In college, I had a roommate whose world shattered every time she went through a breakup. She always blamed herself, couldn’t cope with being single again, and ended up convinced she was at fault. Most of those breakups were with the same on-again-off-again boyfriend.
It wasn’t just the one roommate either. My second roommate was self-obsessed. She partied at least four nights a week, modeled for fashion photography, and regularly posted pictures of herself holding champagne and dressed to kill. Despite appearances, she was suffering from bulimia and feelings of low self-worth. She flirted with men for validation and then couldn’t figure out why they never stuck around.
The first roommate would get back with her boyfriend shortly after each breakup. It never worked out. The second lived in a cycle of obsession and disappointment with her boy toys.
Both women had an extreme aversion to being single, which ironically contributed to them ending up that way so often. Now I’m not saying this is a self-fulfilling prophecy – I’m saying that we need to stop hiding from being single and start embracing it. We must learn how to be okay with ourselves, alone.
Why is being single again so hard?
If you think about it, it isn’t being single that’s hard – it’s the change from having a partner to not having one.
When we’re single, there’s a lot of pressure on us to find a partner and get married, and it just keeps increasing as you get older. But we’re also lonely, and we see relationships as fixing that. And now, with the advent of social media, we’re more alone than ever – we have little need to visit public spaces anymore. We don’t go to the post office because we just send an email, or the library, because we read ebooks or purchase them off amazon. We don’t even make phone calls anymore – we text.
Of course, when we’ve been single a while, these things bother us less. But when we’re newly single again, we’re struck by a sense of absence. The person we relied on is no longer there and we don’t quite know what to do with our newfound loneliness.
The core of the problem is that our lives have stayed the same while our circumstance has changed. When we keep ourselves in the same routines and habits after a breakup or divorce, we’re doing ourselves a disservice. Keeping everything else the same – waking up at the same time, going to the same job, coming home, making the same dinner – only emphasizes the thing that has changed.
Feeling Stuck After a Breakup
A lot of people give the advice that to move on after a breakup, you need to reinvent yourself. This advice works not because of what you’re changing, but because of the change itself.
Let’s say you used to watch Sherlock with your spouse. You sat curled up against the left arm of your oversized leather couch, while your husband took the middle section and put an arm around you. Two glasses of wine, one for each of you, sat on the coffee table, and your husband kept shooing the cat off it so her tail didn’t block the tv, which you’d hung a little too low on the wall.
You get divorced while the show is on hiatus (years later you’ll make jokes that waiting for season four is what did it). When the show comes back on, you sit down in the same spot with your glass of wine, but it doesn’t feel right. You keep remembering the comments your husband would make, how he’d give you a look whenever Mary said something that sounded like you. The cat walks in front of the tv, and you realize your husband isn’t there to make him move. The spot beside you feels cold and empty.
You’re stagnant. You’ve been through the divorce and life is moving on, but you’re still living the same way you did before. No wonder you can’t get over it – you haven’t tried.
Yeah, maybe you’ve been going out with friends and distracting yourself. Maybe you’re talking to a new beau. But you’re still settled in the same routines that you built as a couple. You’re trying to keep living the same life when your life has changed.
Let Yourself Grow
To move forward, you have to embrace this change in your life and let it change you. No matter what age, you are still an evolving person. Habits and routines may be comforting, but if you resist all change, you can’t heal.
Many of us are afraid of change, but if you really think about it, the only changes we don’t like are the ones we don’t have control over. We don’t mind a new dress, or better internet, or a new restaurant. We don’t even mind making permanent changes to our bodies with tattoos. It’s the changes we can’t control that upset us. And divorce is one of those changes.
Let’s go back to our previous scenario. Instead of trying to settle into being single, take your divorce as an excuse to be your own person and do the things you couldn’t do before. What if before that new season of Sherlock, we’d bought a new armchair and fixed the height of the tv? What if we tried a new red blend instead of our same old zinfandel? The disruption in our routine offsets the absence of the husband, and we aren’t so focused on that one stark difference.
Focus on Making Constructive Changes
First off, though I’ve espoused making changes throughout this article, let me now issue an overdue disclaimer: don’t make drastic changes in the immediate wake of a breakup. So before you cut all your hair off and get your nose pierced, take at least three days to cry, talk to your family and friends, and mourn.
When you are ready to change things, think about what you want in life – and I don’t mean that thing you didn’t buy because your husband thought it was a waste of money (though you can, and should, treat yourself right now). The changes that will move you forward are the ones which improve your life and help you to become more authentically you. And if you think about it, the breakup/divorce itself was working towards that end.
Take a hard look at yourself. When you see things that you want to change, don’t look at them as flaws – look at them as opportunities to grow. Seize those opportunities. Use your newfound freedom to pursue a new and better you – a strong, independent, and self-sufficient you.
In part two, we’ll delve into the most important relationship of all – the one you have with yourself.
*Venn is a member of the team at Woodruff Family Law Group. She is not an attorney, but speaks candidly and wisely out of her own experience. These opinions are the opinions of Venn Crawford and not necessarily the opinions of Woodruff Family Law Group.