Friendship After Divorce


There are few things that make us appreciate friends more than the period of time immediately after a relationship ends. We started this month with a post about a woman who lost friendships during an emotionally abusive marriage, and had no one to call when her ex showed up threateningly on her doorstep. We’re closing this month with a story from Meaghan O’Malley about how her friends helped her survive her sudden divorce. But more than that, Meaghan encourages us to use wedding planning as a time to dust off our friendships, to re-invest, to deal with old issues, so we can move forward with the strength of all kinds of love around us.

—Meg

Friendship After Divorce | A Practical Wedding

by Meaghan O’Malley

Throughout the eighteen months I spent planning my wedding, I got lost in the prevailing assumption that my marriage would complete me; that it would reflect the greatness that is me, my capacity to love, and my ability to create an inextricable bond with another human being. I was focused squarely on the expectation that my spouse would be my best friend. After my marriage ended, I dedicated a significant amount of time deconstructing the meaning of it and trying to determine whether my wedding was a complete waste of time. While I never quite lost touch with the reality that I had other tremendously important friends, I took for granted the security of those bonds, especially within the context of my marriage.

When the rug was pulled out from beneath me, I was suddenly grateful for all of the hard work I had done to maintain my friendships. Consciously or not, I had taken time over the years and months before my wedding to make sure that the people standing next to me on my actual wedding day would be the same people scraping me off the ground when my ex decided to leave me. In retrospect, I learned that combing through my friendships and dedicating energy to repairing them, reenergizing them, or (if nothing else) starting a dialogue to get the process started meant that I would have the support system I needed in my marriage and when it crumbled down around me. I had, in effect, done the work I needed to do in order to have an Emergency Response Team braced and ready.

You see, weddings are the perfect excuse to comb through the back files of your friendship. Weddings are not just the transition point for our love lives. In theory, your entire life progresses into a new phase. Yes, you have an incredibly wonderful and supportive partner standing before you who will be there with you when life’s challenges are too hard to face on your own. Yes, you’ll have a willing and delighted co-parent (for babies or animals, obvs) who will navigate things like nursing pads (or puppy pads), potty training (or potty training), and co-sleeping (or co-sleeping). You’ll always have a date to outdoor concerts, other people’s weddings, and Great Aunt Lucille’s eighty-fifth birthday party. You’ll have someone to blame when the dishes aren’t done, too. You’ll have someone there.

Until you don’t. Because they left you. Or you left them. Or “irreconcilable differences” happens. Or, heaven forbid, they die.

When your marriage disintegrates less than six months after your wedding, it’s incredibly difficult to find a way to reconcile the labor involved in putting together a wedding in the first place (let alone the months/years you dedicated to the relationship itself). When my ex left me, a cacophony of feelings erupted inside of me and left me feeling overwhelmed to the point of almost being immobile for many weeks. One of the most prominent feelings was that I, nay we, defrauded our friends, family, and guests. Wrestling through that in therapy has helped bring me perspective. I’ve also encouraged myself to not feel guilty because my dedication to my ex was authentic, my commitment clear and true, and the energy I put into planning our wedding was honest.

What left me feeling most unsettled, though, was this seemingly unanswerable question: who do I have left?

Navigating that emotional terrain felt, well, daunting. The conclusion to that process, and my reality, is that I have a tremendously strong family, which consists of chosen friends and actual biological relations, who showed up the moment the rug was pulled out from under me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the reason these people were surrounding me with love (pizza and vodka, too) was because I had invested in them. I had connected with them. They weren’t brushing my tears off my cheeks and throwing a bunch of empty affirmations my way. They were confident in my ability to be resilient and face challenges because they saw me do it throughout the course of each of our individual and completely unique connections. Connections that had been through it, if you feel me.

