Making New Friendships After Divorce
One of the first things I did after my husband moved out of our house was to buy new bedroom furniture. I hated the old furniture which had been inherited from my husband’s old apartment and had, I think, been purchased at bargain prices (as he was prone to do). At the time, I yearned to get rid of the old and replace it with something new, something fresh. What better place to start than the bedroom? My journey to a new life, or at least a new sense of self, was beginning, and I wanted to take control of it. There were many more changes to follow.
Leaving a relationship, especially a long term one, involves emotional turmoil, but also the potential for growth and transformation. Change does not happen all at once, but in stages.
Isabelle Trafford wrote in her book Crazy Time about three separate stages of divorce that can span a period of years. Her typology is still a helpful way to conceptualize the divorce process.
It starts with a period of crisis, where individuals and families go through a stretch of confrontation, anger, and anxiety. This crisis period is the time before, during, and just after separation.
Crisis is followed by 'crazy time', a long period of uncertainty as individuals and the family start to reorganize. Finally, there is recovery, in which individuals settle into new definitions of self and family.
To weather the storm of the divorce transition, people benefit from strong support systems - including friendships. Often, support systems shift as one’s family landscape changes. Friends who had a relationship with both you and your spouse may side with your ex-spouse. The family that you relied on may no longer consider you family. Couples you had previously associated with may not invite the newly-single you to dinner parties which are populated with couples. And married friends may not be the source of empathy you need, especially if they have no experience being single.
It’s not uncommon that those going through a divorce need to move into a new home in a new place, or into the home of a family member to make ends meet. Without question, leaving your home can be a source of sadness and fear. But it can also provide the potential for a new start.
Being in new surroundings means that you have the opportunity to connect to new friends. It’s nerve wracking but take the risk to meet new people and push yourself out the door!
Human beings are social animals. Even the most introverted of us generally need social connections. And the added layer of a divorce and the need for a support system increases that desire and demand for friendship.
But after years of being in a relationship, how do you go about putting yourself out there? Whether to date or for friendship? Single bars aren’t always the most effective way to start a meaningful relationship. One-night stands are nice highs, but often are followed by increased loneliness. There is good reason why professionals tell you not to date right away; you’re too vulnerable. The cost of another potential loss too soon is too high for you as an individual and most certainly for your children (if you have them). It’s better in the long run to nurture relationships that will sustain you.
Becoming part of something is often a great start at finding new friendships and new definitions of self. Explore a hobby and join a local group or activity. Building an interest in a hobby is a great way not just to feel more fulfilled but also make new connections. Try out a club, a religious group, or a political movement. Try taking up tennis again if you quit because you married a golfer. Join a writing group, or take bridge lessons. Or maybe join a knitting group. Pick an interest and expand on it. You are likely to meet like-minded people.
One of my clients, a sci-fi junkie who had been a physics major before he became a stock broker, joined a physics group discussion after the breakup of his 25-year long marriage. He marveled at how he reconnected with his nerdy side and about the ‘fellow nerds’ he met.
Another client re-found her interest in photography and joined a photo club. Next thing she knew, she was on a photo expedition with newfound friends to Iceland. Still another, a homebody with five children, joined a book club that met at her local library during school hours. This time got her out of her house, and helped her interact with adults, instead of being cooped up in a house with only kids to talk to.
Or, why not take a chance and strike up a conversation with someone approachable? It’s low pressure way to start your journey in making friends. Make a pact to talk to at least two new people when you go out. If one road doesn’t pay off, don’t fret, you can try something else. The important thing is to get out there and experiment. And, don’t forget to give yourself a pat on the back for making the effort.
The online world provides a new way of making connections. Apps like Panion can help you to meet new, like-minded people for platonic relationships - without the pressure of dating. They provide an opportunity to make new friends and try new activities. Even finding an activity partner to go to the movies or cook with can be a good way to start getting out of your comfort zone. And, maybe you’ll find another person, who like you, is taking the risk to be out there during his/her own time of transition.