The Value Of Finding Your Tribe

Our modern society is more likely to isolate than connect us. Not that true connection isn't possible. But for many of us -- and especially for some of us post-divorce -- it's pretty hard. And it didn't always used to be this way.
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I am single, and it sucks. I'm ok with it, but it sucks.

I recently conducted a national study on divorce, marriage, and relationships and found that 75% of American women would rather be alone and happy than in a relationship where they're not happy. And yeah... I fall into that group. And, like 73% of women, I don't regret having gotten a divorce. But I do lament the fact that I haven't found "the guy." Why? Because I want to know there is some place I will always belong. Connecting, belonging... these are what make us human.

But these are sometimes too hard to find. Our modern society is more likely to isolate than connect us. Not that true connection isn't possible. But for many of us - and especially for some of us post-divorce - it's pretty hard. And it didn't always used to be this way.

Until recently, humans lived in close-knit, relatively small social groups that were characterized by close bonds and a shared system of values. People lived like this for thousands of years, back when we were roaming around in clans or tribes, but even to some extent when we were agrarian. We are hard-wired to be pack animals. Packs, or "tribes" bring security, emotional warmth, and happiness that most in modern societies can't relate to, even as they crave it in a primal way.

With industrialization and modernization came dis-connection. People moved away from their close-knit communities into cities to become part of the industrial work force. Suddenly, rather than being part of a pack or clan, they lived alone - above, below, and next to strangers with whom they never talked, never knew, never connected. The "tribe" eventually became the nuclear family: very small and even then disconnected from other families. Feeling connected to others meant more work, including commitments to social organizations. But even that's not always successful.

Today in modern societies, being single is about "doing you," being yourself, realizing your own personal destiny. The pressure on women to do this is great, especially post-divorce, but it insinuates that being intimately embedded in a social group might be a burden. Sure, marriage can be a burden if he is a burden (if we choose the wrong guy). But sometimes it feels as though we are missing out on something really meaningful if we focus too hard on self-actualization. Maybe the best way to realize who we are isn't to break away but to connect even more deeply.

Sebastian Junger's most recent book Tribe reveals how in times of tragedy or war, people band together, form close-knit groups, and experience the sort of tribal connection we are truly meant to have. He shares stories - even personal ones - where circumstances that seem awful from the outside actually feel good to those in it because of the social intimacy such experiences require. Members of military units eat with, sleep next to, work with, and care about people they would risk their lives to protect. Civilians caught in times of war band together and find community and emotional warmth they report not having known in any other way. Moreover, isolation can come at a high social cost. Depression rates are higher in communities where social isolation is high. Suicide as well. PTSD among veterans is more likely if they have no social support back home.

Going through divorce may not be that much different. The years I spent after my divorce were among the best of my life. I had joined an awesome kickboxing and MMA gym and was competing on their team. I trained there for hours a day with people I saw on a very regular basis. Our conversations at the gym eventually shifted from talk about martial arts to talk about each other's lives. Eventually we went out to dinner. Out to bars. We celebrated birthdays, weddings, and holidays. We met one another's friends and families. We became family because we sweat together, competed together as a team, were there for each other when things were rough and when things were great.

But once I started working in a more demanding job, I stopped going to the gym. Those connections slowly weakened, and isolation started to set in. Finding connection took more work. And those warm fuzzy feelings were harder to come by.

We put a lot of pressure on ourselves for our own post-divorce happiness. We think we alone can turn our newly-found freedom into a celebration or a disaster. Maybe this is not true. Maybe it's as much about whether you're embedded in a tribe as it is about your personal power or positive attitude. Which can be a relief. Because if you're divorced, sad, isolated, and lonely, our post-industrial disconnected society might just be the culprit, not you. The good news is that your tribe is out there. You just have to find it.