Welcome to another episode of the exEXPERTS DIVORCE etc… Podcast where we give you all kinds of information and tips on everything divorce. Why? We’ve lived it, so we get it! We’re T.H. & Jessica.
Jessica: Welcome to today’s episode of the Divorce etc podcast. We are thrilled to have Leslie Kaplan with us here today. The way that we connected with Leslie was actually through someone I used to work with at Fox, in TV. It was a connection through Leslie’s son who was working with my friend Julie on her fintech podcast. Julie came in contact with Leslie and had reached out to me and was like you definitely have to talk to her, this woman is a frickin’ dynamo. She’s amazing. She’s been divorced, she has the best attitude about it, and you guys would totally be friends. That’s kind of how we came into contact. We spoke, Leslie wrote an article for our site about being divorced, and we just knew that when we started doing our real life expert podcast interviews that we needed her to share her story and talk about how she has moved forward. And so thank you so much for taking the time to be with us here today, Leslie.
Leslie: Thank you for having me.
Jessica: To give everyone a little bit of background, tell us briefly about your divorce story. How old were your kids? What do you think was the impetus? Did you guys try to save it? Were you ready to just move on? Just give a little background.
Leslie: Honestly, I don’t think it’s a secret in my social circle when I turned 38, and I realized I think things aren’t going so well. Things aren’t always my fault.
I woke up to a lot of things that I said, wow, my cousin doesn’t do that in his family. And my girlfriend’s husband who is president of a public company, he doesn’t do that. I started realizing examples and instances that were very one sided. But to just set the tone fairly and properly, he is a great guy. He is a smart person. We all have our differences. I guess we just don’t all acknowledge them in the same way. I think that when those differences became so large and I felt I wasn’t being heard, that’s when I went I need to do a reality check. We tried therapy, and the therapist would give a diagnosis or explain something to me. And I would sit there and in my brain I was going, no, he’s just mean. No, he’s just an asshole. No, he’s not nice. I was not listening to the therapist in all honesty.
T.H.: Her inner narrator–
Jessica: That’s right.
T.H.: –was feeding her the wrong message. This whole podcast you’re going to have to hear it.
Leslie: I was so hurt and angry from the years built up. I could not hear anything different. So that was 38. We tried to work on it. At the time, the kids, I guess our youngest was 12, so we had probably 12, 15, and 18. One was already in college, one was on his way out the door to college, and one was transitioning, I guess, middle school to high school.
T.H.: I thought you were going to say to puberty.
Leslie: Yeah, it was pretty much there. Those were fun years too you know.
T.H.: Yes, totally.
Jessica: I think it’s so interesting that you’re saying that you acknowledge that you really weren’t listening to the therapist. I also think that so many people out there, you go to therapy under the auspices of what can we do different to try to make it work.
But I’m always fascinated by people who can go to marriage counseling and then it actually helps, and they’re able to move past it. Because I think that so many of us, I know for me, both times with my marriages, by the time we got to therapy, I don’t know that it was able to be saved. I think there was so much anger and resentment and hurt and misunderstanding built up. It’s like how do you even move past that? I feel like at some point, I’d be very interested in seeing the stats on the percentage of people that go to marriage counseling that stay together versus the number of people that go to marriage counseling that end up just getting divorced.
Leslie: I have to say I have a–
T.H.: I think we have that. Remember Kim Bowen on discernment therapy for the number of people percentage who can stay? She does discernment therapy to help couples stay together. And she is a success story for that. I did not go to therapy with my ex. I knew well before I got the call that I was done. I didn’t need therapy. It was very clear. So keep going with your story.
Jessica: Well, specifically, okay, you tried to say you were ready to move on. How long did were you guys in therapy and were you just–?
Leslie: We did it on and off. I did not do the homework. It was like I’m not doing this homework! Literally, we’d get written homework from the therapist.
T.H.: You were done. You were done.
Leslie: No, it wasn’t that I was done. I had three kids, I worked in the family business, I had my own startup, and I’m like, homework? Just be nice. That’s the homework. Just be nice. And then it was literally the night that we were going out to celebrate my birthday at our friend’s house. He walks in the kitchen and he goes, I would like a divorce. I said, okay.
