have to be forgiven for using it because it is heard and seen so much, on television, in magazines and on the radio, and in relation to a whole host of topics; relationships, politics, banking, even teaching.

So, develop a mechanism to explain how hurtful and insensitive you find the phrase to the people who say it to you. Obviously I don’t wish to offend anyone who has said it to me, because the reality is that only people who have ‘got my back’and who are ‘in my corner’ have ever used it. So you need to mindful of how you explain to them what you dislike about it. Be honest, but don’t be too vitriolic. They mean well; they just don’t how to articulate it.

This is what I now say, to try and make them understand that what they have said is upsetting and unhelpful:

“I know you mean well, and your support really means a lot to me. But I won’t ever be able to move on. It’s impossible to do so. What I’m learning to do is live my life a different way. I can’t just remove half of my life from my memory. That would mean I’d be twenty five years old again. I’m trying to live a new life and find joy in that life. I have a lot of it left to live and am trying to forge a new path for myself. All of that is very different to moving on.”

This has generally been well received and understood as a reply, and what has tended to happen is that whoever it is has said it and I, well,  ‘forget about it’ and ‘move on’!


Rosemary Worsley is a 51 year old private singing and piano teacher from Solihull. She is the former Poetry and Arts Editor of The Birmingham Journal of Literature and Language and is currently writing a memoir about her experience at the hands of her ex husband. When she isn’t teaching or writing, she enjoys a wide variety of activities which includes treading the boards with Union Theatre drama group, singing with Solihull Chandos Choir and performing with St Alphege Musical Production Company. She is also a member of a Book Club and dances with Central Stage School.

Read the first article of this series here.

Read part 2 of this series here.

Read part 3 of the series here.

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