Divorced and Living Alone
In How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed, author Theo Pauline Nestor shares her experiences of living on her own.
Commitment: How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed is a memoir of your life after you suddenly discover your husband's gambling losses and file for a legal separation. It is a compelling and insightful reflection on how a person's life can drastically change without a moment's notice. What inspired you to write about these experiences?
Theo Pauline Nestor: Like children, not all books are planned. And this memoir about my divorce was not a book I was planning to write, but during the first miserable days of my divorce, I had a notebook in my purse, and sometimes when I was sitting in the waiting room of my attorney’s office or on my way to pick up my kids from school and image or insight about the divorce experience would come into my mind and—perhaps just as a means of staying sane—I would scribble a few lines about these thoughts into my notebook, and then one day I started typing up these thoughts. And then one thing led to another and soon I found myself writing a book proposal about my divorce.
Commitment: During the course of the book, you went from feeling secure and settled, to feeling out of control and lost, to feeling settled again. What have you learned from this journey?
Theo: I’ve learned that no event, no trauma, no person can take me away from myself. No matter what, I have to remain on my own side, loyal to myself.
Commitment: How important was family and community support during this difficult time in your life?
Theo: I cannot imagine going through this without the support of others. If you have a friend or relative going through this, I cannot emphasize enough how much your support—whether it’s babysitting or going out to a movie together or just being there to listen---means to someone going through a divorce. It’s a time when emotional moorings are lost and the familiar landmarks of an old friend or a sister are often what save you from completely going under. One of the most powerful memories I have of my first days of divorce was calling up the divorce attorney for the first time. I was sitting at the dining room table, and my friend Trish was there because I was too scared to make the phone call alone in the house. As I was talking to the attorney, she soaped up a cloth and started scrubbing down my stove top. Such a simple act, but the feeling it evoked in me—of being cared for and supported—is one I will never forget.
Commitment: At one point in your book, a married woman offers you the following clichéd advice about grief being like a house: “One day you'll be in the room of sorrow, and the next you might be in anger.” Clichés aside, did you find yourself bouncing between different emotions?
Theo: The emotional roller coaster ride of the first months was like nothing I’d experienced before. Each day, I’d run a ragged circuit race between utter despair, hot rage, shaky anxiety and the occasional spell of breezy optimism.
Commitment: How do you think your unconventional childhood – divorced parents, younger sister sent to a convent in Mexico, divorced grandmother, independent mother – helped you in your post-divorce recovery?
Theo: Coming from a family with a history of divorce was both a blessing and a curse through the whole process. The bad part was I fully understood the implications of divorce and the lasting impact it would have on both my children and me, but also I knew we would survive and that we would be happy once again.
Commitment: In How to Sleep Alone in a King Size Bed, you refer to yourself as the “humbled divorcee;” how did divorce effect your self-confidence?
Theo: During the early days of divorce, my self-confidence was shattered. Because my marriage broke up because of an ongoing deception, I questioned everything I thought I knew. I lost trust in myself. If I could be tricked so fully by my own husband, where else had I been wrong? Who else might be pulling the wool over my eyes? Was I really as smart as I thought I was? Was I smart at all? But the long-term impact of having gone through both the deception and the divorce has meant an increase in the trust and confidence I have in myself, partly—and I explore this in the memoir—because I realized in retrospect that deep down I did know something was wrong but I’d stopped listening to my intuition. Divorce has taught me to listen more carefully to myself and to trust what I hear. Sometimes forget to listen to myself but not as often as when I was married.
Commitment: As a child of divorced parents, and as a divorced mom of two daughters, what kind of effect do you think divorce has on kids?
Theo: In the book I describe it this way: “I already knew from experience that for children divorce means half the world is constantly eclipsed.” When you’re with one parent, the other must slip out of view. I knew, too, how a yearning for home could become a part of you much too young, and unless you were very lucky or strong or some combination of the two, you could spend most of your life searching for that feeling of wholeness that once eluded you, for that ordered kingdom that disappeared before you could ever come into your own and leave it for a world of your own making.
Commitment: You state in your book that if you did not have children, you and your former husband would have parted ways permanently but because you have children together, your relationship with him continues, albeit in a different fashion. How do your children affect the way you view and/or interact with your former husband?
Theo: For the sake of my kids, I try to see the good side of my former husband and when I see it, I tell my kids about good memories I have from the marriage. But I want readers to know that during times of anger and dispute, I am not able to do this. I try not to let my anger and negative feelings impact the kids, but I’d be kidding myself if I said they never did.
Commitment: At the end of How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed you feel the return of the “rawness of spirit” you experienced as a girl. What originally took away that spirit and how did divorce reclaim it?
Theo: I think being in a relationship where there was addiction on his part and denial and codependency on my part flattened out my emotional experience. After the divorce, I began a long—and still ongoing process—of recognizing my own feelings and desires. I’ve learned to ask myself, “What do I want?” It sounds simple and obvious, but most good ideas are simple and obvious; it’s the execution of them that is tricky.
Commitment: Did writing this book help you through the breakup of your marriage?
Theo: Writing about the divorce helped me to understand the forces that brought my husband and me together and those that broke us apart. But I’m not sure it made it less difficult. In fact, sometimes I found in writing about the divorce I had to relive negative experiences that I’d just assume forget.
Commitment: How would you describe your life now?
Theo: I’m really busy taking care of my daughters and earning a living, but I also take time each week to do the things I enjoy—talking to friends, walking around the lake, writing, and sometimes stretched out on the sofa watching reruns of old TV shows.
Theo Pauline Nestor's fiction and non-fiction have been published in a number of places including Brain, Child, Alligator Juniper, msn.com, austinmama.com, happenmag.com and The New York Times. Her essay "The Chicken's in the Oven, My Husband's out the Door" was recently published in Modern Love: Fifty True and Extraordinary Tales of Desire, Deceit and Devotion (Three Rivers Press). Her memoir How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed (Crown), a Kirkus Reviews Top Pick for Reading Groups, will soon be translated into German. She teaches memoir writing for the University of Washington’s Extension Program.