The first time I had ever lived alone was after my divorce after 33 years of marriage. I was 53 when the divorce was final. When my youngest child left for college the next year, I was faced with living alone for the first time in my life.
I had gone from my childhood home to a dorm to being married and then having four children.
So, after our divorce, a huge question I had to face was, “How do I figure out how to live alone after divorce? After all these years of living with another person or a bunch of other people?”
When you divorce in midlife, you may enjoy the freedom for awhile. But when those first few weeks and months of living by yourself end, the loneliness and isolation often sets in. I felt like I was this one little boat in an ocean of couples and families. The loneliness after divorce is a whole different animal when you’re in your middle years.
Being alone after midlife or late-life divorce is about being alone, alone. 24/7. Getting dressed alone. Eating alone. Coming home to an empty house alone. Getting in bed alone. You feel lonely even among friends and family.
Here is how someone in our MDRcommunity described it:
“He has left me…left everything that we ever had together. Gone. Left me alone to deal with this, with life, with the aftermath, so he can get on with his new life. There really is no one for me to turn to, to release this pain, to physically be held. No one to hold me, to tell me everything will be OK. No one. “
After my divorce, I too was trying to get back to the land of the living, but I felt miserable. I was trying hard to find the good in all of this, and to see God working to bring light into the darkness. I saw nothing but sadness and despair and I had a deepening fear that this wasn’t temporary, but that I was going to feel this loneliness until I died.
(I AM LIVING PROOF THAT IS NOT TRUE!)
So how do we turn things around and stop the loneliness after our divorce? One of the first things is to change how we look at being alone. Rename it. Don’t call it loneliness. Call it solitude. Most great thinkers cherish solitude. Learn to embrace it.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Is she crazy?! That’s NOT going to happen!”
Here’s one fact: You are not going to die of loneliness — even though you think you might. So, take a deep breath and use this time to rediscover who you are, what you want, what your gifts and goals and dreams are as you move forward.
This alone time may have been forced on us, but we can still use it to learn about our deeper selves …. scary but enlightening at the same time.
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Don’t Fixate On Being Alone
When loneliness sets in, one of the first things we have to figure out is how to stop being scared of living alone after divorce. We have to face our singleness head on and find strategies to make the best of it. Or we can refuse to adjust and be miserable.
Below are some actions that will keep your attention focused on something besides worrying that you’re going to turn into a bag lady living alone forever with a houseful of cats.
(SECRET: YOU WON’T!)
Find A Hobby Or Activity
After divorce in midlife, we should take a fresh look at things we love doing that we have let go. What activities did you enjoy, but just didn’t have time for until now Painting? Cooking? Dancing? Drumming? Exploring new places? Hiking? Something totally outside the box?
This is a time to figure out who and what you like. Go to the bookstore and poke around the sections that interest you. Stay away from the self-help aisle! Do you think your ex is snivelling around the “How to Get Over Divorce” section of the bookstore? NO! You stay away from it, too!
Join The MDR Community
One of the first things all women going through divorce need to do is take advantage of our MDRcommunity … especially if you’re living alone after divorce. Our research showed that loneliness is one of the top three most challenging issues for women after divorce, so we created a place for women from all around the world to connect with other women on the divorce recovery road. Here are a couple of comments from the group.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you – all of you wonderful girlfriends! It helps me so much to be understood. All too often I hear people tell me to “just get over it” – like it is as simple as mind over matter. We will all survive this ordeal and we will have gained so much from going through it.” C.H.
Here is another woman talking about how our community of women was helping her:
“To me the friendship (of the RADiCAL women) has meant someone who always understands, laughing through our tears, and most of all becoming instant and lasting friends. The encouragement to one another is amazing. I am very fortunate to have these women in my life!!!!!!!”
Our friends and family want to help, but if they haven’t been through divorce, especially after a long marriage, they simply don’t understand how your heart is hurting. The women in the MDRcommunity get it. They don’t get tired of listening … and encouraging.
