One of the hardest aspects of divorce is the Great Aloneness of it. And it isn’t just that you lose your romantic partner — you also lose the physical presence of a consistent human who you can lean on. To give you an opinion, to give you encouragement, to give you a hand.
And at the same time that the Great Aloneness descends, there’s a little voice in your head that tells you that you don’t have that romantic partner or consistent human anymore because you screwed it all up. Because you obviously don’t deserve a partner. The voice sounds awful, like when you hear a recording of your actual voice.
For me, the Great Aloneness didn’t go away, and neither did the awful screw-up voice, until I met the Worst Wives about six months into my separation. Before that, I struggled with even the smallest, most clichéd aspects of living and being alone.
I’m not talking about not being able to open pickle jars — that’s ridiculous and sexist. I’m talking about not being able to open champagne bottles. The first New Year’s Eve after my divorce I was at home alone — my kids asleep in bed — when I realized that I didn’t know how to pop the bubbly that I had bought for myself at the grocery store. There’d always been someone else to do it for me, for my whole champagne-drinking life.
“That exact same thing happened to me too!” said Jannelle, my friend and fellow Worst Wife, when I told her the story at a Worst Wives meeting. “I decided to run the neck of the bottle over with the car. Most of it spilled, but I got it open. Saved enough for one glass!”
My champagne bottle solution was to watch YouTube; the trick is to keep the wire cage on or use a kitchen towel to create a grip while you twist. If I’ve learned anything from my divorce, it’s that you don’t need a partner for much of anything if you have a strong internet connection.
But while I started to be able to solve basic issues around the house, there were also some medium-sized Great Aloneness issues that I couldn’t Google:
Who do I list as my kids’ emergency contact?
How can I stop staring blankly at the wall for five hours in a well of depression after my kids leave for their dad’s house?
Who do I take to parties that are filled with couples?
Even if I decide to go to a party alone, who will help zip up my nice dress?
Not to mention the really big post-divorce problems that I just couldn’t grapple with:
Is love real?
Or is love a necessary invention of an evil capitalist patriarchy?
Am I emotionally broken forever?
Also will I ever get laid again?
I felt alone. I felt alone even in feeling my aloneness. And that’s where the Worst Wives came in.
Worst Wives was the brainchild of May, an acquaintance I had met through my city’s small arts community. She had divorced a few years back, but was dealing with some new issues related to co-parenting and custody and depression and, as always, the fucking pandemic. And as a seasoned single parent, she knew exactly what to do at this difficult juncture in her life: surround herself with cool, like-minded women.
She formed a new club made up of every woman she could think of who was living the post-break-up single mom life, and together we would not just survive the tough times, we’d take over the world, or at the very least help each other install light fixtures. It was summer, we were all recently vaccinated, and feeling better felt possible.
The first thing I noticed at the inaugural meeting was that everyone was amazing. Everyone seemed to be beautiful and talented and funny and kind, all in their own way. I had spent months looking into the mirror and seeing someone who was disgusting and rejected and not worthy of love — but it was really hard to look at these other divorced women in the group and judge them as harshly as I had been judging myself for going through the exact same thing.
“What should we call ourselves?” Someone asked, and someone else said “The Worst Wives!” before the first glass of wine was poured.
The first rule of the Worst Wives Club is that we do not tolerate Fight Club references. That movie is dumb and now we never have to watch it again.
The second rule of Worst Wives Club is that we don’t really need rules because everyone is a decent, independent, completely functioning person who you’re just going to get along with, trust me.
I admit that I was expecting a lot of ex shit-talking (also known as “processing”) in Worst Wives and not much else. But that just never seemed to happen. Instead, we were simply there for each other— and also here for each other. We have an official monthly get-together, where we eat and talk and catch up, but we also have a group text (Keep reading! No one abuses it!) where tiny miracles happen.
“I’m going to be alone on Christmas this year — anyone want to hang out and do something weird?”
