And suddenly it hits you.
Maybe the kids are bed and the house is quiet. Too quiet.
Perhaps you’re filling out a form and asked to list your emergency contact. You only catch yourself after you start to write your ex’s name.
Or, you’re out running errands on a Saturday afternoon when you notice that everybody seems to be coupled up. Happily coupled up.
Regardless of the circumstances, that sudden sensation of being alone after divorce hits like a slug to the gut, taking your breath and leaving you dizzy and disoriented. A sensation of being adrift at sea on an isolated raft.
But the good news is that you’re not helpless. There are ways to both learn how to accept being alone and concurrent changes you can make to reduce the loneliness.
To cultivate acceptance…
Reframe What It Means to Be Single
When I found myself suddenly single in my thirties surrounded by a sea of married suburbanites, I felt like a shamed outcast (even if only in my mind). So I actively sought examples to redefine what singlehood meant.
I considered a family friend, never married and yet never held back. She bought a house, traveled the world and cultivated friendships all without a partner by her side. I looked up to a woman at work who had divorced many years before and had chosen to remain single because she discovered she liked the autonomy. Although her dogs were her only companions, her life was anything but empty.
I read books and watched movies that featured single protagonists that were at once both powerful and fulfilled. Even while I was still crying into my pillow every night, I was collecting inspiring quotes about singlehood.
Reject the idea that single means alone. Yes, it may feel lonely now, but that’s only because you are new to this space and are still finding your way.
Replace that image of the lonely old cat lady with one of the badass heroine of your choice. Reject the idea of the sad over-forty divorced man at the bar with an image of someone who chooses to live outside of life’s rules. Rather than molding yourself into society’s definition of single, find a way to make single work for you.
Celebrate Your Independence
Do you want to paint the kitchen green? Go for it! Considering buying that too-expensive, but oh-so-good marinade from the specialty store? Why not? Tempted to spend the day in your sweats and eat cereal for dinner? No problem. You are an independent adult that can now make most decisions without consulting another adult.
After living with my first husband for almost fourteen years, I had grown accustomed to always thinking about and considering his needs and preferences before I made a decision. And even while I was still acutely missing our marriage, I was having fun exploring my own desires without the need for compromise.
Enjoy the freedom you now have to make decisions on your own. Just ensure that in doing so, you are not hurting your children or yourself.
Embrace the Table For One
It’s all too easy to hit the bar scene or the dating app when you’re feeling lonely. After all, it’s only logical that having someone by your side (or in your bed) will reduce the feeling of isolation.
However, the unfortunate truth is that those casual connections can actually make us feel more alone. When you’re around someone that doesn’t really know you, you’re not truly being seen and accepted for who you are. And that inauthenticity can be a horrible feeling, as though you’re quarantined in a public square.
More steady relationships can also amplify the feeling of loneliness because you’re comparing where you are with them in the early stages to where you were with your ex after years together. And it’s not the same.
Instead of trying to fill that void with casual flings, find things that you enjoy doing by yourself, for yourself. Yes, it can feel weird at first. But it gets easier in time.
To reduce the loneliness…
Plan For the Loneliest Moments
Sometimes the loneliness will catch you unaware. Yet much of the more difficult moments can be anticipated. Take some time to think through what situations, locations or dates might be challenging for you and plan your approach.
For example, maybe your ex takes the kids every other weekend. Without a plan, you could find yourself alone on Friday night in an empty and lifeless house. However, if you know ahead of time that you’re going out to your favorite exercise class and out for brunch with your friends the morning after, the weekend feels a little more like a vacation and a little less like solitary confinement.
Here are some more ideas on how to plan for the loneliest moments after divorce.
After divorce, most of us curl up inside ourselves like a snail seeking shelter. It’s a natural response to pain. Yet, if allowed to go on too long, that defense mechanism becomes a contributing factor to loneliness. Because unless and until we are willing to be open, we will always feel isolated from others.
Find ways to practice vulnerability in a safe space. This can be through therapy, where you confide in a professional. It can be within the context of a good friendship. It can even be cultivated through visits to a massage therapist, where you acclimate to receiving non-sexual touch.
If not addressed, that retreat from discomfort will eventually become a habit, leading towards loneliness even in the case of a new relationship. Strive to continually practice vulnerability with others so that you can experience connections on a deeper level.
Refrain From Isolation
Since I lost my house in the divorce, I needed to find another place to stay. Although I was drawn to getting a small apartment by myself, I knew that decision would be a mistake since it would be too easy to isolate myself. Instead, I moved in with a friend and her family. It’s hard to feel too alone when you’re sharing living spaces.
One of the most devastating elements of loneliness is the feeling that you don’t matter. That you could exit the world today and no one would even notice. So make an impact. Join a volunteer organization. Become a Big Brother or Big Sister. Spend time with the elderly at a retirement home and gain wisdom from their stories. Or, register to rock newborns in the nursery and gain hope from their innocent eyes.
Ultimately, loneliness is a choice. And inaction is choosing to remain isolated.
So if you’re feeling lonely, do something.
And get busy.
Divorce can make you lonely.
But you don’t have to stay there.