Reach out to people. When my youngest son and I first moved to our new house after the divorce, I walked around the neighborhood and hand-delivered invitations to everyone on the block. I announced we were having a “Meet-the-new-neighbors,-show-my-old -friends-where-we-live-party.” Everything was very casual and everyone was asked to bring some goodie to share.
It immediately made us part of the new neighborhood! An elderly neighbor taught my son how to tie his bow tie for a concert at school. Others helped us get settled or shared vegetables from their garden or gave us tips about the neighborhood. Step out of your comfort zone and try hosting a gathering whether you have moved or not.
Exercise (Maybe Join A Gym)
One of the “must do” things after divorce is to take care of yourself. You need to make a new commitment to getting healthy and fit. Taking care of your physical body helps with everything else. You have more energy. You look better. You feel better, and you have more confidence and optimism about the future.
And, if you join a gym, or start going to the YMCA in your neighborhood, you can meet a whole gaggle of new friends who also care about their body. They are usually outgoing and fun, too. Taking control of your body is a huge step towards taking control of everything else.
Refocus On Work
If you’re working, this is a good time to throw yourself into that with a passion! That sounds good, but if you’re anything like me, some days I was simply trying to get from morning ‘til night without falling apart completely.
In those early days of divorce grief, it’s hard to focus on anything. We can help you learn to live in the moment. For awhile you must compartmentalize your grief while you’re working, and then let it all out when you get home. Take a hot bath. Work out. Call a friend.
Change Your Physical Space
If you are going to stay in your house, you’re going to have to make those spaces your own. I got a smaller bed to replace our king-sized bed. I found an old metal farm gate to stand up behind the bed, and I put a string of white Christmas lights on it. I loved it.
Get new bed linens, especially if the girlfriend ever set foot in your house! Get rid of stuff that reminds you of him. Bring some big potted plants into your home to help neutralize the lingering smell of him. Our sense of smell triggers memories more than any other sense, so get as many of his things out of the house as possible.
Make the space yours! Transform your old space into a space that is comforting, yet empowering, for you now.
Get Outside (Take A Trip?)
After divorce, getting into nature brings incredible physical and emotional benefits. Just being outside improves your sense of well-being. There are subtle differences in different surroundings. Mountains and pines bring a certain specific feel. So does the beach and the smell of the sea.
Sign up for a singles MeetUp group that takes walks or bike trips around your city. After divorce, going with your church on a mission trip can be a jump forward in your recovery. Even if you just travel to the inner city and help build a Habitat for Humanity, it lifts your spirits. You’re exhausted, but you feel great; and you might notice that you haven’t thought about your ex once in the midst of all of your hammering. That’s a victory of its own!
Another scary, but liberating adventure is to travel alone somewhere. The first time I took a plane by myself after my divorce, I felt tears sliding down my cheeks as I looked out the window when we took off. You get better at it as you go along, so be patient and keep trying.
Remove Reminders: Clean House
Doing a deep clean of your house is a great after-divorce undertaking. It will make your house look and smell great. Getting rid of clutter is a huge step in our post divorce healing process. Cluttered surroundings lead to muddled, confused thinking. Fix things that need fixing.
Find a Feng Shui book with great illustrations. It makes moving furniture around exciting, and I loved my clean, inspiring personal spaces. Try it!
If there are some things you just can’t get rid of after your divorce, bag them up in a big black trash bag and get them out of your face. Take them to the basement or the attic. You can deal with them later.
During my divorce, I was still living in our dream house that we had designed ourselves. After divorce, I couldn’t afford it and it was too big anyway.
There were just too many memories and sights and smells that reminded me of everything I was losing. So I bought a much, much, smaller home for my youngest son and me, and we went to thrift shops and sales and decorated it just how we wanted it.
An article from the Wall Street Journal reports that one of the fastest growing demographics of new home buyers is single women over 50! Moving was an amazing turning point for me, even though I am not wealthy like the women in the article.
Living alone after divorce began to feel more like exploration rather than a life sentence. Hopefully that can happen for you, too.
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