Few things create as much anxiety as the aloneness we feel after a divorce or breakup. And I’m one to know— I have journals filled with my angst on the topic. I’ve had one shattering divorce and my fair share of heartbreaking and discouraging breakups that left me just fine, thank you very much. The gift of this experience is this amazing article I’m about to share with you. (Kidding.) The real gift of this experience is that it has taken me on a personal trek I never wanted to travel: getting good with aloneness.
Most people would like an algorithm regarding breakups. To answer the question “How to move on?” many would be soothed by a prescription of sorts: you do x, y, and z. Do a cleanse, go to four therapy sessions, scream at the moon, throw your ex’s underwear into the campfire, and you’re ready to go. I’ve even heard silliness such as “take the length of your relationship and divide it by two, square that number and divide by Pi and start dating three months preceding that answer.” When to move on, how to move on… It is like asking someone how to give birth or how to find happiness. It is as unique to you as the shiny little snowflake that you are.
But here’s what I know does NOT work when moving on after divorce.
Distracting yourself with a person.
Plenty of folks will peruse Tinderbox and Plenty of Whales and get excited about the virtual catalog of options out there. But if your heart is still aching for your lost love, or you still get enraged when you think about your custody battle, child support, someone’s infidelity, etc. you know you are actively working out some shit. You just want some casual company and it’s no fun to do things alone, right? And who knows where things might lead once you aren’t so hurt and angry, right?
My answer to this is, get fun at doing things alone. Learn how to do this. Any time I used to think: I want to see a movie but I have no one to go with, or, it’s New Year’s Eve and I have no one to kiss, or, it’s Sunday and no one wants to eat Costco snacks with me, I realized I had a new challenge on my plate. I decided: so what, I will do these things alone and really settle into the discomfort of my aloneness.
What was it all about anyway? I felt conspicuous though no one was looking at me. I felt like I was going to die alone in a nursing home and I realized that was a ridiculous conclusion to draw when eating a bacon wrapped scallop at Costco. When you rope a person into joining you in your heartbreak, you are using them. An awesome goal to set for yourself is to not use people.
Distracting yourself with empty sex.
Of course, this can be super fun and exciting. Maybe you’ve been married for 39 years and you can’t even remember sex with a stranger and all the crazy things bodies new to each other create. You have a friend with bennies, yippie aye oh kai yay (yes, I had to look up how to spell that.) I’m no prude and I mean it when I say this can be fun and there is learning to be had here.
The biggest question to answer for yourself is this: do you want to get good at having disconnected sex? Is that a skill you want to hone and bring into your next committed relationship? Because, I promise, practice makes perfect. If you make a practice of physical loving without emotional loving, you will learn how to do it well.
You will likely find yourself at some future point really curious about why you just aren’t feeling anything in a relationship that you wish you were, and that will be because you’ve gained mastery at the skill of detachment. There is something to be said for getting amazing at masturbating (within reason!) You will have some awesomeness to teach the right person when the timing is right.
Distracting yourself with drugs.
Um, duh. I know you know this and I know this and we all know this. But, everyone is drinking and sugaring and binging away their sadness. The first thing to do about this practice is notice it. We have normalized breakup drinking: “Oh, he’s out drinking with friends a lot because he’s going through a divorce.” We have celebrated breakup ice cream: the lonely single gal on her couch with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s binge watching 90210. We have mythologized the “dad bod” as something to display proudly on a mountain top.
Just. Stop. It. Distract yourself with kale chips and a steep hike. Distract yourself with writing your memoir while drinking kombucha and petting a very sweet pit bull. Do Yoga for Recovery on Friday nights instead of Shots for Forgetting. Make a practice of being a stand-up kind of friend. You will be so much sexier if you don’t add a drinking problem to the new package you have to offer the next lucky taker.
Getting good at aloneness is a practice and who really wants to get good at that? It’s not the super-sexiest thing to list as one of your hobbies. But, if you are good at aloneness, and mostly, if you are good with your aloneness, you are able to enter your next relationship, should you want one, without that deep pit of need you think you might hide so well.
We have to work on our wholeness. We have to notice when we are waiting for someone instead of doing our own work. When I first got divorced and was new to single parenting, I would get annoyed that I had to take out the trash and do the dishes and pitch the tent and wash the dog. Though I wasn’t super conscious of it at the time, in the back of my mind as I dated would be: are you the one? And it wasn’t are you the one who is going to meet my soul and kiss it on the forehead? It was, are you the one who is going to help me pay the trash collection and fix my garbage disposal? That’s a huge burden to bring, no matter how covertly, to a coffee date.
So, instead, learn about the person you are when you are alone. What it is to kiss your own self on New Year’s Eve, date yourself and sit by yourself and have sex with yourself and be truly, deeply, okay with that.