Divorce knocks you down and drags you face-first through the mud, leaving a bitter taste in your mouth. In those first few months of shock, the world feels distorted, an underwater kingdom of muffled sounds, blurred shapes and heavy movements. You’ve lost a piece of yourself, and you fear you’ll never be whole again. This can’t be happening—not to you.
Divorce has many dirty secrets, and one of these is that it comes with stigma. You failed at the most important relationship of your life. The very person who swore he would love you in sickness and in health has decided you are not worth loving. There must be something wrong with you.
If you’re lucky, most of your friends and family will see past the stigma. They won’t judge you or blame you. Instead, they’ll open their arms with love and words of kindness. Their support might be the only thing that keeps you from unraveling.
Unfortunately, as many a divorced person could attest, family and friends are not always there with love and support. Some of them seem to view divorce as a contagion, as if contact with you might cause seeds of marital discord to waft into their own relationships and germinate discontent. Or perhaps they think you’re not fun anymore. It’s hard to laugh and play when that part of you feels broken. Maybe they leave because they think you failed, and no one likes a loser. I will say one thing for divorce: It shows you who your true friends are.
The day that I lost my husband to divorce, I lost my best friend too. She stopped calling and visiting. I tried reaching out, but if I was lucky enough to get a few words with her, she waffled between excuses for her absence and promises to be around more. Losing a best friend was like getting hit by a second storm when I hadn’t rebuilt after the first. I could hardly believe it. I’d trusted her more than anyone. I’d believed she would always be there for me. Instead, she left when I needed her most.
Losing a friend is very different from losing a husband. You don’t have to leave your house. You don’t lose half your income. You don’t have to make co-parenting arrangements or split holidays with your kids or stare at the empty space in the closet where her clothes used to be.
But losing a best friend can be harder than losing a husband. Divorce is tragic and terrible, but at least it provides relief from a toxic marriage. When my husband left, I cried for weeks, but amidst the swirling confusion and grief was a sense of freedom, of hope, of second chances. Deep down I knew I was better off without him.
Losing a friend did not make me stronger. I felt no relief once she was gone, no hope that good would come of the tragedy, no pride in my ability to move on. Instead, I stayed up at night wondering what went wrong. I still do.
Why do our friends leave us after divorce? Don’t they know how much damage they can cause? We are already broken, already abandoned by the person we loved the most, already doubting if we are worthy of someone else’s time and attention. We are questioning our judgment, wondering how we never saw it coming. Then the second wave hits and confirms our worst fears. We are unloveable. The people around who we think are our friends are just pretending. We start to become paranoid. Who will abandon us next?
The paranoia affects other relationships. It’s hard to get close to anyone. If you care about someone, they can hurt you, so better to not care, better to keep them all at arm’s length until you can figure out what you are doing wrong that causes everyone to leave. So you hunker down inside yourself and close everyone off. It’s safer to be alone.
The wound from divorce leaves scars. But the wound from losing a friend keeps bleeding.