With the rise in late-life divorce among baby boomers, many of us are facing living alone in the latter part of our lives, sometimes for the first time ever. Some of us may have gone straight from living with our parents to living with a husband and raising children. We are so accustomed to being part of a couple that we don’t even know what it feels like to live alone. But as Nora Ephron, well-known writer, says “A good thing about divorce is that it makes clear something that marriage obscures – that you’re on your own.”
It is certainly possible to be lonely even if you are married. Yes, you do have the physical presence of another adult in your life and some people settle for this because they are so afraid of living alone, even if the marriage is unhappy.
Some people love living alone and they choose to do so. Others live alone because they have no alternative. If you are facing living alone after a late-life divorce you may wonder if you will ever cope, especially if its an unknown and you’ve never lived alone before. We cannot always equate living alone with loneliness but it is easier to succumb to loneliness when you live alone. However, it depends largely on your attitude and your actions.
Enjoy your solitude
Introverts usually enjoy being alone. 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.
Some people are so determined not to feel lonely after divorce that they take up all sorts of classes, go out all the time and try to fill every possible moment with activity. It’s great to be positive and sociable but you need to allow yourself time to be on your own too.
Being on your own gives you time to process your grief. It also gives you time to reflect and find out more about yourself, what you want out of life and what kind of a future you want to build for yourself.
Time spent on your own if you are not happy in your own skin can be intolerable. You may need to work on building up your self-esteem. If you do not love and respect yourself, you have a void in your life that you are always looking for other people to fill. You rely on others to make you feel happy and valued. You rely on others to take away your fear and make you feel safe.
Rediscovering what you enjoyed before you got married can help you to enjoy your solitude. Perhaps you loved writing or crafting. If so, you will love the opportunity your solitude gives you to focus on these passions. It helps to fill your time on your own with activities you enjoy – whether it’s listening to music, crafting, reading or watching movies.
Build and maintain healthy relationships
In coping with an empty nest and a divorce, 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 enjoying my solitude and finding new ways to connect with other people.
Relating to your ‘couple’ friends
In the last fifteen years of our married life, we socialized every weekend with the same group of ‘couple’ friends. This came to an end after my divorce and left a big gap in my life. Relating to couples is not as easy when you are single. Many people find that the relationship with their ‘couple’ friends is affected after a divorce. I was fortunate enough to remain close to a few ‘couples’ who supported me more than I could possibly have imagined but there are others I don’t see much anymore. I soon realized that I would have to reach out and make some new friendships.
Meeting new people
When you have spent years socializing with other couples, it feels really strange to go out on your own at first.
One of the advantages of having internet access 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 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 pay 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 as a volunteer 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 another opportunity to meet new people.
Healing from divorce and getting to the place where you are moving forward is not a linear process. I have found that it’s unpredictable and seems to come in waves. For a while you might take great strides towards being sociable and making new friends and then you might find yourself wanting to retreat again. Don’t worry about this because it’s perfectly normal – as long as you don’t withdraw for too long.
Don’t compare yourself with others
One of the worst things you can do is compare your life with that of others. It’s easy to get caught up in jealousy and feel that your life as a single person is lacking in some way. This feeling is often reinforced by social media.
It’s also different for everyone so you cannot measure your progress against that of others. 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.
Find your own voice
When you’re so concerned with how other people feel about you and what they think about you, you do everything you can to make them happy. You become who your partner wants you to be, or you do the things that your friends want you to do. You are always conscious of other people’s expectations and you are so busy reacting and responding to everyone else that you get lost in the process.
You can use the crisis of your divorce as a catalyst to grow and mature into who you really want to be.
Your divorce 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 you will need 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 your life as a single person is better than it was before.