When I was going through my divorce I had a recurring dream that I was in school and had to take an exam for a course whose classes I had failed to attend. It’s a common dream for many, but my therapist and I interpreted it to represent the constant need to be prepared for the unknown, to be ready to sit down and pretend to know the answers to questions that you don’t understand.
One of the things that few people will tell you as you enter into the arena of a divorce, is that when a marriage ends, you often find yourself divorced and separated not only from your spouse but also from your friends as well. This can happen on several levels – first and foremost are the shared friends that you have as a couple. Just as water naturally finds its own level, married friends tend to choose one camp or the other in which to pitch their loyalty tent.
Then there are the friends who don’t want to play in your sandbox anymore because they fear catching the same divorce disease as you. Those friends can be hard to let go, because on many levels it brings up the question of history and allegiance, but the end result of shaking up the friendship snow globe is that often you end up finding out who your real friends are. Divorce is heady, heavy business, and those friends who have your back; who wipe your tears and cheer you on; who put things in real perspective; well, they are the keepers. Discovering the hard way just who is on your team and who isn’t can be a sobering reality. It’s another one of those essay questions that you didn’t study for that showed up on the final exam.
Sometimes, in a rush to replenish the friendship stock, we gravitate to anyone who seems willing to listen. Women, mothers especially, know that it takes a village, and seeking out a group of people with similar shared trauma can be healing. We have something to say and we are familiar with the language, rather like being prepared for the final exam. And just as we made new friends at Mommy groups and the playground, finding pals who have run the marital gauntlet can be soothing. Many of us want to share the intimacies and confidences of the details of our relationships and divorces.
I think this stems from the loss of a confidant in our partners. The person with whom many of us shared our most private thoughts became the person whom we trusted the least, and coming out the other side, it is refreshing to meet a kindred spirit who has had a similar experience. Sometimes just hearing a different version of the same story validates the fact that we are not crazy, and that in and of itself can be empowering. One of the hardest things to do after a nasty breakup is to reestablish belief in yourself and trust in those around you. A new friend can be like a shiny new toy and be a happy distraction from the heartache that still lingers behind.
But before jumping head first into new friendships and relationships, remember your hard earned badge of Ex, and wear it confidently. Trust your instincts. It’s OK to treat those giddy new friendships with judicious caution while you figure out just who you are and who you may want to become. And it’s OK to be single. You don’t have to immediately replace your Ex in your bed nor find a new BFF right away. Read the book. Observe the class. Ask questions. Because the lessons you learned while your life was falling apart will serve you well as you rebuild your life into something better.