When you’ve been through a divorce and you are no longer a wife or husband, you have to learn how to be comfortable in your skin as a single person once again. After a long-term marriage, you probably don’t even remember what it’s like to be single. It’s exciting to go through the process of finding out but daunting at the same time.
It takes guts to take those first shaky steps forward on your own, especially if you’re over 50. It’s easier to withdraw or attempt to escape in some way. I’ve seen how some people jump into an ill-considered second marriage simply because they cannot deal with being on their own. But it is possible to be “happily single” and to revel in your freedom.
A new identity
If you are a woman going through a late-life divorce, you may have identified yourself as a wife and mother for decades. When the role of mothering is less hands-on and a divorce occurs, it’s no wonder that you go through an identity crisis. Moving on usually comes in fits and starts, but the more you heal, the more you are able to think about yourself in a different way and be open to new options.
For years you sacrificed and made adjustments because that is what you do when you are married with small children. Now you are able to focus on yourself and what you want out of life without feeling guilty.
Your lifestyle usually changes drastically after a divorce. Loneliness may be one of the biggest problems you may have to face if you’re living alone. You are so accustomed to being part of a couple that it’s inevitable to feel some loneliness. There’s no-one on the other side of the double bed anymore and you may have to eat all your meals alone. Of course, many people experience loneliness within an unhappy marriage too but even in marriages where communication is superficial at best, there is at least still the physical presence of another adult.
When living alone after a divorce, you have to find a balance between enjoying your solitude and finding new ways to connect with other people.
As an introvert, I do not have a problem with solitude. I have always enjoyed being on my own and don’t often feel lonely. However, with an empty nest and no husband around anymore, there was much too much silence, even for me. I realized just how important it was for me not to become completely isolated. I had to overcome my natural reluctance to socialize and achieve a balance between being alone and being with others. Extroverts, on the other hand, may have to overcome their reluctance to be on their own. They may need to learn to enjoy solitude, rather than run away from it.
Socializing as a single person
Ease into it gently
It helps to ease yourself gently into socializing as a single person after a divorce. You have probably spent years socializing with other couples and it can feel really strange to have to go out on your own. At first, I didn’t commit myself to any occasions that I knew were going to be overwhelming for me. I also avoided occasions where I knew I would be the only single person.
You need to find ways to socialize that make you feel comfortable and fulfilled. While I was married we socialized with the same couples every weekend. With the divorce, this obviously ended and I felt a sneaky relief. I still love my ‘couple’ friends but it was liberating to socialize with them on an individual basis, by going out for tea or breakfast. I’ve always enjoyed relating to a few people at a time, rather than a large group.
Meeting new people
One of the advantages of having the internet is that it is easier to find groups of people with the same interests and values as you. A simple search for activity groups in your area such as a walking or hiking group may give you a good place to start. You already have something in common with the other members and so it makes it easier to initiate conversations. You may feel terrified when you have to attend a group activity for the first time. Fear and uncertainty are natural and they are the price you for moving forward. It’s the same principle that operates for most new things you attempt in your life, such as starting a new job or learning a new skill. As you take those steps and begin overcoming the obstacles one by one, you grow in confidence.
It may be worthwhile to get involved in projects designed to help others. It not only helps you to realize how fortunate you are, but it takes you out of your comfort zones and gives you the opportunity to meet new people too.
Picking up former passions
A place to start on your process of rediscovery may be to think about what was important to you before you were married. You do not necessarily want to go back to being that person, but it may be the perfect time to explore passions you shelved while you were bringing up your family. Picking up an old hobby or interest may just help you to rediscover facets of yourself that are undeveloped.
Taking up writing again has gone a long way towards helping me come to terms with my divorce and restoring my self-esteem. I have rediscovered a passion that I made little time for when I was raising my children.
One of my unexpected pleasures now is to jump on my bicycle and go for a ride (I was given the bicycle by good friends after the divorce). It helps me to recapture the sense of freedom I used to feel as a child.
Some people advocate writing in a journal as a way to find healing. I personally found that it was far too painful for me. I couldn’t face that systematic expression in written form of my emotions after my divorce. It was only when I was no longer completely raw that I was able to start putting the words on paper.
I did find artistic expression helpful when my emotions were all over the place. I bought myself a sketchpad and some basic supplies, including some oil pastels and started expressing my emotions through drawing. I found that expressing my emotions on paper relaxed me and made me feel calmer.
I have started a basic French course to brush up on what I learned at school. My next step is to join a conversational French class. My sister has moved to France and I want to be able to hold a conversation in French when I visit her next year.
As you explore all avenues to rediscover yourself, whether it be finding a new job, making new friends, traveling etc. you will find that the biggest part of your journey is probably internal rather than external. It is what happens inside you that propels you forward.
Don’t be dismayed by the setbacks
When you are in this process of rediscovery, you will often find that you hit obstacles and setbacks along the road. Healing from divorce and getting to the place where you are moving forward is not linear. It comes in waves and it’s unpredictable. It’s also different for everyone so you cannot measure your progress against that of others. One day you might be ready to tackle the world and the next you may be huddled in a corner crying. One day you may start thinking about taking a trip to another country and the next day you may find you do not even have the energy to go on your daily walk around the block. You have to learn to go with the flow and realize that it’s all part of the process of putting yourself back together again. What does happen with time is that you start to focus more on moving forwards, and look less and less in the rearview mirror.
You can use the crisis of your divorce as a catalyst to grow and mature into who you really want to be. It can force you to take stock of your life, look at your mistakes and take time to discover more about yourself. The process is not easy and it requires patience and dedication, but there will come a time when you can put your divorce behind you. You will have made the transition from being half of a couple to being single. If you’re patient, kind and loving towards yourself in the process, you may just find that you really enjoy being single.