You can divide the possessions, acquired over a lifetime together, share custody of the dogs (or children if you have them) and decide who will keep the house. But in the end, who gets custody of the friends when you get divorced? Unlike the coffee table and your wedding china, your friends have this thing called free will and it’s no picnic deciding who will get to keep them. Really, it’s their decision; you can’t very well saw them in half or bargain for them; unfortunately it just doesn’t work like that.
As soon as you announce your plans to make the big split, you might begin to notice subtle changes in your friend’s behavior because most people have a way of getting uncomfortable around divorcing couples. They will do their best to side-step the name calling and blame assigning that goes with the territory and they’ll try to pretend they’re Switzerland, claiming neutrality, and may even tell you “I am Switzerland” but there will come a time when they’ll forget their forsworn allegiance to this noble inclination and will up and choose sides. Of course, your girlfriends will always be yours and his pals will remain his, a fact you’ll probably be fine with, but it will definitely get messy when it comes to deciding which friends will go where, especially when it comes to the couples you know.
One of the best things about being married, which you’ll come to miss a lot, was that you got to hang-out with other married people whenever the mood struck you. Want to go out to a movie on a Saturday night? Just call another couple. Want to throw a dinner party? No sweat because there are no odd men out. Everyone is all coupled-up and relaxed, happy in the knowledge that the person they’ll be going home with has already seen them naked and let’s face it, there’s safety in a feeling like that. You’re a member of the married woman’s club, traipsing about the planet in even numbers and you always have someone to accompany you to the ladies room who understands that when you say you’ll have a bite of her dessert you’re going to be eating half.
When the first cracks appear in the veneer of a marriage that’s crumbling, friends may keep their distance because this might be something that’s catching, but you can be sure they’ll be talking about it. They’ll be saying that they’re glad it isn’t happening to them and how awful the prospect of divorce is and then they’ll take the wait and see approach before they make their move. Grieving any type of death, even the death of a marriage, is a process. There are stages you have to go through. But the way you and your friends will move through them will differ wildly, especially when it comes to the friends who will be leaving you and going with your used-to-be.
STAGE ONE: DENIAL
By the time your friends really know what is going on with your marriage you will have long since passed this stage. Thank God! The whole thing dragged on long enough as it was and it was definitely time to cut your losses and run. For you, this stage was the emotional equivalent of devouring a pound of stilton cheese while watching an exercise video and thinking you’re getting a work out. Remember to have patience with those around you as they deal with this first stage of grieving. “I can’t believe it!” They’ll exclaim over the drinks and dinner you are conspicuously absent from. “They seemed so happy, who would have thought they’d ever split up?” You will find that your friends will move out of this stage rather quickly. After all, they can see that you don’t have a prayer in hell of making it so why should they waste another minute pretending otherwise? And just like that it will be time to move on to…
STAGE TWO: ANGER
Your friends will have something to chew on here, as this feeling is served up with a great big side of confusion. They’re pissed as hell about the whole situation but haven’t a clue who they should be mad at. Most often the men will see which side their wives are leaning towards and go that way, unless, of course, the men are one of the pals that your soon-to-be-ex got in the settlement. In this instance the decision will be cut and dried; they’ll be siding with him. “Do you know what he did to her? The wives who side with you will exclaim. “I’m surprised she stayed as long as she did!” You will find that your friends, although well meaning and full of vindictive ire, have nothing on you when it comes to this stage. You own Stage Two and even though you will eventually move past it, more than likely, you will be re-visiting this stage often and loudly. This is to be expected.
STAGE THREE: BARGAINING
This will not be pretty, I can guarantee you that, as this is the time when your friends or former friends have made their choices and they want to find a way to drop one of you without seeming overly insensitive. But let’s face it, there are holiday parties on the horizon, birthdays and milestones to celebrate and nothing crushes a good time faster than a feuding, soon-to-be-divorced couple trying to inhabit the same room. Besides, it could very definitely be catching. So what choice do they have, really? One of you has got to go. Once again, you have probably passed this stage as you’ve already done your bargaining when you divided up the houseplants and the CD collection, so you’ll be watching your friends from the sidelines during this stage, as they choose between you and your soon-to-be-ex like they’re picking teammates for dodge- ball.
Next comes the Big Fat Buzz-Kill…
STAGE FOUR: DEPRESSION
What can I say? This stage sucks equally for everyone and you will probably find yourself bouncing back and forth between Depression and Anger which is absolutely no fun. But hey, it helps to pass the time. And you’ll have lots of that on your hands because the party invitations will be fewer and farther between than they were when you were a part of the married peoples club. (This will be one of the things that will send you screaming and crying back to Stage Two.)
STAGE FIVE: ACCEPTANCE
Yes! Acceptance will finally dawn one day, really it will, and at this point the earth will feel like it’s rotating properly on its axis once again. The dust will have settled somewhat, friends will have chosen sides and hopefully, you will have moved on, at least on the surface of things. The staying power of this stage will be elusive for you; as I said, you will be yo-yoing around for a bit and that’s normal. The friends who have chosen you have chosen wisely and will certainly eclipse the ones that have shut you out. Sure you’ll probably feel like an orphan for a while, crying into your proverbial bowl of gruel, living single and drinking doubles. But the friends who have stuck by you are the real deal and in the end that’s all that really matters.