I recently read an article about how important it is, in general, to “show up" for your friends. It got me thinking, specifically, about the toughest time I’ve gone through, my divorce. A few showed up, many didn’t and I understand why. Unless or until you’ve personally gone through it, you don’t know what to do. To those who would have shown up had they known what to do, to those who would like to show up in the future, here are the best ways to “show up” for a friend going through a divorce.
Say something, anything. By the time someone goes through divorce publicly there have been months or years of fighting, turmoil, pain, anguish and often silence. Many feeling alone in marriage retreat to varying degrees. In my case I went radio silent. For several years I parsed my words carefully in my home. Free flowing with my kids, when my ex would enter our domain I’d tread delicately. If I could keep quiet for a few more days things might be OK, maybe a blow up could be averted, a holiday or weekend lived in peace. Eventually, exhausted by the horrendous ending to my 10-year marriage I couldn’t fake it anymore so quiet became my norm in and out of my house. I stopped speaking to most of my friends, no longer engaged in small talk around town and ceased making social plans.
When my divorce became public everyone around clammed up. The silence that surrounded me was deafening. I know it’s awkward and you don’t know what to say. I know you’re scared divorce could spread into your home. But silence stings and it lingers. It’s so much better to say something, anything, the wrong thing rather than nothing. Call and stick your foot in your mouth, I appreciate the effort. Email and tell me that you don’t know what to say but are thinking of me, I feel supported. Text “I’m sorry to hear of your divorce” or send an old-fashioned note or card in the mail offering words of regret, I thank you.
Unless you will never see each other ever again, hiding and waiting it out won’t work. Six months, one year, two years later, I had many run-ins with those who hid. Each a cringe worthy reunion filled with extra apologies to make up for the one “sorry” that never came. If you’ve known someone for 5, 10 15 years, if you’ve been in their home or see them often at yoga class or at school drop off, reach out. If you celebrated the beginning of the union don’t disappear when it crumbles, reach out. If your kids are friends or were on the same baseball team, if you’ve got a bunch of mutual friends and heard the news, if you’ve stood as bridesmaid or groomsman at the wedding, reach out.
You won’t regret saying something and those on the receiving end will always appreciate it no matter how fumbled the delivery.
We all gossip, it’s bad, but especially so when someone has spilled secrets they’d never normally share-were they in their right mind. Ever run into a recently divorced friend or acquaintance and they blurt out something that leaves you thinking, “I can’t believe she just told me that.” Well, she didn’t mean to and when it dawns on her an hour later she’ll hang her head in shame. I equate the fog I was in immediately following my divorce with pregnancy brain. I just wasn’t all there. Past and current trauma, worries for my kids, combined with an uncertain future and a newfound freedom to speak overwhelmed and short wired my brain. Typically discreet and private with the details of my marriage as the ship went down, post divorce I often found myself blathering on about a situation I’d never normally discuss. Many a brunch with my girls involved my relationship as the main dish and much regret hours later as I rehashed our conversations. I still share, but now when I do it’s of sound mind and body. We should all keep what we’re told to ourselves, it’s hard and no one is perfect. But if someone is going through it and spills it, stick the heavy in your vault. Leave the gossip to the truly light, shallow and meaningless.
Include, Don’t Exclude
When you get divorced you lose your family unit, you lose time with your kids and you lose some friends along the way. Human connection can help ease the pain of this very lonely time so it’s unfortunate that becoming a single is the single best way to halt invitations. I know all about Noah’s Ark, two by two they went. I get it; pairs and even numbers are how it’s done. Adding a seat for one screws up your table setting and sets everything off kilter. What was once a fun night out or vacation with two couples sounds dreadful to your man who will be outnumbered in the absence of my ex. Make adjustments if that suits you, invite other couples to what used to be a party of four but as you include more don’t exclude your newly single friend. Holidays, tense for all can prove especially fraught in the land of divorce and shared custody. The first few years after my divorce I preferred to stay home in bed on those special days when my kids were with my ex. Traveling to my family to sit among everyone in their normal setting, when nothing in my life was normal, was more than I could handle. Luckily I had a friend locally invite me to her table. I accepted and while I am mostly back to my family gatherings I appreciated her invitation, one that still comes every year. Make sure the divorced in your group have somewhere to go on Thanksgiving, Friendsgiving, Christmas, Passover and the Fourth of July. Don’t forget your Labor Day Barbeque, Superbowl party and any other gathering in which you find yourself inviting a dozen of your crew. Feeling left out sucks and more so when you’ve just lost out on everything you built and planned for. I know it’s a pain-we were in your coupled file, now you have to move us to your single file and I’m asking that you keep us in the invitation file for both. I apologize for the extra paperwork but assure you on behalf of the divorced crew we appreciate your efforts.
There was a period of time after my divorce that I would wonder, what if something happens to me on a day my kids are with my ex and no one notices until a few days later when they come back and find me rotting on the stairs? My family is local and I’ve got a good group of friends but we’re all busy and consumed with our own lives and responsibilities. My response time to emails, texts and calls varies so there’s no reason anyone would worry if they hadn’t heard from me for a few days. Thus my recurring fear of rotting alone somewhere I had fallen and couldn’t get up. It’s obvious on February 14th to check in on a newly single friend. When your calendar reminds you of a friends anniversary the first year they’re divorced, that’s a clear prompt to call, text or email. It’s fairly likely on Valentines Day, anniversaries and birthdays that someone will offer up some attention to your friend that needs it. It’s the other 362 days a year that attention is sparse. Do what you can to regularly check in on that friend. Once a week say “hey,” if it’s a very close friend how about once a day? Not forever, just the first few critical months. After daily check ins as I settled into a new home, soon enough my bestie and I were back to our usual pattern of me calling and texting and her, taking her sweet, far too long in my opinion, time getting back to me.