Jessica: The end!
Leslie: And then we went to celebrate my birthday.
Jessica: Okay, I feel like that–
T.H.: Wait, you went out to celebrate your birthday with him?
Jessica: Because you were already ready. You’re like it’s not going to change my night out.
Leslie: It wasn’t a surprise. We’ve all heard this a million times. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do.
Leslie: It’s your actions. It is the little things. I don’t need you to buy me a car. I need you to just be nice. I need you to spend time with the kids or do a little something for me, not ask me where do we keep the turkey, and where do we keep the mustard? I mean, honest to god, I’m happy to do things, but there was no give and take. But at that point it was like, dinner’s ready.
Jessica: How did you–have a few shots tonight? How did you talk to your kids about it? Did they know you guys were in therapy, that you were working on it, and that there were any problems at all?
Leslie: I don’t really think they knew. I just don’t think so. It was hard.
Jessica: They were ages they could understand.
Leslie: Yeah, it was a big surprise to the kids. It was a big surprise to friends and family. It was just…it was hard. It was really, really hard. It’s still hard, unfortunately.
Jessica: It’s been how many years?
Leslie: We have been divorced six years but apart eight. So it’s two years for the divorce.
Jessica: Yeah. Which, by the way, mine did too, and it’s like nothing compared to T.H.’s. Yeah, we know it always can take a long time.
T.H.: And we spoke to someone whose divorce is still going on nine years later.
Jessica: Yeah, that was bad.
Leslie: That means somebody doesn’t want to get divorced, right?
T.H.: No, it wasn’t that–
Leslie: –money and tax
T.H.: –it’s complicated. It’s complicated.
Jessica: So not that divorce isn’t a challenge in and of itself, but you’ve dealt with some other challenges over the past few years. You got divorced. You had to close your startup, the business that you were doing to refocus to find things that are fulfilling to you. And so many people face similar things, but really just get stuck in the negative. How have you been able to have this positive attitude and move forward on your own? That’s I think the key of what we want to try to get across to people like life goes on.
Leslie: Right. And I think you need to look at the big picture. You need to have great friends. You need to have a routine. I mean, it sounds so ridiculous. You’ve got to exercise. You’ve got to do things for yourself that make you feel good. You can’t sit there and eat a pint of ice cream and go woe is me. Go out. I have a routine every day. I start my day, and I either walk, I do my Peloton, I go to the gym, and I sweat. I literally did the Peloton this morning, and I sat down at my desk to do paperwork, and I said to myself, I’m Peloton ready now. And it sounds so queer. I get that. But if I didn’t work out, it’d take me 10 times as long.
T.H.: I think if anyone can understand that it’s T.H. because she is definitely like it’s a mental state of mind.
T.H.: But just the fact that he came and told you he wanted a divorce on your birthday, and you said okay, and let’s go to dinner, even though I was elated to be out of my marriage, it was a hallelujah, I told her she saved my life that day, I would never be able to sit with him again. I mean, that was just the nature of our relationship.
Leslie: You know what–?
T.H.: Are you two friends now? Are you friendly?
Leslie: No, we’re not. We’re polite. I get a text if there’s a death in my family, or I get a happy birthday! And I’m thinking, really? That’s not what I need. I need you to help me make the kids still feel comfortable and–
T.H.: But he never knew what you need it. That’s why it didn’t work out.
T.H.: You’re speaking two totally different languages.
Leslie: Right, exactly, right.
Jessica: The love languages. There should be a book of the divorce languages.
T.H.: It’s the same as the reverse of the love languages, it ends up in divorce.
Jessica: Right, but I’m curious as you have a routine but you didn’t have the easiest divorce, how did you come out with such a positive attitude? You’re like a ray of sunshine.
