If you're over 50 and find yourself in the midst of a divorce, you're not alone. According to a report by sociologists Susan L. Brown and I-Fen Lin of Bowling Green State University: "At a time when divorce rates for other age groups have stabilized or dropped, fully one out of every four people experiencing divorce in the United States is 50 or older."
Although it's flattering to be considered "trendy" in middle age, this is one vogue many of us never thought we'd experience. However, just as we vowed "for better or for worse" on our wedding day, we're part of a brave new cohort of Baby Boomers who must now vow to transform an unexpected detour into a positive roadmap for the future--hopefully only for better, not worse.
My divorce became final just over 4 months ago. So, what have I learned thus far that can help us (specifically, Baby Boomers, but really, anyone going through a divorce at any age) move forward into a happy future? 5 lessons come to mind:
1. Act like you know what you're doing
When facing life's significant challenges, all too often we don't really know what we're doing. (Child rearing comes to mind). It's important to remember that there are no guarantees in life, no matter how well we prepare and plan. In fact, there is so much randomness, that much of the time, success simply comes down to a lot of attitude and a little luck. So, even though you may feel hopelessly adrift in uncharted waters, I promise you will eventually chart a new course and find your way. Start by projecting an air of confidence (not arrogance) and poise. You've got this!
Rely on these 4 "bests." Always:
1. Do your best
2. Consult the best experts
3. Use your best judgment
4. Hope for the best
Inspirational quote: "All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure."--Mark Twain (OK, I'm being a wise guy here; but he's definitely right about the confidence part).
2. You can get over your ex
11 months ago, while separated from my husband, but pre-divorce, I wrote an article for HuffPost entitled "Why You Need to Strive for Indifference Toward Your Ex." It was based on words of wisdom from relationship expert Susan Pease Gadoua: "The opposite of love is not hate; it is indifference."
Gadoua's statement really resonated with me. I suddenly understood that love and hate are actually two sides of the same coin, and that neither one would help me move on with my life. When a marriage (especially a long-term one) ends, it is all too easy to transform intense feelings of love and concern for one's spouse into their evil twin counterparts, hate and anger. I vowed to abolish hate and anger from my life and to replace them with a healthy dose of indifference. I still care about my ex and I sincerely wish him well. However, we are no longer a couple. We are each free to date, form new relationships, and create new lives. That's the new reality, and I resolved to embrace it.
If you think seeing a photo of your ex with another woman or man on Facebook will cause you undue stress that could possibly prevent you from moving on, "unfollow" him or her, at least for the time being. Or consider turning the situation into a positive. Seeing concrete evidence that your ex is out dating and building a new life may be just the motivation you need to do the same. Remember, the final stage in the grief process is acceptance. Denying the truth is never a useful strategy. Work towards accepting that your ex is creating a new (hopefully, happy) life, and take steps to do the same.
Inspirational quote: Whenever you find yourself reflecting wistfully about past times with your ex, remember: that was then; this is now. Think about the lyrics to Gotye's catchy pop ballad: "Now and then I think of when we were together...Now you're just somebody that I used to know."
3. Focus on yourself
When you're married, you're naturally interested in absolutely everything about your spouse, from dinner-time discussions of "how was your day?" to his/her latest accomplishments at the gym. Now, after spending so many years as part of a "we," concentrate on defining your "me." Stop worrying about the minutia of your spouse's life and shift that concern to your new, unmarried existence. Think about ways you can improve your career, your fitness level, your social life, your relationship with your kids, etc. Make plans and use your network to help you achieve your new goals. If you're a Baby Boomer, your children are probably busy creating their own lives. While it's fine to help them out when you can, makes sure to carve out ample time for your own personal development. Follow through on some of your bucket list items: take that dream vacation, sign up for a class and learn a new skill, explore local Meet Ups to expand your social circle, get a new hairdo, new wardrobe, and new attitude. (Do not feel guilty: focusing on yourself doesn't mean you stop being a good friend, parent, colleague, and citizen).
Inspirational quote: "Don't forget to love yourself." --Søren Kierkegaard
4. Don't be afraid to ask for help
If you were married for a long time, are no doubt there are tasks that your spouse handled that will now fall to you. If you don't know how to handle something, there is no shame in reaching out for help. Some of these tasks are mundane; others more weighty. Examples of the mundane: Before my separation, I had never in my life mowed a lawn. Even after my sweet neighbor patiently walked me through it, and I executed a few successful mowings, I somehow managed to pour the gas into the compartment where the oil is supposed to go. Oops. And someone (thankfully, not a police officer) recently pointed that out that the inspection sticker on my car expired months ago. (And that I should check the oil and tire pressure once in a while). As for more substantial matters, I am now responsible for doing my own taxes, something my ex always handled. I'm reaching out to friends and acquaintances in my new town to find reliable financial and tax advisors. I highly recommend using your community's Facebook page to ask for recommendations for any services you may need, from doctors to accountants. A word of mouth referral from a trusted source is always the best way to go.
Inspirational quote: "A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer." --Bruce Lee
5. The world won't end (and you won't die) if you get naked in front of someone new
(I've left this one for last so that my mother and son can stop reading now).
As for the rest of you, if you've been married a long time and are therefore of a "certain age," this topic probably generates tremendous anxiety. But it needs to be discussed. First of all, only you can decide when you're ready to date again. Maybe you've been separated for a really long time, so you'll be back in circulation as soon as you sign the final papers. Or maybe you're still grieving, and have no desire to meet someone new. However you're feeling, accept that it's just fine for you. Don't let anyone--a well-meaning friend, relative, or co-worker--force you to meet or date anyone until it feels right. Take some time to be alone. Catch your breath. Get your mojo back. (On the other hand, if it's been 5 years, perhaps you need to reevaluate).
When you're ready, let people know you're looking. The ideal way to meet a potential partner is through a mutual acquaintance--although in today's cyber world, most people now meet online. I won't go into the do's and don'ts of online dating here--there are plenty of articles out there on the subject. I will however, advise you to keep an open mind. Don't make your parameters so rigid that you exclude some potentially terrific dates. Consider a partner who is older or younger than you. Take your time, but when you do decide to become intimate with someone, be confident. Sadly, very few people--even the impossibly beautiful, young, and supple--feel comfortable with their bodies. But remember: the most important sex organ is the brain. If you make up your mind to feel good about yourself and the way you look, that feeling will transfer to your new partner (who probably has the same anxieties).
It's never too late to love and be loved. You may even discover a hot mama (or papa) inside of you that you never knew was there. (And the world will not end).
Inspirational quote: "You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old."--George Burns