I wish Elizabeth Barrett Browning had been around long enough to advise us all after the depth and breadth and height our souls had once reached in love and tell us in her grand poetic prose how to fit in after a divorce had forced it all to plummet to the hard-rocky ground!
There are many times I have felt that I should go reside on the island of Misfit Toys since my divorce, in order to feel like I belonged. I am a Baby Boomer and like all Boomers, we come from an idealistic model of relationships.
Our parents had us after World War II and we were a product of those referred to as the Greatest Generation. We straddle between the world of party lines and actual dial telephones to modern techie cell phones and social media communications.
We live with one foot in the world of real people greeting each other directly and shaking hands to the world of visiting your friends and relatives through the lens of social media and sending them a hand waving emoji.
So, why did I feel that I didn’t quite fit in since my divorce?
How has my “fit” changed from married person to divorced person?
Well, let me count the ways. And maybe some of you have experienced this too.
“As your life changes, so will your circle.”
How To Fit In After Divorce
I found that soon after my divorce, my friends changed. My friendships changed. When you are a couple you usually have those “couple friends” … you know, those people that you always go to dinner with, go to concerts with and the movies with.
Those who help you out with your kids because they too have kids the same age.
Those that loan you a tool if you need it.
Those that help you move furniture up a flight of stairs. Or, help to install a new window.
Those “go to” people who were always in your couples’ orbit.
I found out shortly after my divorce that I was soon looked at as the awkward friend. My ex-husband left the orbit altogether. So, I was left to explain why my husband left. In the beginning, they all wanted to know the juicy details.
I didn’t give out the gory particulars, but what I did share was consumed and it served to feed not only their morbid curiosity, it also fed their need for drama at no risk to themselves. I was left to try to tell the story and I was looked at differently from that point forward.
We were the couple that everyone thought had it all. We were the couple that many wanted to be. Once a split happens with “that couple”, you know…the one people look up to, well it makes them question their very own relationships.
Especially if the model husband in their eyes, left you for another woman. I had one person tell me that if it could happen to us it could happen to anyone. It could happen to them.
I also started getting some side eyes from my female friends. I guess now that I was a single woman, I might be a threat. I have had many other women in the time since my divorce tell me that they too experienced this with their friends.
The result is that you migrate away. You don’t get invited anymore. You have children to care for anyway, but you soon realize that you are alone. It felt like I was a rowboat tied to pier and someone came and just quietly untied the rope from the pier, and I drifted away ever so quietly.
When this happened, I came to the knowing that I needed to find my own orbit. My own people. If you are new to being officially defined as “divorced” on your current identifications, do not despair.
What you will find is that the people who are about to enter your new solar system, are deeper and more compassionate. Because that is who you are now, and you will be drawn to those who may have experienced something similar.
Their care and wisdom are much needed as you embrace new friendships that are 100% yours. Those that you have left behind in the wreckage of your marriage hold little value to you.
And those that stayed the course with you and loved you through the whole horrible experience, are golden. Find your own people and celebrate!
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”
British Novelist Jane Howard
If you have gotten a divorce and you are now a single parent, that of course changes a family. It changes the very foundation that you built your family on. If you are lucky, the family that built you, is what gets you through it.
And you find that you rely and lean on your family like never before. But what I also found out through my journey after divorce, is that I had changed. I was no longer that same family member that they once knew.
How could I be?
I had been through such a brutal life experience and as a result, the person I once was no longer existed. I was now a myriad of people.
I was fragile as well as tough.
I was compassionate as well as short tempered.
I was now responsible for an entire family. And they had no idea what that felt like.
Even in imagination, they dare not go there.
So how do you slide back into that role inside your family when you don’t know what that role is?
And even still, how can your family recognize you now and find a common denominator beyond shared parents?
Well, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t happen overnight and its not easy. But it can happen and, on your terms, too.