Leslie: You know what? I had amazing friends. I really, really did. And I made amazing friends. Look, I spent a lot of nights alone. And I raised that 14-year-old from 14 to today, basically on my own, and I had a few good friends who pitched in along the way. My daughter who’s six years older, she showed up for his birthday. She met me in Colorado to bring him to college and check him in and celebrate his 18th birthday. And it was hard. But she showed up. I guess, thank god we’re healthy. And I know that sounds so, again, strange, but if you’re not healthy, and you don’t take care of yourself, [you’ve got nothing] nothing matters. And so I’m healthy. And thank god my kids are healthy and my family is healthy. Again, you put one foot in front of the other, it’s not always easy, but–
T.H.: It’s also who you choose to surround yourself with. We did speak about that a little bit on the call. Now you’re saying your group, your support group, your community, Jessica and I talk about it all the time, there are many people in my life who serve different purposes. They probably weren’t my go to people on that day or maybe anytime in that area, but somehow they randomly showed up in my life. I remember to this day, I have a list of people that I honestly thank basically every year for showing up for me and my kids that day, because it was a shit show scramble. They showed up. They’re not my everyday go to people, but they love my children and care enough about our family. So really surrounding yourself with positive people who have positive messaging, and you might be surprised who else shows up for you just because you already give off that good energy.
Jessica: I loved when one of the first times we spoke, we had the conversation which is was the impetus of the article that you had written like how you, not you, in general, people, how we are categorized once we get divorced, right? You go to the doctor’s office, you go to the school, you’re filling out your kids’ school forms, [I cannot stand it], are you married? Are you divorced? Are you single? Are you widowed? Whatever, and like the idea of who fucking cares? And why is that the label that has to follow–
Leslie: Define me.
Jessica: Right. So tell us a little bit about your philosophy about it, because I just love it.
Leslie: So I’m a big fan. I am single. I am not divorced. I am not married. I’m single. I’m me. I hate the divorce connotation.
I remember one of our old nannies called the house a few years ago well after we were divorced. She asked to speak to me, and my ex husband said she’s not home. He didn’t tell her we were divorced. He just said she’s just not here. And so maybe there was a miscommunication between her, but I think that even he may have felt that divorce is a failure. It’s a stigma. And I did feel like that. So I do like single. I’m just single.
T.H.: I agree too. It’s like you broke your foot 10 years ago, am I still broken foot T.H.? No, I’m just T.H. I was divorced 2012, separated 2008, why does that define me? And that’s the whole problem is that that’s how society continues to push us down. That’s why we own these negative inner narrators – now that’s my way of speaking, because of society. Because you’re reminded when you have to check off the goddamn box: How old I am? And what’s my marital status? Thank you for reminding me. You don’t know how old I am? I come here every year. Don’t you have my year in here? Why do I have to update it every year? We should do a whole revamp anyway. But it is in the most random places. I always choose single too. I agree.
Jessica: Leslie, it’s interesting you were saying you feel like it’s possible that your ex was feeling his own sense of shame or stigma around divorce. I mean, this is a conversation we have incessantly about the societal pressure around the shame and stigma of divorce. For you, for how you were raised, was that sort of the impression that you had so that when it came–
Leslie: Divorce was not a topic. My aunts were not divorced. My parents were not divorced. I didn’t have a lot of friends who came from divorce. It’s not who we were. So we were probably one of the first ones in our circle to get divorced. And I have to say, it’s not that our friends don’t have troubles. When we were talking about therapy before, I have a friend and they did a lot of therapy. They had enormous, enormous issues, but they both wanted it to work. They both came to the table. It took years, but they did it, and I think it’s awesome. I think it’s just a matter of who wants to and who shows up. Where we are today, I think divorce is very easy.
Jessica: But for you to say, which I totally relate to, divorce just isn’t who were. I too grew up in a small community in South Jersey outside of Philadelphia. My parents are still together today. It’s interesting, my sister is divorced, as am I, and my brother’s never gotten married, so who knows what’s going on there, but I did not have a lot of friends whose parents were divorced. It was a very foreign concept, and I do feel like it was frowned upon.
Leslie: Yeah, other people got divorced.
Jessica: That’s right. And then when I had to actually utter those words to my parents, that I was getting divorced, it was like I was in the gutter. I felt bad having to tell them because I knew how disappointed they would be and how sad and upset they would be. I felt like I couldn’t carry the weight of their sadness along with everything else that I was dealing with. But how did your family react? How did your friends react when you were telling them? I guess my question is, whatever shame and stigma you grew up with, or felt or associated with divorce, when you yourself got divorced, did you feel that was actually the reaction from people?
