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Alone Again... Happily

Sun, Aug 10, 2014 at 6:00PM

At the store the other day, I was waiting in line to pay for my groceries, and I got to talking with one of my fellow shoppers. 

She was looking into my cart. “You must be shopping for just yourself,” she said.

I looked at my intended purchases: I had a variety of single-serving items, except for the half-gallon of chocolate almond frozen yogurt (which, for me, is two servings).

Hey, it’s been a tough week. I have a right to a treat. Like you’ve never taken a spoon to a carton of ice cream?

Sorry. Back to the topic:

“Yeah,” I said, “I live on my own.”

She nodded. “Me too. It’s hard to get used to.” She then told me the two-minute version of her life in recent months: Forty-eight, newly divorced, kids up and out. From what I could gather, she was looking forward, or trying to, and not seeing a whole lot of good stuff ahead of her. “I try to just stay busy,” she sighed at the end. And I was struck by two things.

First, the obvious one: She was telling all this to a total stranger in a grocery store, which reminded me of how cloistered - and lonely - so many women in our generation have become; and second, how sad I felt for her, because she has it all wrong.

I know too well that she certainly has valid reasons for her confusion - I mean, her situation reflects a big part of why I decided to do what I’m doing with my life. After all, I’ve been right where she is. And I worry about women like her, like me - like so many of us who, for whatever reason, find ourselves on our own again after investing our youth in a marriage that suddenly (or perhaps worse, gradually) goes away. We take those first solitary steps into the second half of our lives feeling like the years behind us were a zero-sum game, and now what?

In the few moments I had as I was heading out the door, I wanted to say something useful. All that came to mind was, “Wait it out. It gets better.”

(Yeah, that’s pretty lame, I know. I wish it had been a different situation.)

But the point is, it does get better. With the right mindset, which includes taking the time to get reacquainted with yourself, it even gets pretty darn good. Of course, we all agree that divorce is bad. I’m certainly not trying to minimize the pain of it. You lost parts of yourself in the process, and it takes time to reclaim them. That said, once it’s done, there is a big, bright - and intimidating - reality: The rest is up to you. For every downer, there are upsides to life as an independent woman. Give yourself the gift of time to recognize them.

Acknowledge that you’re going to mess up sometimes, and you'll do so because you’re making your own decisions. It’s scary at first, but a real confidence-builder if you accept yourself, with good humor, as a fallible human being. You’re now at a point where you can be exactly who you are. If you’ve gone through a divorce, after what was likely many years of bad marriage, you know just how timid you are about that idea. You may believe that you’re unsure of who you, just you, really are, but I don’t automatically buy that idea. I think you do know yourself, if only in your mind’s peripheral eye, but you weren’t able to express that for a long time. Remember, the scariest part of emerging from a bad place is when the cage door opens, and you’re free to go.

But at least you’re free, and you can experience the sweetness of finally having time to make it up to yourself, what the events of the past hid from your view. You can take the time to remember, and get back to the person you once were. Make actual lists of what you think, believe, of who and what you like, of who and what you don’t like, and all of the little things that give you a sense of well-being. Then, indulge in something good for your soul - even the littlest thing (for me, it’s playing with my pup) - at least once a day. Plan it out, and look forward to it.

See, these little things, put together, are the expression of you - of the contrast between where you once were, and where you are now. If you make the conscious decision to experience your future as being every bit as good as your past was bad, then that very contrast makes every moment that much more special - like jumping into a cool lake on a blistering hot day.

And that’s not at all a zero-sum game, is it?

Divorce in middle-age carries special difficulties with it, especially after many years and the creation of a family. If you're struggling through the aftermath of a mid-life divorce, no question about it: You‘ve got a hill to climb; yet, there are also many benefits to an independent life, not the least of which is the time, space, and clarity of mind with which to tend to the things you truly value - once you remember what they are. It’s my hope that one of them is you.

Don’t let yourself dwell on the image someone else painted of you. If I could offer only one piece of advice to the over-40-and-divorced woman, it would be this: Stay on your own for at least a couple of years after the last child is up and out. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn - or better said, remember - about who you are. Get to know yourself again. Be good to yourself: Set aside the moments you need to enjoy life again. It’s likely been awhile since that happened, right?

By the way, grocery shopping for yourself is a serious treat. Especially if you want frozen yogurt for dinner.

It will get better.

See you next time. Until then -

Jenna
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Jenna Brooks is a columnist, a Divorce Coach with a specialty in Domestic Violence, and the bestselling author of the October Snow duology. Find her online at jennabrooks.weebly.com.


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