There is no escaping the feeling of loneliness after divorce. After all, a shared life has been cleaved into two separate paths. The sense of isolation is a quiet companion for much of the time, although some circumstances cause it to wake up wailing. Here’s when you can expect the loneliness to be at its worst and what you can do to lessen its sting.
The Emergency Contact
After the discovery of my then husband’s affairs, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment to ensure that there weren’t any lasting physical effects. I dutifully began to fill out the paperwork to update my information when I stopped short at the line asking for an emergency contact. For years, he had been the default name on that line. Now, who should I designate? Any family was thousands of miles away and it seemed strange to list a friend. I felt orphaned.
To lessen its sting… I texted a friend, asking if she was okay being my default emergency contact for the foreseeable future. Her response was heartfelt and immediate. I no longer felt quite so abandoned. It’s easy for us to make assumptions about how isolated we are when there are people around us ready to step up. Ask. You may be surprised.
And especially that empty bed. That first night, I alternated sitting on the couch and walking the darkened neighborhood streets. I couldn’t even look at the marital bed, much less sleep in it. That rectangular prism of wood and cloth represented so many memories. Merely the thought of it made me ache for the warmth of his body next to mine.
To lessen its sting… Change it. Claim it. If you are staying in the same home with the same bed, purchase new linens. Move the furniture. Switch to a new brand of laundry detergent that doesn’t smell like memories. If you’re relocating to a new space, make a conscious decision to not replicate what you had. And regardless of your situation, fill the void with a furry companion or a particularly snuggle-able pillow. As for the nights themselves, make sure both your Netflix and your library accounts are current.
The Sharable Moment
It was just sign, erected outside of a new construction site. But to me, it was part of an ongoing conversation. My then-husband and I had wondered and debated about the nature of the new building. And when, days after he left, the mystery was revealed, I found that I had composed the text to him and was ready to press “send” before I realized what I was doing.
To lessen its sting… First, eliminate the element of muscle memory. Move the contact info to a different area of your phone so that you don’t connect on autopilot. Then, decide if this can be shared with someone else or even on social media. Sometimes we feel better just releasing the idea or observation out into the world. If it’s best kept quiet, try writing it down. I kept a small notebook just for this purpose. Also, find comfort in the fact that this impulse will fade with time.
The Shared History
When the first dog we got together died, I grieved not only for her but for the fact that I couldn’t share memories of her life with my then-husband. When he left, I was left with years of shared memories with no match, like a puzzle with missing pieces. I tried to share with others, but I soon learned that this was one of those times when “you had to be there.”
To lessen its sting… When there is an ending to a shared beginning (anything from a death to a promotion to a child graduating high school), make a concerted effort to mark it with some sort of ceremony, either public or private. When you feel the ache of unrequited shared memories, shift your focus to building new memories, new shared histories with other people. If a particular place or date holds painful memories of a lost history, try memory layering – intentionally building new experiences over the old. And here’s how long it takes to create a new shared history.And here’s how long it takes to create a new shared history.