It was the little losses of divorce that made me cry the most.
I had prepared myself for the big stuff — the loss of trust, the fear for my daughter’s well-being and the insecurity of dating again. But those little losses, man, they caught me with such surprise that I couldn’t stop myself from crying the kind of big and painful tears that I felt all the way down in my stomach.
It was driving past a country bar and realizing I would never again dance with a man who could two-step as well as my ex. It was feeling suddenly naked when I walked into a restaurant alone. It was looking at my body after a shower, and wondering about what another man would think of me — after years of life, after two pregnancies and after the loss of the person I thought I was.
No one talks about this stuff. We bite our nails when we think about avoiding divorce, and then we launch right into a discussion of how to start dating again. But for the 12-plus months I spent sifting through the crash site, I kept asking, What will I do with all this wreckage?
The wreckage is exactly what celebrity journalist Tamsen Fadal addresses in her book The New Single. Her words resound with my experience of divorce, and I wish I had been able to read them in the darkest parts of my recovery. “It had been years since I had functioned as a singular unit,” she writes in the first few pages of her book. “Dinners, parties, holidays, even nights alone on the couch hadn’t actually been nights alone. He had been there, even when I didn’t necessarily want him to be. But having someone seemed easier than having no one. I had no idea how to be by myself.”
Yes. This is the part of recovery that is so easy to gloss over: How do I learn to be myself again? And why don’t I want to be myself? When I caught up with Fadal to discuss her book, she told me that the journey through divorce is one that can seem tinged with failure and loneliness, so it’s natural to avoid those hard questions about sudden singleness. It’s a mistake, however, to run from the questions forever, since divorce is an opportunity for a fresh start. “I had never felt like more of a failure,” she said. “But with a game plan and a change of heart and mind over time, I realized that this ending was a new beginning for the person I am really supposed to be.”
Fadal’s book is refreshing, as only a book written by another divorced woman can be. I wish I had known about it during the darkest days of my surprising losses. Today, her words to me ring in my ears as truthful and kind: “You are not a statistic. You are someone who is about to embark on a whole new dynamic of your life and a whole new relationship with yourself.”
The other night, when I went country dancing with a new date, I knew her words were true.