I think that we’re acculturated [as girls and young women] to collect friends without necessarily focusing in on, or assessing the value of, the connections we create. Often our friendships are borne out of mutual interests, geography, shared history, or simply the sheer pleasure we feel when around another human being. There are really incredible friendships, of course. We have friends who keep us entertained, who lift us up, who remind us of our value, and who nurture us for no other reason other than it feels good and it feels right. We have friends who would show up in a millisecond if we called them in tears for any reason at all. We have friends who tell us we’re beautiful, friends who tell us that our choices for the floral centerpieces are spot on, and friends who remind us to eat a little something as we’re spinning around like a euphoric whirling dervish on our wedding day. We have friends who are honest with us, even when it hurts, because they love us.

We also have friends who suck. We keep in our company people who don’t necessarily have our best interests at heart, and sometimes we don’t even realize that’s what we’re doing. There’s the judgmental friend who always manages to make you feel like shit about whatever you’re saying/doing/wearing whenever you spend time together, but you’ve been friends since you were in second grade together so you tend to just brush it off. There’s the friend who never lets a moment pass without reminding you how much she hates your fiancée, even though she’s never dated anyone worth mentioning mmkay. The friend who lies to you, about anything and everything, just to keep the peace. There’s the SO HOT friend, who inflates you with superficial niceties and compliments instead of keeping it real, and expects the same in return. There’s the friend who shows up late to everything, all the time, or who sometimes forgets to show up at all. There’s the friend who uses you as the butt of every joke. There’s the friend who fights her way into your wedding party as though it’s some sort of social badge of honor, without regard for your vision for your day or awareness about your true connection to one another.

But truth be told, most of our friends are a combination of all of the above. The good and the bad mixed up, and we are reticent to address the problems because we perceive friendships as a balance rather than a growing, living, breathing organism that needs to be nurtured. We don’t look at these people and say, “Hi, um, please stop. I love you and you are being an asshole/your delivery sucks/my grandma just died, give it a rest Brenda!” We let these friends exist in our lives, step on our toes, break our hearts, and trample our dreams because we are afraid. Or we just let things slip because OMG LOL no big deal. What are we afraid of with regard to massaging our friendships back to health, or back to life? Dr. Meaghan’s hypothesis: we’re afraid of being alone.

So let me tell you all something: There are benefits to being married or single, but both things suck tremendously and feel pretty damn lonely without good friends.

Let me tell you another thing: Stop being afraid.

Make sure that you invest as heavily in your friendships as you do in your future spouse. Be honest and clear. Teach people how to treat you. I cannot stress how absolutely vital to my survival my friends and family have been since I started navigating this Single Lady Road almost four months ago. And the reason these people exist in my life is because I have worked, pretty damn hard, at making sure our connections were strong and bubbling over with a commitment to one another of mutual growth. If there is someone in your life who isn’t meeting your needs, that is absolutely okay, but you need to do something about it. Speak up! Your wedding party, especially, should be a reflection of that hard work. Those people who stand next to you will be there to see you through all of life’s challenges, which might include things like divorce. Don’t settle when it comes to who you have by your side, and don’t bow to pressure. You need to make sure that the tool belt you wrap around yourself as you walk down the aisle is filled with a lot of really valuable things; nothing, though, is as necessary and integral to the success of your life, as a married or single person, as really fantastic and solid friendships.

Photo by APW Sponsor Emily Takes Photos

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  • marie

    Lovely!

    Even when things are rosy and well with a partner or spouse, friendships are so important. I like your “tool belt” analogy– I think it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the idea that your spouse should be your “everything”, when no one person can be that; you need a whole toolbox to keep a life in good repair :)

  • KINA

    “Make sure that you invest as heavily in your friendships as you do in your future spouse. Be honest and clear. Teach people how to treat you. ”

    This! Thank you, Meaghan.

  • http://nerdycare.blogspot.com SelkieKel

    So much THIS.

    Particularly, “I think that we’re acculturated [as girls and young women] to collect friends without necessarily focusing in on, or assessing the value of, the connections we create. Often our friendships are borne out of mutual interests, geography, shared history, or simply the sheer pleasure we feel when around another human being.”