Leslie: I think a lot of people were shocked. A lot of people just thought we were the perfect little couple, and what issues did you have, and you had a great house, and you didn’t have any obvious struggles. But some people, some people knew the inner workings of certain personalities, and so they had a clue.
Jessica: But not even the surprise of getting divorced, did you feel anyone made you feel shame? Or that you were a failure? Do you feel that stigma actually played itself out?
Leslie: Yes, and it still does. I was at a wedding six months ago and a woman came up to me who we both knew. She goes, how are you? Oh, are you happy? Are you okay? And I’m thinking: I’m making my own money. I’m making my own decisions. Again, we’re all healthy. We’re all happy. Would I love my family together? Of course, but I’m not sitting there woe is me. I mean, I’m a dynamic person today, you know.
Jessica: Yeah, but I feel like people like that, it’s like they’re just trying to glom on to other people’s misery so they can talk shit about it.
Leslie: Oh, she’s miserable herself. She won’t admit it, but she’s in a tough spot herself. I hope she never listens to this.
T.H.: But that’s exactly why we need to be talking about it.
T.H.: So, even for people who have good intentions coming up and asking questions, and so on and so forth, let’s just keep talking about it so you know what to say to us now. So you know that whether or not I’m in a relationship doesn’t mean I’m unhappy, or poor me that I’m not with a guy, or he’s not with a girl, after separation or divorce. We need to keep talking about how it feels afterwards so that people get rid of these like false assumptions and, oh, honey, it’s going to be okay. You’re going to find a really nice guy. What to take care of me?
Leslie: Exactly. Exactly. You know, if I have a question about something, I know who to call. I call one of my three kids. I call the CPA. I call my friend who taught me how to manage my financials. If I want to go have dinner, I pick up the phone. If I want someone to come over, I pick up the phone. How about that? That’s a good takeaway too. You’re divorced? You’re lonely? Pick up the phone. Don’t wait for people to call you.
Jessica: How do you think, or what would you say to people, so someone finds out that a friend or a family member or someone is getting divorced. What would you say would be the best reaction for someone to have?
I almost feel, I hate to use the analogy, but oftentimes, especially at this stage of our lives, we know people who are losing their parents. And I think that a lot of times we hear things like that, and it’s like we don’t know what to say. We don’t know if what we’re going say is going to upset them. We don’t want to like make them cry. We are very inappropriate, inadvertently, often, and I think there’s a little bit of that with divorce. People don’t know how to react. So how would it be best played for you? What would you want someone to say? Or what would you wish–
Leslie: If it was me a few years ago, if someone wanted to pick up–actually, some people did pick up the phone. One girl I knew from a million years ago, and she’s like, hey, let’s just do something. And she was single so I’m sure she was happy to have a new single friend [laughs]. But I think you just pick up the phone and say, I heard what’s going on. Do you want to get together? Keep it simple. Keep it light.
Jessica: I worry that people would think that, well, she just wants to get together to hear all of the gossip.
Leslie: The nitty-gritty, right. I know.
T.H.: You’ll find out though and you can shut it down. You don’t have to answer questions you don’t want to answer. And in Sheryl Sandberg’s books she spoke about losing her husband suddenly. She said don’t ask me how I’m doing. That’s like a huge question, and I don’t even know how to answer that. But if you say, how are you doing right now? I can answer that. I can be in touch with that. And I appreciate that. So that was something I read that I definitely held on to and I use it myself, even for friends who are going through surgery or whatever, if there’s stuff. ‘How are you doing right now?’ has always been a quality question.
Leslie: I have to say the most interesting thing I did, two summers ago, I was away for the summer. I was in Colorado, and some of my old friends from my married days were there. We got together a few times. We wouldn’t really get together to eat or drink, we got together to hike. I’m sure somewhere there’s a clinical term or observation for this, but when you exercise, and you have therapy, which is what it felt like, but I didn’t realize it. So here we are hiking in the mountains. We’re working out, we’re sweating, and we’re breathing in amazing fresh air and oxygen. We’re talking and they’re asking me tough questions. And I was like, normally, I would have gone, oh, I don’t really want to go there. But because I felt so good because I was exercising, and I guess I opened up and I was in a safe place with them, really, we broke through a lot.
