Is divorce contagious?

Recent studies show that “more and more celebrities, politicians and couples next door are getting divorced…divorce is becoming more pervasive, even contagious.” According to the research, if an immediate friend or colleague gets a divorce, the chance that you will get a divorce jumps by 75 percent.

In other words, avoid divorced people like the plague! If your colleague never ever mentions his spouse and neglects to bring her to a company party, this intimates marital woes. Quit your job immediately (two weeks notice is too risky). If your friend confides in you that she’s having an affair and is probably going to leave her husband, defriend her asap (on Facebook too). If you see a woman in clogs and sweat pants in the frozen food aisle, eyes swollen from crying and loading up her cart with pints of Ben and Jerry’s, drop your cute little fruit-filled basket and run for the hills!

It’s everywhere, people. It’s the next summer tentpole disaster movie, although instead of the working title “Untitled Divorce movie” it’s now called “Eat Pray Love.”

This isn’t that surprising, is it? Similar things happen to similar people at specific stages in their lives. Part of it also has to with the “she’s doing it so maybe I should too” mentality. I felt the pressure, as I’m sure many of you did, when most of my friends got married, or started a family. Researchers call this pack mentality “clustering.” Although when it comes to divorce, it’s more like cluster fucking. Which I realize kinda sounds like fun, but that’s not what I meant. But I digress.

In all seriousness (because divorce is serious, even though it could be hilarious as a comedy starring Paul Rudd. Oh wait, it’s called “Knocked Up.” Or was that “Role Models”?), I do believe that when one person in a social group dares to question their marriage and abandon it, others look over in awe, and start to sniff around themselves. Perhaps it emboldens them. If not to leave, then to take a hard look at the realities of their own situation. But hopefully it doesn’t over-encourage them. Some issues are probably better left unexcavated. I think if you’re a certain kind of person with the need to dig, you’ll always uncover something. And if your friend is leaving their spouse for seemingly the same reason, you might dare to do it too. Ever since my husband and I separated and began moving towards divorce, it seemed to set off a chain reaction. Of course, this was just my own perception, magnified exponentially once my bliss blinders came off. Granted, I was living in Hollywood at the time, where marital woes and break ups were as prevalent as the tabloids that announced them, but it seemed to me that there was a sudden uptick in relationships failing.

And then in the past few weeks, just when these studies came out, other couples I’ve known for a while shocked me with announcements that they were splitting up too. I shouldn’t have been shocked; I saw it coming. As it happens, because of my unfortunate experience with divorce, people tend to tell me things. Maybe it makes them feel better to know that I’ve gone through it; that I won’t judge them, but moreover, that I’m doing okay. That I seem happy, and free. (This is an illusion of course, but who really wants to be around a miserable cynic?). People say to me, “You did it, Cougel, and look at you now!” There is usually a long awkward silence that follows this observation.

So I’d like to reframe this study. It’s not that divorce is contagious, change is. Change is tempting. The promise of the new, of adventure, of the grass is greener, is what causes people to migrate towards this topic and towards people that have gone through it. Divorce isn’t a disease, it only feels like one because of its flu like symptoms: exhaustion, nausea, headaches, and weight loss (not worth it ladies! You gain it all back once you’re healed and in love again). Divorce is just a more prevalent option than it used to be. It’s become unstigmatized, demystified, even romanticized in the tabloids.

But behind closed doors, in our private lives, nurturing a relationship and committing to making it work, is just as difficult as it was ten or twenty years ago, before divorce became the “fad” it appears to be today. And no matter who you might come into contact with who’s contracted this so called “disease,” I don’t believe that it could actually infect your relationship. Whatever illness has befallen your marriage has nothing to do with anyone else. And finding the tools you need to help you avoid divorce is for you and your partner to do together. While I realize that it’s much easier to blame it on your friends, or the media, in the end, your friends and acquaintances – like fads – will come and go.