One of the biggest mistakes you can make after divorce? I made it and it’s this: hiding from the world.
It’s isn’t about shame, but it may be about embarrassment. It certainly was for me. I was mortified that my marriage was disintegrating and I couldn’t somehow repair it. And it all seemed worse because there was never an outward sign of a crack or a false step; my spouse and I had done an excellent job of denial to ourselves, and an even more expert PR job for friends, family and neighbors.
Somehow, that made for less support as my life seemed to crumble. “Surely you can fix it,” well-intentioned friends would say, though I had tried, and tried, and was still trying.
I was also failing. To rebuild a broken marriage, it takes two who are willing to start again.
So my embarrassment defined the shape of my responses as well as my behaviors. I was uncomfortable any time I ran into an acquaintance, beating a hasty retreat. I was humiliated as my finances, worsened by exorbitant legal costs, made once simple outings for my children a source of angst. I was unable to turn to a parent or sibling or almost any friend; all I got was blame or platitudes or a sort of restless fearfulness, as if divorce were contagious.
So I hid.
I avoided going out, and was grateful that I worked from home at the time things were falling apart. I now realize I would have been better off if I had been forced out of the house.
We need to be in the world to put our problems into perspective, and also to enable others to comfort us.
Putting on a brave face? Sure, we need to do it some of the time.
Hiding so you don’t have to? Hiding because you don’t know what to say?
If you ask me, it’s bad news.
Listen. Old friends may feel so put in the middle, so squirmy with discomfort, and so worried about the flaws in their own relationships somehow coming to the fore that they withdraw.
Withdrawal may become desertion.
It did for me, with few exceptions.
Too often, following the divorce of a friend, women walk away. This is not to deny that we may create walls or challenges to friendships, but true friends wouldn’t walk. Or so we believe.
This phenomenon is all the more reason that you need to get out – not necessarily “dating” out, but the sort of out that means a strolling a bookstore or mall, eavesdropping on an entertaining conversation, noting the way a mother ties her child’s shoes or the child savors an ice cream cone. Perhaps you prefer to take an hour to sit in a park, to remind yourself of the beauty of nature. The activity is less important than its effect: dwarfing the issues you’re dealing with, even briefly.
Don’t get me wrong. My divorce was miserable. What came after, in many respects, even more so. All the grieving had to run its course, and when your adversary is constantly provoking and you never know when provocation may strike, it’s difficult to return to anything like “normal” much less finding a new normal.
I also had two little boys who were devastated by what was happening. I needed to be there for them, and to a large degree, they gave me purpose that guided me through the worst of my very bad days.
And yet if I had been able to step outside my own little world for a time, I’m certain that would have helped. I believe I would have forged new friendships more quickly and felt more confident about myself and my future.
So just don’t do it. Don’t make the mistake that I did. Sure, grieve as it suits you and there’s no need to do so publicly. But don’t isolate yourself for years because you’re embarrassed. Don’t withdraw because money is tight. Don’t say no to a friend who wants to listen because you’re worried about being a burden.
We need human connection. We need touch. We need purpose.
So don’t hide.
And when you do step outside the confines of your world and its problems, what helped me is this: Giving to others (your knowledge, your labor, your caring). Giving is, without question, the best possible remedy for reducing your own pain. And gradually, you ease your way back into a larger world, you find mechanisms for making new friends, and you do indeed find your footing.