Embracing the single life after divorce can be difficult, but the fact is, being single can be a great opportunity to have a relationship with yourself.
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After 18 years of marriage, Tom was devastated by the sudden breakup of what he thought was a lifelong partnership. The hardest moments were when he returned to his empty house, to the same rooms he once shared with his wife and two boys.
“I found any excuse not to come home,” he says. “I was looking for things to do at work, anything. I only came home to sleep.”
A dentist with a successful practice, Tom was reluctant to socialize outside of the office. Then an old friend dropped by to talk; she had survived an even more horrendous divorce. “She had this great attitude about where she was,” Tom says. “She inspired me. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
Slowly, Tom began making changes in his life. He joined a softball team and began exercising daily to help combat feelings of depression. He got rid of photos of his ex-wife and invited people over for parties. His friends rallied around him and encouraged him to revive his interest in hobbies he’d abandoned since getting married. Then Tom was the one called upon to counsel a friend on the verge of a nasty divorce. He advised the man to lean on his friends.
“In the beginning, I hadn’t wanted to impose on people,” Tom says. “Then I found when pushed myself a little, it was worth the effort, it was rewarding.”
Life Changes Are Never Easy
Life is full of adjustments for people who find themselves suddenly single after a long marriage that ends in divorce or death. A widow may be forced to make tough financial decisions; an ex-husband often struggles with basic household tasks.
Yet the single life can be a valuable opportunity to redefine who you are and what you want from life, says Beverly Hills therapist Devorah Rodgers. “If you’re not part of a couple anymore, your whole life is different. Where you live, what you do, how you eat — everything has changed. It’s a great time to get more connected with who you really are.”
Rodgers says there’s no set period of time to grieve the loss of a marriage. “But if one relationship didn’t survive, doesn’t it make sense to do some work on yourself before you jump into the next one? You have to be honest with yourself: Are you trying to fill a hole? That’s not fair to you or to the relationship.”
For Jane, single life started out “extremely scary.” At 45, after 20 years of marriage, she had never lived alone. Her new apartment was a stark contrast to her comfy former home: For several weeks, she didn’t have a phone or a television — just a bed, a table and some beach chairs.
“I completely started over,” she says. “I left with only the things I considered mine. It was a wonderful experience, in a very weird way, because it was totally silent.”
Adjust Your Attitude
Jane learned to love that silence and the time she spends alone. Her condo is now fully decorated and painted in bold colors she painstakingly chose — colors she wouldn’t have used before.
“I didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission,” she says. “Now if I want to go out, I just go. I can do what I want to do without having to compromise.”
Not all days have been serene. “Nobody is immune from feeling lonely,” she says. “You’re going to grieve. Even when you want the divorce, it’s a huge grieving process.”
Jane advises that anyone going through a divorce find a support group, either on the Internet or in a more formal setting. “It’s important to be connected to people going through the same thing as you,” she says. “My single life has totally exceeded what I thought it would be. I’m so happy with myself. I really enjoy my life now.”
For Paul, divorce was also an important step in self-discovery. “Before, I felt a void if I wasn’t with someone,” he says. “When I found myself single, I just wanted to be loved. There was a sense of urgency about that.”
After his first marriage ended in divorce, he quickly remarried. But when that marriage fell apart, he made two crucial decisions. First, he asked for a transfer to Southern California, where he knew no one. Second, he made a list of things he’d always wanted to do, including taking classes in music, photography, dancing and martial arts. He checked items off, one by one. “That really helped me process my divorces,” he says. “It helped me to find me, to be the best I could be.”
Eventually, Paul realized he didn’t have to be in a relationship to be happy — really, truly happy.
“The reality is that 99 percent of the time, I wake up alone,” he says. “I’d like that to be different. But I have a great circle of friends. I have a job I enjoy. I’ve carved out my own little world.”
Tom agrees. He’s seeing “someone special” but also enjoys the nights he spends alone, in the house that no longer feels empty and forlorn.
“I’m sitting here by myself, watching an old movie, and I’m perfectly fine,” he says. “Things continue to change — that is the one certainty in life. You have to take it as it comes and deal with each moment. I’m pleased about where I am.”
Adventures for the Newly Single
SingularCity provides a friendly singles network of professional men and women who meet on the website and at local events — from bike rides to happy hours to movies, travel adventures, wine-tasting and more. Since the focus is on friendship and networking, rather than dating, it’s the perfect place to find your footing as a newly single person.
Take a hike. Every day, all over Southern California, small groups of hikers gather to tackle the area’s best trails. The Sierra Club lists easy to advanced outings on its website.
Sushi bars are a natural spot for a solo meal and shared conversation.
For a Japanese-themed day, head downtown to Little Tokyo for restaurants, shops and museums — and even language classes.
Museums offer dozens of events all year, such as the LACMA’s concerts and art-appreciation classes.
Volunteer at an animal shelter or join one of the animal rescue groups all over town that need help cuddling cats, walking dogs and fundraising.
From the Frying Pan into the Fire…
Think you’ll never marry again? Around 75 percent of those who are divorced will eventually remarry — but unfortunately, the divorce rate for the second time around is even higher than for the first.
Donald, a Santa Barbara real estate investor, can attest to that. Three years after he left his wife of 30 years, he met a “beautiful, charming” Santa Monica woman online. After 10 months of dating, they married. He was head over heels, as happy as he had ever been. Two years later, she walked out on him, much richer despite a pre-nup, leaving him bitter and angry.
“It was more of a shock than my first marriage breaking up,” he says now. “Everything was wonderful from my standpoint.”
In retrospect, Donald says he missed signs that things weren’t exactly as he thought. Now he’s less trusting about dating, and “more interested in what’s on the inside than what’s on the outside.”
Relationship experts say it’s critical for people, particularly those who are divorced or widowed, to have a strong sense of themselves before setting out to find another mate.
“You need to get a handle on who you are as a single person,” says therapist and life coach Judith Sherven, Ph.D. “And no matter how wonderful or devastating the previous relationship might have been, the relationship to come will be significantly different.”
Netiquette for the Newbie
For someone who hasn’t dated in decades, matchmaking sites can be daunting. Here are some tips for Internet dating:
Make sure your profile and photos honestly reflect who you are. Lighten up: A profile should be fun, not a job resume.
For women: Think twice about revealing or sexy photos. Many men consider these a sign of desperation — or worse. For men: Skip boasting about your job, your physique or your possessions. Posting a photo of your fancy car or boat probably won’t win you many fans.
Most women prefer to make the first phone call. So guys, instead of asking for a woman’s phone number, just offer her yours … then sit by the phone and wait impatiently, just as we women have done since Alexander Graham Bell invented the device.
If you’re meeting someone in person for the first time, consider a short date (such as coffee at Starbucks) instead of a long, expensive one (like dinner).
Keep it real. Beverly Hills psychotherapist Devorah Rodgers says some people get stuck in the fantasy world of e-mailing and texting. “If they don’t seem able to move to the next step (a phone call or in-person meeting), don’t waste your time on them,” she advises.
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