We all have those moments in life that stand out as milestones of doing something for the first time. First day of school. First kiss. First beer. First grown-up job.
Like any major transition, divorce brings along its own unique set of milestones. Some of my hardest post-divorce struggles involved getting through some of the big “firsts,” memories that aren’t nearly as fun as first kisses, but just as memorable.
Like most brides on their wedding days, I found any excuse to drop the word “husband” into conversation. It took weeks before I could say it without blushing into a fit of giggles that left me thinking, “Wow, I’m married!”
Thirteen years later, I found myself driving away from a courthouse, mumbling “ex-husband” to my best friend sitting beside me, just so I could hear it come out of my mouth for the first time. It took weeks before I could say it without thinking, “Wow, I’m divorced.”
I’ve never lived alone. So moving out of my marital home and into an apartment was a double jab of unknown territory and sad reminders of my single status. The reality that I was truly on my own hit when I noticed the movers left a mattress downstairs that needed to be upstairs. Determined to prove my independence, I hoisted that mattress halfway up the stairs before my muscles gave out and my resolve gave in. Leaning against that stupid mattress, I sobbed and thought, “I can’t do this.”
Then my 9-year-old son peeked around the mattress and said, “Can I help, Mom? I’m strong.”
Wishing he hadn’t seen my tears but knowing it was OK that he had, I replied, “Let’s be strong together.”
We got that mattress upstairs in no time. And in no time, that apartment became our home.
My kids would be a mere 20 minutes down the road for 48 hours, but watching them drive away that first time and returning to my empty apartment felt like my limbs were being ripped off my body.
Thankfully each weekend pass-off got easier. And I learned to use that time to recharge my single mom batteries, spend time with friends and eventually date.
The last time I dated I had to use my college roommate’s dial-up Internet to check my email, so the concept of using the Internet to find potential partners was a mystery to me. My first date — a guy who ordered Scotch at lunch on a Monday and barely stopped talking long enough to confirm my name — did nothing to redeem online dating in my eyes. But I got it over with. And after deleting his texts, I logged back on and tried again.
Miss Sweeney. Miss Sweeney. Miss Sweeney! Oh wait, that’s me! Unlike most of my divorced friends, I chose to legally change back to my maiden name. Answering to my new old name was alarming. I couldn’t decide if I was regressing to my teenage years or turning into my mother.
(Side note: It was equally alarming the first time someone called me by my married name after I had finally gotten my new old signature right again.)
My kids are still young enough that the whole family believes in Santa’s magic. I considered ignoring that first Christmas designated as their father’s, but I knew I’d be doing all of us a disservice. So I told the kids I had emailed Santa to explain our new family dynamics, and he promised to send a helper elf and a couple of reindeer to deliver a portion of their presents early before they received the rest at their dad’s house. Santa delivered on that promise, and I got the gift of feeling included in Christmas, even if it wasn’t the right day on the calendar.
What should you wear to meet the significant other of the man you thought you’d spend the rest of your life with? A smile. Then enjoy a massive exhale for getting past a meet-up far more awkward than even your worst Match date.
That less-than-stellar first date and the string of bad first dates that followed had me convinced I was doomed to spend the rest of my life alone. But then one night I had a good date. That led to a second date. And one day, when I found myself calling this man my boyfriend, I happily realized I was no longer alone.
It’s hard to ignore a date that had been so significant for over a decade. So the first time that date rolled around after the divorce, I allowed myself to relive the joyous optimism of my wedding day, as well as mourn the loss of the life I had envisioned.
Getting through the first year after divorce is an emotional victory. So I allowed myself to mourn my failed marriage before celebrating the new life — and a whole new round of “firsts” — that failed marriage gave me.
I still have more single mom “firsts” ahead of me, like introducing my boyfriend to my ex, but I’m pretty sure the worst is behind me. Putting all those major milestones in my rearview mirror may not have been easy, but they were necessary bullet points in my moving on process after divorce.
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