After my third date with Nicholas — a handsome, hilarious, systems analyst and wine enthusiast I’d met a few weeks ago on Bumble — I was shamed again for being a single mom and having sex. I’ve lived in the same suburban, tree-lined cul-de-sac full of young families for over a decade. I know all my neighbors and they know me, and they all know I’m divorced.
Nicholas drove his Ducati to my house for our third date and parked it in my driveway where it stayed for 24 hours. It was the first time he’d come to my place, but it wasn’t the first strange vehicle to park my driveway overnight and probably won’t be the last. As I walked him out and we kissed goodbye, my neighbor was in her front yard with her three kids. When Nicholas pulled away I went to get my mail. As I slowly walked toward my front door, head down, thumbing through the letters, my neighbor said playfully, “You’re not going to say anything? Just going to keep your head down and keep walking?” I’ve known her for a long time and I know she didn’t mean any harm, but the implication in her words was that I had something to be ashamed about.
The first time I felt shame for having sex after leaving my marriage was over two years ago when I sat across from my best friend of 30 years at a diner. After telling her about a guy I recently met, she fumbled with the silverware and didn’t say a word or ask a single follow-up question. Afterward, she told me she didn’t want to hear about the men I was dating, ever. Another friend’s boyfriend flat-out called me a whore after he overheard a story of me having sex with a man I was dating. In the last two years of being single, married friend after married friend would make similar statements either verbally or non-verbally. I’ve been the butt of jokes for having an active dating and sex life. I laugh along with them and play into their narrative to hide the reality that it hurts. It hurts not just because I feel judged and shamed, but because the only way they can talk about this part of my life is when they are laughing at it.
Now, and for the past two years, dating has been a big part of my life whether I want it to be or not. This is my reality. The only people who indulge my stories about this part of my life are a couple of single guy friends and other single women — of which I know very few at 38 after having been in a 13-year monogamous relationship. This has caused many of my female friendships to dwindle because I am often met with silence when I try to talk about this part of my life. Often, I choose not to, but if asked what I’ve been up to, well, dating is part of that answer.
And this is the most devastating reality of divorce, the loss of so many significant relationships. Your spouse is just the top of a long list of people who slowly exit from your life — your in-laws, probably half your children’s lives, several friend groups who will choose which side to stay on. And later, once the dust settles, some of your own friends will start to drop off because most likely they can’t or won’t take the time to understand your new reality.
The last time I was single I was in my early 20s. Back then, getting snubbed by the guy at the gym who didn’t even know you existed was cause for a vodka-soaked happy hour, not so much when you’re 38 with two kids and the vast majority of your friends are married. In the last two years, I’ve felt legitimately heartbroken three times — one was by a nine-month relationship, another by a seven-week relationship, and another was just four-weeks long. And while these relationships were short-lived in comparison to my married years, they still stung. The first time was understandable, the second time was less so, and by the third broken heart no one wanted to sip wine with me and bear witness to my disappointment.
My friends are busy with husbands and children and lives, and I get that, I have been there, and I don’t blame them. But this is the sad reality of being a single, older woman on the dating circuit. Either you find a whole new set of friends who understand the new terrain of your life, or you trudge through it alone.
Alone, alone, alone. I have never been more alone with myself than I have in the last two years.
Yes, I chose to leave my marriage — one where I’d spent a year of unproductive therapy trying to make it work. I could have stayed, but that was not a path I was willing to take. And so I risked losing everything with a chance to find happiness. When Nicholas and I sit on my back porch drinking mimosas, talking about life and love, and he tells me what an intelligent, thoughtful, internally beautiful woman I am, I am happy. I’m happy that someone can appreciate me for all my best qualities even if we both know his presence is only temporary. I risked it for this chance to finally be seen like this, even if only for a moment.
I knew my divorce would change my family: My ex-spouse won’t speak to me, I see my children 50% of the time, my in-laws disowned me the day I filed. What I hadn’t known was that my friendships, while still there, would also change into something less familiar.
Divorce has a way of distilling your life down to its most basic, important pieces, and that distillation is a painful process. But if what you are looking for is a chance at happiness, you won’t find it until you know exactly where to look, until you clear out the noise and the weeds and get down to the heart of the matter. Until you know where you fit in among the ruins, you can’t be seen by anyone else — which is all you ever wanted anyway.