At the store one 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 just for yourself,” she said.
I glanced 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).
“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 had it all wrong.
I know that she certainly had 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, found ourselves on our own again after investing our youth in a marriage that suddenly (or perhaps worse, gradually) went away. We took 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 darned good.
Of course, we all agree that divorce is traumatic. I’m certainly not trying to minimize the pain - before, during, after, all 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. A few pointers:
Acknowledge that you’re going to mess up sometimes. You’re making all of your own decisions now. You're charting your own course. It’s often difficult at first, but a real confidence-builder if you accept yourself, with good humor, as a fallible human being - because 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 a failing marriage, you might be timid about that idea. You may believe that you don't know who you, just you, really are.
I think you do know yourself, if only in your mind’s peripheral eye, but maybe you weren’t free to express your true feelings for a long time. And now you can. Still, don't you think that sometimes, 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 finally experience the sweetness of time for you - time to make it up to yourself, and get back to the person you once were.
Resurrect your old dreams and start planning how to make them come true. 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 things that give you a sense of well-being. Then, indulge in something good for your soul - even the littlest thing - at least once a day. Plan it out, look forward to it.
You'll find that as they add up, these small things are the expression of you and of the contrast between where you once were and where you are now. If you actively decide to create a future that is every bit as good as your past was bad, then the very contrast will make 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?
If your divorce was adversarial, and your confidence took a hit during the marriage, don't dwell on the image that someone else painted of you; more than that, don't go looking for someone who will prove your ex wrong. 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 your last child is up and out. If children aren't an issue, wait at least three years. You’ll be amazed at the things you learn - or better said, remember - about yourself. Get to know yourself again. Be good to yourself. Set aside the moments you need to enjoy life. It’s likely been a while since that happened, right?
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 high 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.
Jenna Brooks is a Divorce Coach specializing in post-domestic violence and Maternal Alienation, and is the author of the critically acclaimed October Snow series. She welcomes your comments through her website, Jenna Brooks Online.