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From a divorced woman who began this unwanted journey 8-and-a-half years ago*

To the young woman new on the journey through divorce,

I keep thinking about when I was first divorced and no one understood because there weren’t many girls in their early twenties divorcing. Planning weddings and having babies, yes. Receiving divorce papers, no. First and foremost, I am sorry that you must walk through this pain and this path. No one wants it. No one thinks it’ll be them (understatement of the century). Speaking as one divorced twice before I turned 28, I understand how those early days feel (even though I cringe saying “I understand” because it’s so infuriatingly cliche!). But as you start this new, unexpected, usually unwelcome journey/nightmare/maze, I plead with you:

1. Don’t short-circuit the healing process

2. Don’t date at all for at least a year (major bonus points if you wait much, much longer!)

I’d wager that 90% of newly-divorced women would disagree with these ideas, and/or feel confident that they have themselves under control. And I’d also wager that 100% of those women feel much differently when they cycle past their first [former] wedding anniversary and their first year post-divorce. After a year or two on your own, these crucial “don’ts” make a lot more sense. (If you don’t believe me, I can introduce you to two dozen women our age who will back me up, since they’ve also had to go through this.)

 

In the first months after my first divorce I didn’t think I was rushing my healing.

On the contrary, I worked hard, I dug in deep, and I let myself be gutted. Therapy, alone time, maintaining my job, crying buckets, connecting with support, blah, blah, important but, blah. I paid my dues, especially at the beginning. But as the days and months drag past, it’s harder to find motivation for sustained healing work and continued abstinence (from dating and sex; the latter often harder than the former).

But if you have been married and divorced for whatever reasons, you have been shredded soul-deep. You may be aching to portray confidence! ensure everyone knows that the divorce didn’t destroy you! you aren’t a statistic! you’re doing better now that you’re divorced! you’ve grown and perhaps it really was all for the greater good!

Totally allowed. It’s called coping. It’s called surviving.

 

But no one who’s been divorced will buy it.

We all did the same thing, and we see that you’re taking masks on and off even when you are sincerely convinced you aren’t. It’s allowed. It’s part of the process. Just…be careful where you say things (read: Facebook) in those early months because I guarantee you will feel differently very soon.

I’m an external processor and needed to talk to others about my grief. The danger came when I was sick of grief work and felt pretty good (some of the time) and (completely unintentionally) cheated myself out of a full, unhurried healing process. I didn’t see a need to postpone returning to life at 100 miles an hour. I didn’t see that my drive to go everywhere, do everything, and conquer the world was partially healthy and partially a way to ignore the fresh cycle of pain inside. I’d done this before. No way was I feeling all that for the fifteenth time. I was out of patience for pain. Moving on.

Healing means persevering through not just the initial pain but the quieter times beyond into the next level of pain and out into the next respite and on and on and up. The wounds we’d like to leave behind will never fully vanish. We revisit from different perspectives and intensity varies, but your former wedding anniversary will never become a benign date. Any encounter with your ex-husband will bite (word to the wise: don’t stalk them online, especially late at night when your defenses are lower).  It is what it is, and it sucks.

 

You don’t have to force the past to have a purpose before you can heal.

Please don’t. Divorce is horrible. Outlining the lessons you learned is totally okay if you really want to, but it’s also completely unnecessary! You shouldn’t feel any pressure to play God and find the redemption in a traumatic, painful tragedy. If those neat, outlined conclusions never happen, that’s fine. God doesn’t need you to have a list of reasons why X happened to keep you around.

Let yourself go through the whole grieving, healing process. That means months—maybe years—not weeks. Pain could just destroy any of us if we let it. It’s always our choice. Our souls can either be warped or re-formed based on how we live after that paper is signed and the decree is issued.

Please consider not dating for at least a year, and even then don’t assume it’s time. After my first divorce I did not cope well with singleness, and I dived in a rebound marriage (just like 75 percent of my friends who have been divorced). We’ve all seen the post about someone who went through a divorce and then a year later met the most amazing man and is now living happily after.**

Let’s not try to recreate those Facebook posts, okay? Because it’s not okay. Because that was me for about six months in my second marriage.

 

Until I realized the biggest mistake of my life wasn’t my first divorce.

It was remarrying too fast when I still had no capability of making good choices. Speaking as one who is part of a sisterhood of divorced women, you will never regret time spent not just out of the dating world but envisioning a full, whole, healthy life just for you. Find men in your family or friends who aren’t afraid to call you out and people who you can’t hide your schedule from. Ask them to hold you accountable to not just “not date” but learn to orient your life apart from your relationship status.

At some point I must have hit my head against the concrete wall enough times to realize enough is enough, and I cut myself off from romance for at least five years. I told the six male family members I trusted most. For me, I needed to take it that far. And those were rich years when I began healing from trauma that even predated my first marriage.

But those early months after divorce where you are now? You’re probably not in survival mode anymore—the intensity of current events and new developments is probably lessening. Life gets better—and then worse—and then better—and then way worse. I can’t even think of words strong enough for how much it hurts. And I’m so sorry. I hope you have support—even a few friends who are divorced and understand. If you need more, I know of some awesome ex-wives who are happy to offer a place at our table.

Wishing you the best—even through this worst,

Natalie


*I was divorced 8.5 years ago before briefly remarrying; I’ve now lived a total of 7 years divorced.

**This doesn’t negate my delight for friends who are enjoying healthy marriages after a divorce.

For the Newly Divorced Woman

A Survivor's Life, Divorce, Relationships