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.
It was just a respiratory infection. But it was the first illness I suffered without him. I’m not sure what hurt more, my throat or my heart. I felt so vulnerable, so weak and so alone. I had become accustomed to his help. And its absence left me feeling helpless.
To lessen its sting… First, ask for help. A spouse will often step up automatically. Friends and family may first need an invite. It’s not a sign of weakness to admit when you need assistance. Then, reframe your internal dialog. Instead of focusing on being alone, paint it as a sign of how bada$$ you are. You don’t need your ex to see you through. You got this.And so much more.
The Happy Couples
Who knew that a trip to the local park could be so painful? I had a habit of running those trails alone during my marriage with never a thought to those sharing the trails. But somehow, after he left, those same trails filled with happy couples, walking hand-in-hand. And for the first time, I felt alone on those runs.
To lessen its sting… This is one of those situations where you may have to use a little avoidance (for goodness sakes, stay away from the dimly-lit restaurants on Friday night) and dark humor (What in the world does she see in him? I bet she’s in it for the money!) to survive in the beginning. And then redirect your energy from wondering about other people’s lives to creating a life that makes you feel happy and fulfilled, even if you don’t have a hand to hold.
At least the invitation didn’t say, “Mr. and Mrs. —,” although it may as well have. The implication was clear – bring yourself and your significant other. But I didn’t have an other, significant or no. My first impulse was to simply avoid the event, to be alone by myself instead of alone in a crowd. But I changed my mind. And I was glad I did.
To lessen the sting… Make contact with other attendees before the event and cue them in on your solo status. Or, designate a friend as your plus-one for the night and make an effort to relax into the moment. Take advantage of the opportunity to have meaningful connections with people that maybe you wouldn’t have if you had your spouse along with you. Make this your coming out as your single, sexy and awesome self party.
I sat in the passenger seat of his car, looking through the compartments for clues, when I found it. His vows to his other wife. It was a slug to the gut, these proclamations of love and devotion to another woman. I felt discarded. He was moving on and I was still reeling, alone.
To lessen the sting… First, know that you’re not alone (this was the most frequently searched for post in 2016). It’s hard for most people to see their spouses in a new relationship when they are still single. Then, strive to reach the acceptance that their life no longer has to impact yours. Your happiness and sense of belonging have nothing to do with your ex unless you allow them to. Put your energy into combating your own loneliness. Here’s how.