    Something that everyone, regardless of gender, could stand to have more support, dialogue, and guidance with is being able to parse the worthwhile friendships from those that likely do more harm than good. Then, in the case of the latter, having the confidence and wherewithal to do something about it. Too often it seems that the only way we see the sucky friends for what they are is in the wake of personal upheaval and it shouldn’t come to that.

    Thank you for this brave, eloquent piece.

  • CLAIREKFROMTHEUK

    Long time listener, first time caller…

    This is a fantastic article with lessons that I learned the hard way I had kind of ignored during the breakup of my marriage (less than 12 months after the big day no less – hurrah!).

    Thanks for the reminder (makes mental note to call friends tonight)

  • ANOTHER MEG

    Oh hells yes to this.

    The shining light at the end of my marriage was the many close friends who pulled me up and over the hurdle that is divorce at 24. I felt like a failure, and while I worked through that with a professional, they were there with warm words, vodka, and cookie dough. They left me alone when I needed it and made sure I wasn’t when it would have been a trip to bad town.

    And as I walk down the aisle next year, they will be there in force, proud and wonderful and ready to dance. Or drive me to Mexico if necessary. Toolbelt, indeed. Pretty goddam accurate.

    And shit now I’m crying at work.

  • Nicole

    I definitely teared up while reading this. I only have a few close friends (4 including my sister) and I don’t think I’ve ever really told them how wonderful they are and how much they mean to me. They’ve seen me at my worst and my most psychotic and they’ve just supported me. I try to do the same for them and I can only hope that they feel as uplifted and happy as I am when I am with them. This is such a great post. As someone who grew up in a family where friendship wasn’t really part of daily life, this post is giving me the kick in the pants that I need to work on all of my friendships.

  • Anjali

    I love “Teach people how to treat you” – it’s so easy to forget that friendship isn’t always this organic, intuitive thing, and that sometimes we need to be really upfront about how we expect our friends to treat us.

  • Amanda L.

    This stopped me in my tracks: “I think that we’re acculturated [as girls and young women] to collect friends without necessarily focusing in on, or assessing the value of, the connections we create.”

    It perfectly puts into words what I’ve long said I would try to teach whatever children I end up having… that friendships and romantic relationships have a very definite purpose beyond just having someone to hang out with – to teach us about ourselves, what we will tolerate, and what we won’t. Their success or failure shouldn’t define us, especially if we’ve walked away with even one small nugget of new knowledge about ourselves. If someone had taught me that when I was 13, the next 20 years of my life might have gone a little differently.

  • http://cuvikingadventures.blogspot.ca/ Jenny- Adventures Along the Way

    YES:
    “I had, in effect, done the work I needed to do in order to have an Emergency Response Team braced and ready.”

    Me too. I mean, I had no idea I would need an Emergency Response Team…ever. But I am ever so incredibly thankful. Words can not even express it. It is like the feeling of being surrounded by love on your wedding day….but *more* because it is being surrounded by love while in the deepest pain.

    I wish you more future happiness and joy and love in your life than you can even begin to imagine is possible at this point in your journey.

  • Sarah

    This is so awesome! I just wish I’d read this before I’d chosen my wedding party. My toolbelt is turning out to be a bit more lacking than I thought it would be.

    One thing I noticed though is I don’t think investing in friendships that are waning should be mistaken for accepting a give-take friendship as something that is healthy. Friendships are awesome and wonderful and the good ones certainly should be nurtured, but at the same time, the bad ones should be allowed to slip away, and not nurtured to the point of someone breaking. That’s my two cents!

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  • Heather

    This is such a great article. You really see who your real friends are when they show up to help pack your house for you. Because my ex was in the military I was lucky enough to make some of the most amazing friends a woman could ask for. The hardest part of that though is having those friends scattered throughout the world. I was so lucky when my marriage ended that 3 of my closest friends were all stationed together and the day I needed help packing my stuff they were all on the road at daybreak to come help. They paid for the hotel rooms for us and my parents and paid for dinner. I couldn’t have made it through that day without them.

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