When I ventured after an eleven year married hiatus into the world of the newly single, I was unprepared for what I discovered. Awkward best described the scene. Lounge lizard Larrys lurched across the bar to learn my “story”. I encountered women who, during our conversation, kept an eye on the door in case their next potential partner might enter. Both genders appeared equally disposed to over-share. So from my observations and personal experiences, I share the following unwritten rules in hopes they may help you navigate your new singlehood with grace.
1. If you feel needy, stay home and off-line
Grief and loneliness accompany any divorce. No one is in a good place when a relationship ends, so there is a tendency to quench your emotional thirst and assuage the pain by looking for someone else as soon as possible.
However, consider what you have to give to someone else right now. You are in taking mode—needing emotional warmth, support and validation. How will this contribute in a healthy way to a new relationship, and who in this state do you expect to attract? You need to process what happened to your marriage, and move through the grief cycle before you are ready to hit Match.com.
2. Treat yourself as you would have others treat you
If you don’t treat yourself with respect, no one else will either. Often after a divorce, your self-esteem and self-confidence are low. You may feel a sense of shame and question your self-worth.
At such times, people tend to indulge in self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to avoid the intense pain they are experiencing. Unfortunately, the lower the bar you set for yourself, the worse you feel and the longer you remain in pain. Others observing your self-destructive behavior may feel pity for you if they know you, or disgust if they don’t, but they won’t feel respect. Model how you want to be treated by taking care of yourself.
3. Be a good friend
Your friends want to be there for you, but remember you need to be there for them too. They will also encounter challenges and bad days during your divorce. They may hesitate to bring things up with you, because you are the one who is perceived to have the bigger life event, so remember to ask.
If you only call your friends to process your feelings, vent, or complain about your ex, you will wear out your welcome. They are sincere in wanting to support you, but don’t expect it to be one-sided. Consciously assess how you are contributing to the friendship. Send them a note every so often expressing your gratitude for their friendship. Take them out to their favorite coffee spot or restaurant.
4. Keep current
Reading and paying attention to the news and other outside events will help you create a fresh perspective and feel more energized when you enter a new social situation. Avoid oversharing your personal problems and instead listen for things that may be interesting to another person.
If you are invited to go to dinner with friends who are a married couple, remember to engage both spouses in conversation. Be attuned to events and interests that are going on in their lives so that you can inquire and show you are taking an interest in the outside world.
5. Lighten up
Humor is attractive to other people and acts as a great connector. We feel closer to others when we share laughter over our common human foibles. Remember before your divorce when you could laugh at yourself and appreciate the absurdities that are all around us?
When I was newly single, I bought an electric edger. There were three steps in the instructions for how to assemble it. I proudly showed my achievement to one of my friends while commenting that I couldn’t seem to get it to work. He immediately responded that I had assembled it upside down. We had a huge laugh over what was more frightening: that although the instructions were in English, I still couldn’t follow them, or the fact that I had no idea that the edger was upside down.
6. Say no more often than yes
Your married friends will offer their husband’s help if you are a single woman. Your friends legitimately want to help and feel like they can do something for you. The offer is sincere, but be mindful that when their husbands are free to help, it is usually during the couple’s time. So instead of taking them up on their offers, hire a handyman or do it yourself. Ask for help very occasionally when you really need something. (I employ the 90-10 rule.) You don’t want your phone calls to become associated with a to-do list.
7. Stay classy
Your partner may have hurt you terribly and you may be filled with rage, but you also loved your ex and could identify good attributes. Respect your partner’s humanity and refrain from exposing intimate details about sexual performance, their medical issues, or anything else that you know would strip your ex of his or her dignity. Avoid making derisive comments every time your ex’s name is mentioned. It makes you appear bitter and petty. Telling your friends specific bad behaviors that really hurt you—so that you can feel their emotional support—is fine, but getting a cheap laugh at your ex’s expense is not. Your friends may laugh, but they may also wonder what you share about them when you are in a fight.
8. Avoid oversharing
Remember when you had something positive to share with others that didn’t include talking about your divorce? You discussed shared pastimes, the latest book you read or an upcoming event. Your breakup may be consuming you, but it is not interesting to a wider audience. You may be obsessed with details of your ex’s bad behavior, but other people will be bored. Know your audience. Your closest friends, family, and a therapist will help you work through your hurt, but for everyone else you meet, skip the details and stick with topics of mutual interest.
9. Don’t walk around wearing a scarlet S
Perhaps we can thank Sex in the City for this, but being single is now socially acceptable. Yes, small vestiges of people may think divorce is a contagious virus and give you a wide berth, but for the most part, you can go out into society and hold your head high. It is your attitude about being divorced or newly single that affects others’ perceptions. If you are invited to go to a party and you are the only single person there, who cares? Your marital status is the least important thing about you. If you project self-confidence, others won’t think to question why you aren’t married. Showcase your social skills—your ability to be a good host or hostess or your ability to carry on an interesting conversation.
10. Accept aloneness
Following your divorce, you may lose some friends either because they side with your ex or they just feel uncomfortable around you as they confront insecurities in their own marriage. Even the mutual couple friends you keep aren’t going to include you as often because there is a new relationship dynamic. Being lonely at times is the cost of breaking up. But the benefit is that being alone is healthier and in the long run happier than being part of a dysfunctional dynamic. If you experienced emotional loneliness in your marriage, you know exactly what I mean. Being alone doesn’t mean you are lonely. Sometimes you will be, but other times you will enjoy self-reflection and being in your own company. You are your own joy potential.
What rules do you think should be added to the list? I’d love to hear your ideas.
Image courtesy of Sura Nualpradid at FreeDigitalPhotos.net