I know I keep saying exercise, exercise, exercise, but I’m the first person if someone says, hey, Les, what do you want to do? I can say let’s do yoga, let’s go hike, let’s go for a walk, let’s bike. Even with my ex husband, we dated on and off so many times for a few years. And finally, like the third time we were getting back together, he said what do you want to do? It’s like, let’s go run. I would make him get up at like six in the morning and we would run in his neighborhood–
T.H.: Oh my god, you are my girl.
Leslie: And I’m not a runner. I’m not a runner. But I just knew I don’t want to just sit there and eat and talk and chat and woe is me. I think the more you can do and get the blood pumping and get your mind expanding and talk about difficult things, the better off you are. So if someone wants to talk to you about a difficult situation, don’t do it over a drink. Do it–
Jessica: And I love that it’s like what do you want–so maybe part of the response if someone hears about someone else getting divorced, maybe it’s like, let’s go take a walk. Let’s go for a hike instead of let’s go have lunch.
Leslie: Perfect. Yeah.
T.H.: It’s so much pressure.
Jessica: Because then it’s like you’re doing something active and you can enjoy yourself and you can be in that space with a more open mind. You know, when I hear now that people are getting divorced, my kind of go to reaction these days is I’m sorry to hear that. Because I am sorry to hear that anyone’s marriage and anyone’s family is not going to be together anymore. But what do I say…I say something to the extent of I’m sorry to hear that, but I’m not sorry if you’re happy about it.
Leslie: Right. I’ve had that. I’ve had a lot of people say that to me. You’re so much better today. You’ve grown so much. I think if people know that–it’s going be hard. It was hard on me, I won’t deny that. But you can really turn into a much better person.
Jessica: You can! But I wonder, it’s interesting you just said that people would be like, you’re so much better now. I remember for a while in the beginning, my first husband had cheated, and so there were a lot of people who immediately jumped on the he’s an asshole bandwagon, and you’re so much better off without him. And honestly, that really wasn’t how I was feeling. I mean, I wasn’t okay obviously with the affair and the fact that he had been unfaithful, but in many ways, I still liked him as a person. I still enjoyed him as a person. I still thought that he was a good dad. I still felt I needed him in my life. Obviously, also, I had really little kids. It wasn’t going to benefit anybody to not have him around at all. I kind of felt sometimes it was a little bit condescending or patronizing when people would be like, you’re so much better off without him. For me personally, that was not the right thing to say. I didn’t need people telling me whether–
T.H.: We should do a whole other podcast on what to say and what or what not to say.
Leslie: I think it’s a book. No, go back to the five love languages of surviving a divorce.
Jessica: Yeah, totally. So what do you wish you knew back then?
Leslie: The first thing is I wish I didn’t believe everything I was told, emotionally, financially–
Jessica: By whom?
Leslie: Pardon me?
Jessica: By whom? Him?
Leslie: Yes, and by attorneys. I did have one great, my CPA. He’s like, nope, you can’t do that. Nope, you can’t sign that. Nope, you can’t do this. It got very sticky on that side of things. It’s just people are like I’ll always be there for you. But you’re not. You’re not. You’re just not. I think what I realized is that the new people in my life, and my dear friends, they were there for me. And that was pretty important. I actually have a list of things so forgive me I want to–
T.H.: Do it.
Jessica: No, please share. I love that. Because honestly, there’s so much that we all grow and learn from and you can look back, right? The whole hindsight is 20/20, I mean, it’s cliché, but it’s so true. So what do you wish you knew back then? I mean, I wish I didn’t believe everything I heard. That could be applicable in so many different areas with so many different people. But for people to hear I wish I didn’t believe everything that I heard during my divorce process, that’s a valuable piece of information.
Leslie: But even your own attorney. It was hard. He tried to guide me in certain ways, and I understood that, but other things he was totally wrong about. So you really have to just wake up. And look, again, I was going through a divorce, I was managing my own business, I was managing a very, very, very brilliant but difficult teenage son that I was solely responsible for, so I was distracted.
