I met a young divorced man in his early 30s I’ll call Brad at a large parish picnic. According to Brad, his marriage of five years had suddenly come apart with the stunning revelation to him by his wife that she “just didn’t love him anymore!” He went on to say how he felt so blind-sided and devastated by the sudden painful end of his marriage. In fact, he said that he almost chose to avoid the picnic that day because he had been feeling so unconnected to people in the six months since his divorce. For one thing, he found that most of the friends he and his wife had been close to while married were couples themselves. It seemed that many of them had chosen to blame either him or his wife or both of them to for the break-up of the marriage. He said he found the “blame game” so wearying and pointless. Beyond that, the discomfort he tended to feel around former good friends extended to family members and acquaintances at any social gathering. Before this, he (and his former wife) had really enjoyed socializing with them.
In my experience as one involved in family life ministry, I find that the vast majority of divorced people find the adjustment to being “single again” is not an easy one. Many times, they are tempted to stop being part of social gatherings of friends and family where some people seemed not to know what to say (resulting in strained silences), while others tended to fuss over one like one needed “nursing’. The resulting sense of isolation can be very distressing.
One possible source of isolation is the painful reality of dealing with the aftermath of divorce from a spouse one had hoped would truly be a life-partner. Suddenly, one’s world seems to implode, even if the divorce came after a long slow deterioration of the marriage relationship. In one’s grieving within this new restricted perspective, one can easily come to believe that no one else can truly understand one’s personal grief. And such a perspective is understandable since even those who have gone through a divorce themselves have not, of course, experienced this particular profoundly distressing situation in which one comes out feeling so terribly alone and isolated.
Another source of isolation can be the reality of even close friends and family members not knowing how best to reach out to one, especially if they have not gone through a divorce themselves. Most of us don’t really know what to do or say in the face of another’s personal tragedy, so, in the end, we either say the usual (“I’m so sorM’.) or do the usual (another casserole!) or we just step back in embarrassed silence. (Of course, it goes without saying that just because certain words or actions seem so inadequate does not mean that they should not be offered. The main thing most people remember after a period of intense grieving are those people who tried to just “be there” as best they could.)
A further source of isolation can result from the reality of one’s connection to many couples as now suddenly a “half a couple”. Customary couples’ social gatherings are just not the same either for the newly-single person or for the other couples trying to figure out how to keep the newly-single person as a member of the social group. And then there can be unspoken, even unconscious, concerns within the couples in the social group. Any newly-single person in a couples’ group tends to remind the couples in a disturbing way just how vulnerable and fragile even an apparently close couple relationship can be. Also, some people currently Upaired up” may suspect that a newly-single person is somehow instinctively “on the prowl” within the familiar circle of couples hunting for a new partner!
In the end, people on both sides of any divide arising from someone’s personal tragedy need to move beyond the temptation to somehow blame the other(s) for not being able to “just move on”, and to be attentive as best they can to somehow re-connect. People may wish that all their long-term social relationships would go on “as if nothing had happened”, but something more or less devastating happened. That does not mean that a closeness cannot be rebuilt within the reality of one’s being newly-single, but that patient and attentive hearts will be required all around!
I told Brad that I was glad he had decided, in the end, to come to the large picnic gathering because I saw it as an encouraging first step for him back into the social relationships he had enjoyed before his divorce. He admitted that he was glad also. We agreed that it would never be “as if nothing had happened”, but that he certainly was not called to be a social hermit. mentioned a local group divorce support ministry which might be helpful to him on his journey, however slow, back to really living again. He said he would check it out, and we moved on to the picnic desert table.