Gray Divorce by Jocelyn Elise Crowley

My Note: March is National Women’s History Month. I already posted a piece about Ruth Gruber for International Women’s Day (March 8th), part of Women’s History Month. Here is that link: http://www.menupause.info/archives/21857. And I posted a book review of a book by Ruth Gruber called Raquela: A Woman of Israel, about a real women whose life is a great example of what women can accomplish. To read that blog posting, here is the link: http://www.menupause.info/archives/21878.

The review below is about older men and women facing divorce. Since divorce is part of my history and divorce itself has its own history from being whispered about when I was young to being part of our 21st century culture, I thought it fit in with Women’s History Month. Women seem to get the short-end-of the-stick when divorcing at 50 or beyond, so I think it is an especially important book to read, if you or someone you love is facing divorce after 50.

Gray Divorce: What We Lose and Gain from Mid-Life Splits

by Professor Jocelyn Elise Crowley

“Thank God for divorce!” my older daughter once exclaimed when we were discussing the subject and her recent divorce. I think that statement is representational of the change in cultural attitudes surrounding divorce, as Professor Jocelyn Crowley notes in her new book, Gray Divorce.

When I was growing up in the 1940s and 1950s, divorce was still a word that was said in hushed tones, as though it were some kind of disease. But by the time my 30-year marriage ended in divorce in the early 1990s, I was part of a growing number of older couples divorcing after 50 (I was 52).

Therefore, Gray Divorce was particularly relevant to my situation and of great interest to me, because I wanted to see how other women coped with mid-life divorce. While the 40 men and 40 women fifty or older who responded to Prof. Crowley’s ad on Facebook were Baby Boomers by and large and I am not of that generation, there were enough similarities for me to identify with financially, emotionally, and culturally.

Perhaps the most significant findings in this insightful book, based on Crowley’s research and volunteer interviewees (who were mostly White, middle- to upper-class), is how men and women fared financially and socially. For women, money is the big issue, with the divorce putting them at a much larger financial risk than the men. For the men, divorce brought social isolation, since their wives, for the most part, were the “social directors” in the marriage.

Using the “stories” from the open-ended interviews, the author brings the issues of economic losses for women and social problems for men to life with details and dialogue that enlightened me on the range of differences between men and women as their marriages of mostly decades unfolded in their descriptions. It includes how they deal with their adult children, their social lives, and their financial issues, highlighting the differences between males and females. Some were painful for me to read, bringing back my own problems during my divorce, while others added to my knowledge of why divorce happens at mid-life to a growing number of couples. I felt less alone!

The other important parts of the book for me, personally, were the last two chapters, “Moving Forward Personally” and “Moving Forward Publicly.” In the former, this quote seems to summarize the tone of the chapter:
“In many ways, then, experiencing a gray divorce is a winding, meandering process, around which a series of multifaceted, personal transformation takes place.”

This was true for me, because I found I could re-invent myself once I rose over the triple humps of “grief, disappointment, and pain” that Crowley mentions in the last chapter. In this chapter, the professor’s passion in her field of public policy shows through with details and charts on the women’s economic losses and the men’s social losses that often come with divorce after 50. The author offers suggestions for policies that will help older divorced couples navigate their senior years with ideas such as credit for women care giving while raising the family and leaving a job, and support groups for men to help them create a new social network.

Finally, while the interviewees did not represent a cross-cultural picture of people of color or those with low incomes, the last chapter has several pages of charts on poverty status for women as compared to men, and women are much more at risk than men. Thus, Crowley’s public policy suggestions make a great deal of sense.

Reading this book put my own divorce in perspective. I am one of the “marriage fatalities” that the book discusses. I agree with the positive assessment charts at the end that both men and women going through gray divorce put on a list. Men listed 1) independence and freedom, 2) chance to start over, 3) liberation from ex-wives, while women listed 1) independence and freedom, 2) liberation from ex-husbands, and 3) happier. (I definitely agree with the order that the women listed.)

Near the end of the book, Professor Crowley’s comments are so accurate that I want to quote a few of her sentences excerpted from a longer paragraph:

“In many ways, divorce is a true gamble………individuals must weigh the pros of living on their own terms against the cons of being separated from their spouses whom they used to love….those experiencing gray divorce have conflicting feelings about their natural breakdowns……..for many, gray divorce was not the end, but rather the beginning of a new life journey.”

Divorce is now a part of our 21st century culture, more readily accepted but with a need for more public supports to make navigating divorce as “smooth and sustaining” as possible.

Professor Crowley has done an excellent job of bringing the pros and cons of gray divorce to light with charts, lists, real life stories, and appropriate public policy suggestions. This book is an important one for divorce counselors, lawyers, social workers, family therapists, and professionals in the field of public policy. For me, personally, it was an eye-opener that helped me understand my own gray divorce journey.

 

Gray Divorce is published by University of California Press and is available online @ Amazon.com as soft cover ($21.39) on Kindle ($16.17), used & new on Amazon and at bookstores.

 

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