“I feel like dressing up and going to a fancy dinner — who’s in?”
“My ex is taking me back to court — what do I need to do to prepare?”
“Is this woman I’m going on a first date with this weekend cute or, like, VERY CUTE?”
We’ve painted each other’s rooms, we’ve moved furniture, we’ve picked up each others’ kids from sports practice. One night I platonically cuddled with a Worst Wife who just wanted to watch a movie on the couch and not be alone. Another time I had a babysitter cancel on me at the last minute on the night of a big comedy gig, and I dropped my kids off with a Worst Wife who was sincerely happy to help. I didn’t even worry about “owing” her anything or profusely apologizing for needing her, because we were both Worst Wives and we got it.
A few months into my Worst Wives experience, I landed a big comedy show out of town on a weekend I didn’t have my kids. It was winter in the mountains and I was hesitant to drive the three hours alone on bad roads. It was also just a lonely prospect for me generally — what would have been a fun romantic road trip with my partner a few years ago would now be more like a business trip.
But the Worst Wives wanted to go.
We all met at one of our houses on a cold Saturday morning, and we were all on time. And there were no petty arguments and no getting lost and plenty of bathroom breaks. And who brought amazing snacks? All of us did. Because we’re all amazing single moms.
Because you see, with the Worst Wives, we all get a break from being the only competent human in the room. We get a break from everything resting just on our shoulders. We get a break from worrying about every aspect of everything — and from being responsible whenever anything goes wrong. Do you know what happens when you get about four Worst Wives in a room together? The responsibility and the worry and the stress gets divided in four, and it’s like a weight is lifted off of your soul. And I can’t say it enough: the snacks are just so good.
We stopped at a hot spring along the way to soak and talk before the show, and then we ate dinner and got ready — my Worst Wives making sure I looked good and was right on time and that I had what I needed (one of them gave me the earrings out of her own ears to match my outfit) every step of the way. And during the comedy club they sat right where I could see them, and they laughed at my divorce jokes, and I could hear each one of their individual voices.
On the way home, the weather was so bad the interstate shut down and we took back roads all the way back to town. May drove, even though none of us liked driving in snow much, and we supported her. We were quieter and that felt nice. We got home and my car was covered in snow and ice from a weekend parked outside — and I had forgotten my scraper.
It’s okay. Every other Worst Wife had one for me to borrow. Don’t worry, they helped scrape, too.
The fact is that single moms can do it all. I’ve seen it. We will change the wax ring on our toilet (with the help of YouTube) while nursing a baby and then get in our car and run over a bottle of champagne in the driveway to celebrate alone without a second thought. We will find a way to zip up that fancy dress alone (it involves using a lovely length of ribbon, just YouTube it!). We will not be emotionally broken forever, probably.
But even though we can do it alone doesn’t mean we have to all the time. Worst Wives isn’t a replacement for a partner. It’s not even a replacement for our best friends. But it’s a support system of people who understand. And more than that, it’s a reflection of what we’re all doing for ourselves. In my emotional state after my divorce, I had so much trouble seeing what I was doing right, or my strengths, or my will. Being surrounded by Worst Wives, and realizing that they saw me like I saw them, was my first step back to recognizing myself again.
Sarah Aswell is the Special Projects Editor at Scary Mommy, where she contributes her editing and writing across the website and runs Scary Mommy Book Club. A humor writer and stand-up comedian, Sarah’s work has appeared in places like The New Yorker, McSweeney’s, National Lampoon, MAD Magazine, Reductress, Funny or Die, and more. Her writing about comedy, entertainment, and parenting has appeared in Vulture, Forbes, USA Today, Vice, The Advocate, and Working Mother Magazine, to name a few. Sarah lives in Missoula, Montana, with her two daughters and slightly too many cats. She was recently named one of the best unknown comedians in America by Thrillist, which is one of those insults that sounds like a compliment. Follow Sarah on Twitter at @sarahaswell and/or check out her comedy at sarahaswell.com.