But again, I can’t complain. The dust is settling. I think number two on my list is it’s a divorce, and I get that, but don’t be emotional. Because by the time you get to the divorce, it’s a business transaction. You’re going to do your due diligence just like you would before you sign a contract. Which it is, right?
T.H.: Totally. We talk about that all the time.
Jessica: All the time. Being able to separate the emotions, it’s hard to compartmentalize that way.
Leslie: But it is a divorce, which is synonymous with emotional. Take the high road. It’s so hard. You don’t want to. You want to just stick it to him. But that gets you nowhere. And so, so many times I felt like this is just so not right, but it doesn’t matter. So much of it is so petty and does not matter. Just move on, be nice. Maybe it was a little fake sometimes but–
Jessica: You do what you have to do.
Leslie: Even if it’s hard. Don’t not acknowledge how you’re feeling, but I think taking the high road, like you’re walking down the street, of course say hello. Don’t pretend you don’t see me in the spin class at the gym. You don’t recognize me? I’m five bikes away from you. You spent 20 plus years with me and you really didn’t see me?
T.H.: I know. I’ve got to say, I hear you. And I’ve been told cream rises to the top every time. But I do and I’m confessing right now, he would completely ignore me so I don’t even want to bother. I’m not there. This is still like a really long time. I bring it up, and I do, I am the cream on top, I am a lady, but there are certain situations like he will literally–he dropped my kids off at my house on my birthday and did not say happy birthday, literally, in my face.
Leslie: And you’re like, maybe he forgot?
Jessica: I don’t know how you’re together for 20 years and you forget someone’s birthday.
T.H.: Now I’m making excuses for him. That’s even worse.
Jessica: But I hear you–
Leslie: Now you can be queen of excuses. Yes.
Jessica: But it’s also, look, I mean, things are easy to say, right? But I feel like I, and T.H. knows where I stand on it, I’m big onto taking the high road and all of that stuff. And I feel like for even in challenging situations where it’s not possible, because it really does take two people to be able to have that kind of a dynamic. At the same time it’s like, well, don’t necessarily lose hope. You never know down the line if things might change for one reason or another. Someone listening, you may feel you’ve done and always do everything, and that they’re the ones that aren’t, there might be something that happens later on in life that changes the circumstances and you just want to be open to the idea later on. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a more amicable…
Leslie: Maybe you need me. Maybe I need you. But right now, I know if I need something, that’s not the door I’m knocking on.
Jessica: You’re not the guy.
T.H.: No, me either. But with cream rises to the top, that’s also you’re doing it for yourself.
Leslie: Or your kids.
T.H.: When you see him at the gym, you’re walking through saying to yourself I’m going to be better than this.
Jessica: Right. Right.
T.H.: Right? So it’s for you. I haven’t gotten there yet, clearly, but I think it’s more about you than even them.
Jessica: It is. But it’s also so that you’re not–like I do things
T.H.: You’re setting the tone.
Jessica: –to the to the exes, or the outlaws, as I call them because–
Leslie: I love that!
Jessica: Because they’re not your in laws anymore, so now they’re out laws. But I feel I don’t ever want to give them a nugget of ammunition for them to say I did the wrong thing. I would rather do the right thing even if it’s not well received to just know that I did the right thing. Although fortunately for me, with them, it is well received. But things have been up and down over the years, but we’re in a really good place right now. So that’s fine. But it’s tough. Yeah. Okay, now what’s the one thing you want other people who are going through divorce to know? Now, people who are you’re going through divorce right now.
Leslie: Right now? You’re going to come out the other side and life will blossom. You have to work at it though. You have to want it. But I know this sounds so weird, it’s like relationships are not jobs per se, but sometimes in life you don’t stay with the same job forever, right?
Leslie: And you transition and you grow from one career to the next. I don’t know…I mean, I would have liked to have thought you get married and you have good intentions and everyone grows together, but we’re on this podcast for a reason, and it’s not always the case, and that you move on and you grow. Hopefully, it’s for the better, so look forward to blossoming.
Jessica: I love that.
T.H.: We’re all about it. Divorce is an opportunity.
Jessica: That’s right. Thank you Leslie so much for all of your words of wisdom.
Leslie: You’re welcome! I hope it was helpful.
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