I had once written that I felt the most alone when I am with my family at the holidays, get-togethers, weddings, etc. All the family congregations that resembled the model household.
Married couples with their kids who even have kids of their own now. And so, it goes. It is where I come from. It is all that I knew, until the day I was forced to unlearn it.
I think many people feel as I do when they come together. Everyone was completely well meaning and really had no idea how I was feeling. I am good at masking it to “fit in” and make others feel more comfortable than me.
But the truth be told, as I mentioned in the article before, it’s hard to feel whole when you are reminded by all the real wholeness that surrounds you.
It takes courage to speak up and introduce this new you. To represent the person, you are now and expect nothing less than their full support and respect. It’s not your job to keep up a persona that you no longer own.
You are a whole person in your own right, and you have earned the respect of everyone.
So, introduce your new whole self to the family that you know. To the woman, you are both just getting to know. Give them a chance and enjoy the relationship.
And if you determine that you have changed too much, and they can’t accept your new improved version of yourself, then choose your friendships as family.
Because at the end of the day, everyone needs a family, a clan or a tribe they can call their own.
“Being a working mother and a working single parent instills in you a sense of determination.”
There is no better reason to work then because you need the money. In some cases, it’s the only reason. After I was divorced, I told a friend that I just wanted to meet a man who would say three things to me.
She said, “Oh, I love you?”
I responded with, “No! You can quit!”
The juggling act of working a full-time job and raising a family alone is unnerving to say the least. There are days that you literally feel like a performer who is spinning plates.
As the plates keep getting added, you are sweating to keep them all going at once and terrified that one will fall, and the rest come tumbling down.
That’s what it can feel like when you are a single mom who is the breadwinner of the family. You handle things completely differently than you’re married counterparts at work.
To begin, you don’t have a significant other whom you can fall back on. I remember I called my ex-husband to help me when my daughter was ill. I had already taken a day off and was nervous to ask for another day.
He responded and said he couldn’t; he had to work. Like I wasn’t working and supporting an entire family?
Like I didn’t need to work more than Good Ole Diamond Jim himself?
This was in the day that most workplaces didn’t have laptops they could bring home. So, what do you do? You take the day off and pray that it won’t come back to haunt you.
You pray that you won’t be revisiting this when you have your performance review.
You pray that your boss leaves and you get a new one who has no idea that you ever took a day off in your life.
And you pray that if none of that occurs, your work ethic as a woman who carries a globe on her shoulders every day of the week and twice on Sunday will receive the respect she deserves. And she does.
Over time, you communicate very little to anyone at work regarding your family and the responsibilities you carry. It takes one person who wants your job, who lets it slip that you left early to pick up your child, or you left early to go to the drugstore to get a prescription for your child, or you came back late from your lunch because you had to go home and pick up a book that your child left at home and they needed for class.
It takes one person to characterize you as less then committed to your job. And it usually comes from someone who has never been married, let alone had children.
If you are wise, you trust only a few. And again, those that you do trust are golden and you need them to lean on every once in a while.
Because the last thing you will be able to cope with, is a job loss.
And guess what?
I eventually did lose my job. So, no matter how old your kids are. As long as you are a single working mom, be cautious with you job. We live in a much better workspace now and employers are much more forgiving and flexible. But, there are no guarantees and you need to always be smart.
You may not feel a complete fit because of the lengths you feel that you have to go to protect yourself, but at the end of the day you do fit because you are doing an amazing job and most people in your work environment would never know what a true Rock Star you really are. But you do!
“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths,”
So, who are you now?
You have created a new you through the eyes of your friends, your family, your work colleagues.
Who is this new you?
Well, only you know the answer to that. And it may be a work in progress for a while. But, what I am certain of is that this, “NEW YOU” that you have become and embraced and introduced to the world is someone who will be amazing at all you endeavor.
And you are someone who is full of compassion, humility, and excitement as you venture into this new chapter of YOU. And always remember:
“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”