My divorce was final last March. If you had asked me then what my life would look like, I would have stared at you blankly (with a hint of drool.) I didn't have a clue. I only had hope -- hope that life would get easier and much better. I was emotionally drained, facing what appeared to be a lonely, unending, uphill climb with no clear destination defined.
If you are in this place, then read on.
I share my year of adaptation, struggle, triumph, grief and joy -- yes joy -- to imbue you with hope as you ponder the abyss following the end of your relationship. A lot can happen in one year, and some of it is really good.
To set the foundation, last March I was:
- Not ready to date.
- Panicked about finances.
- Ticked off that my poor judgment in choosing a partner left me alone in my mid-forties while all my friends were happily coupled.
- Wanting proof that something good lay ahead.
- Worried that perhaps the best was behind me.
- Trying to figure out what the bleep just happened.
One year later, I am:
- Dating a wonderful, communicative man.
- Confident and laughing again (a lot).
- Still concerned about finances, but hopeful.
- Engaged in meaningful work with two new (and fun) partners.
- Grieving as I watch my dad slowly lose his battle to lung cancer.
- Resolved to never again settle for less than my worth.
- OK with the past.
- A published co-author (Turn North at Divorce.)
I am by no means at my final destination, but I am in a good place. So how did I get here and how might you get to a good place one year from now? Here are some key stepping stones.
Partner With Grief
Grief is an essential part of transition. Depending on many factors, this grief can last a longer or a shorter time and it can be re-triggered without warning. It's OK. Everyone goes through it; you are not a freak. You would only be a freak if you could glide through your divorce and feel nothing.
The key is to allow yourself to move through and not around the grief that accompanies the loss of a significant relationship.
Moving through grief looks like surrendering to it -- even partnering with it -- until it has been processed. This feels uncomfortable because there is no timetable for feeling better. However, if you can resist filling the emotional hole and just breathe into it, accepting its presence, you will gradually heal.
And be intentional about hanging onto hope. At my lowest, I still maintained an unfounded belief that light would shine upon my life again. People are programmed for survival.
Lighten the Load
Shedding baggage is the next step in moving closer to joy post-divorce. Let go of the anger, the how-dare-yous and how-could-yous. Some call this forgiveness. I call it lightening the load. If you travel light, you will notice that you will attract like-minded travelers.
It can be hard to get to this place. If you were betrayed, it is going to be super hard, but acknowledge that until you do, you won't have the space for new joy to enter your life. Anger, like love, is a powerful connector and this is why there are many people whose divorces are final, but their emotional attachment remains intact.
Letting go requires that you give yourself the closure you need instead of seeking it from your ex. You are never going to the apology you feel you deserve or the explanation that will make the implosion of your marriage "make sense."
Learning to love yourself -- the way a really kind, parent would -- will not only help you move through your grief, but is essential to moving forward. I had to learn this. When you can parent yourself and provide the empathy and love you need, you will be able to remain open to new people and experiences knowing you are safe.
In my own case, this parent didn't pass judgment for the days I slept past the alarm or when I had an extra glass of wine. Instead, this parent consistently whispered in my ear, You are enough and was there to console me when I wondered if life would ever turn around.
There is no way around it, awkward moments abound when newly single. They range from the comical fallout from fumbling new tasks that you never had to do when partnered, to continually responding, "Just me" to the hostess' query about the number of diners.
Some of my most awkward moments included having my first date since Y2K, attending dinner parties as the sole single person, telling the neighbors we were divorced and assembling an electric edger upside down.
Laughing about these things instead of internalizing a sense of shame will not only foster healthy resilience, but will make you attractive to others as you own your humanity.
More than any other thing, the key to personal transformation is the willingness to remain open -- open to new people and open to life. In other words, the decision to embrace vulnerability. For me this was, and at times, still is the hardest challenge. To avoid another crushing disappointment, it is so easy to close your heart.
The cost of hardening your heart is safety. Safety may sound alluring (especially following the bruising divorce process) but it is a trap wherein you fail to live, feel and be vibrant. Vulnerability is the courage and willingness it takes to be human -- to expose yourself -- to be afraid and brave in each moment. It is only when you open yourself that you can give and receive.
I am living this and it's not easy, but when I look at the good things that have entered my life over these past 365 days, I know it is the way to go.
If you are at least one year out from your divorce, what did you learn that helped you adapt to your new singledom?