Losing a friend did not make me stronger. I felt no relief once she was gone, no hope that good would come of the tragedy, no pride in my ability to move on.
When you walk down the aisle you never expect that one day you’ll be on your own again. At least not when you’re young (okay, middle-aged).
Divorce is for other people. Couples who don’t invest in their relationship. For serial cheaters and people who probably deserve it.
When it happens to you there is a combination of shock, grief, and relief. Relief that the relationship problems are finally over, grief at saying goodbye to a shared history and shock that the unthinkable has happened.
You mourn your ex-spouse, even as you are relieved to be away from a toxic relationship. You mourn the couple you once were.
For many months after I left my ex I found myself wanting to go back in time, to tell ‘old him’ – my best friend of 15 years – what was going to happen to us, to hear him laugh and reassure me that it wasn’t possible.
What you don’t expect is to be mourning the loss of other people that were close to you. Yes, you’re going to lose the in-laws – particularly if things ended badly – but close friends too?
And yet this is precisely what happens. You can lose up to 10% of your friends when you get divorced.
People take sides or don’t know how to react, naturally distancing themselves. Some think divorce is a disease that is catching.
There are good-time friends who don’t want to be there for the rainy days. There are the friends who found you irresistible as a twosome but don’t really know what to do with you on your own. Some may feel insecure letting their spouse socialize with a newly-single woman.
There are friends who like your ex more than you. You never knew this when you were a couple, going to dinner parties and social gatherings. You assumed they liked you both. Until they didn’t.
These are the friends who cannot, or will not, reconcile your reasons for leaving your ex with the person they like enormously. (I get it. If I hadn’t been at the receiving end, I wouldn’t have believed me either).
So they cast you as the villain and that way they don’t have to believe you. When you express hurt and anger at this betrayal it further justifies their decision. Clearly, you are the unhinged bully your ex said you were.
One of my ex-friends used to (rather pretentiously) call me and my husband ‘PLUs’, or ‘people like us’. I saw them this weekend when I was out on the sledging hills in my village, surrounded by a little clique of their PLUs.
I am no longer one of them. I stood on the periphery and watched these happy nuclear families, feeling that familiar surge of exclusion, of not quite belonging.
I am no longer invited to dinner parties. I am shunned by those who feel I gave my ex a hard time. By those who judge from their glass houses. By the fair-weather friends.
Nobody tells you any of this about divorce. That sometimes you are kicked while you’re down by the very people you thought you could count on.
A particular low point for me was waking up one morning to an email from my solicitor. She had attached five statements from friends that she had received from the defense in support of my husband’s bid for custody in our divorce trial.
Each one extolled his virtues as a father, omitting the crucial detail. That he was an alcoholic. Yes, he can dress his children appropriately and give them healthy snacks. He’s great fun in the school playground. But sometimes he drinks and drives.
Each one of these statements was written by a couple I had considered to be close family friends. I’d confided in the wives, been on holiday with them, looked after their children – just as they had looked after mine.
I felt it physically. Like a deep punch to the stomach. It hurts to lose friends, at any time in life, but particularly when you’re in the throes of a nasty divorce.
It makes you feel betrayed and extremely rejected. It hurts almost as much (possibly more) than the breakdown of the marriage itself. It certainly makes the process even harder to recover from.
Tessie Castillo describes it perfectly in an article for Scary Mommy:
“Losing a friend is very different from losing a husband,” she writes. “You don’t have to leave your house. You don’t lose half your income. You don’t have to make co-parenting arrangements or split holidays with your kids or stare at the empty space in the closet where her clothes used to be.”
“But losing a best friend can be harder than losing a husband. Divorce is tragic and terrible, but at least it provides relief from a toxic marriage. When my husband left, I cried for weeks, but amidst the swirling confusion and grief was a sense of freedom, of hope, of second chances. Deep down I knew I was better off without him.”
“Losing a friend did not make me stronger. I felt no relief once she was gone, no hope that good would come of the tragedy, no pride in my ability to move on. Instead, I stayed up at night wondering what went wrong. I still do,” she concludes.”
It’s a tough lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. When it comes to friends, divorce sorts the wheat from the chaff.
Most importantly, it makes you recognize and appreciate the good friends.
They are the ones quietly propping you up. Checking in on the weekends your ex has the kids. Making time for you in their diaries and not rubbing in the social occasions you’ve missed out on.
They are ones who encourage you to socialize when it feels so difficult, even if you’ve said ‘no’ the last five times they asked. They don’t give up and know you’ll emerge from your shell eventually.
They’re the ones who understand that however horribly your ex is behaving and has behaved, you’re still grieving. They don’t badmouth him… unless you want them to.
They may not agree with all of your actions and choices, but they support you anyway and do it without criticism.
And they remember you’re a human being, who sometimes wants to shoot the breeze about topics that are lighter than divorce, legal battles and disappointment.
So be kind to your divorcing friends. Be there for them and be forgiving if they’re not always themselves. Whatever you do, don’t kick them while they’re down.
It may seem impossible right now but one day it could be you who needs that support. The statistics are not kind: One-in-three (one-in-two if you’re a breadwinner wife).