This piece is done in part from the first person, very much as we might write in our own journals, for a specific reason. One of the greatest and most unexpected gifts we find “under the tree” when living alone after divorce is our authentic self. A journal is a way to give voice to that woman. We get to rediscover and recreate ourselves from the ground up, and we get to be exactly who we are and live life exactly as we please, at our own pace, with the freedom that only comes from having no one else’s reaction to worry about. There is no tiptoeing around another’s preferences, and no one’s authority weighing in heavier than your own. So often in a marriage or even while merely dating, we give that power and authority away to a partner we want to please, whose good opinion we want—often too much.
Nurturing others—facilitating their happiness and contentment—has great value, but not if it comes at a chronic cost and eventually, a deficit in our own happiness and our sense of who we are. Not if we are, however subtly, discouraged from celebrating or even nurturing ourselves.
Once the dust settles and we find ourselves in our own place, living alone after divorce or at least partially alone when the children are with their other parent, we may have a few weeks of shellshock, of feeling the loneliness in the solitude rather than the power and freedom in it. But it’s there. You can find yourself in solitude. You can settle into the solitude, explore what’s inside it, because being you, solo, is far more fun than you may have thought.
Celebrating ourselves without guilt
Day 1 in my new place:
“I woke at 4:30 to the insistent chirping of my alarm. Normally I’d feel like I had to snatch it and silence it as fast as I could. (I wonder if alarm clocks ever get their feelings hurt or if they’re the like the drill sergeants of the non-breathing world.) C. was good about sleeping through it, but I still felt guilty. Weird to talk about someone I love in the past tense, even though he’s still on the planet. Having an existential moment here…not hard to do at this hour.
I guess we’ll see what I make of this—and of myself, since that’s all I’ve got to worry about now. It’s just me in here, and I’ve got some regrets but no guilt, about the alarm clock or anything else.
And I get to pump disco music while I work out! Or AC/DC or Madonna, whatever. I don’t have to turn it down, I don’t have to be super quiet as I’m putting on my sports bra—that wrestling match sometimes comes with grunting, frankly. It’s a relief to be able to let that out and not worry about sounding like a farm animal or waking him up, like that time I lost my grip on the clasp and my elbow knocked the mirror off the wall. And oh my God, I get to have heat in the house as fast I need it. So much easier to consider working out at five in the morning if you’re not freezing. Thank you, thermostat, now on with a flick of a switch. I loved our wood stove and that living flame but good grief, what a messy, high maintenance pain that thing was. And on that note, so was C. about my music. I get it. He’s a musician and disco is not for everyone, but how do you work out to something that sounds like angry trashcans on Quaaludes?”
Putting your signature on it
Day 6 in my new place:
“It’s still clean. (I’m so excited about this I feel like I should be whispering). I love this! Everything is exactly where I put it, and the bathroom sink doesn’t suddenly look like a chia pet.
Such a relief to be in a haven I make for myself, that is just mine. I’d spend all day cleaning our house, and twenty-four hours later it was cluttered again. I felt like what I brought to our home environment was inconsequential. He did eventually realize, once I was gone, how much time it took. That was nice. Nicer, though, to have the peace of knowing that here in my little jewel box, it will be as serene and pretty in five days as it is now.”
This is not to say that you won’t have grief and sadness after divorce, that your new home and the solitude of it won’t echo with the voices of your old one—voices you may crave at first. (This may be particularly pronounced now, for those of us living alone after divorce during the Covid-19 quarantine.)
But there’s a process to finding your authentic self again, and part of the joy of living alone after divorce is that you have the freedom and space to engage in that process however you need to.
Day 21 in my new place:
“I woke up having a really weird dream. I wish I could tell him about it, and I miss our cats. But Daisy needed her yard, and they needed each other. Her giant purr was such a comfort, though. I miss that, and I miss how safe I used to feel with him. But he is not my home any more. I am my own home, and if I’m going to fail in whatever I make of myself, I’m doing it on my own time and without an audience. My opinion is the only one that really matters; I can do this and I will. Whatever the doing of it looks like, I am free, and I am enough.”
That “enough” becomes the foundation for our new way of being, but once it’s firmly in place, we eventually begin to peek out of our new haven to see what’s out there…and you find that it just might be time to put your toes in the water again.
Peeking around the next corner
Six months later:
“I met my neighbor. Ummmm, yes. And he has an Aprilia. He said it’s the working man’s Ducati. It does not look like a downgrade in any way, and neither does he. They’re both gorgeous. And that street bike looks faaaast—so different from C.’s cruiser.”
A year later:
“Trey took me out on his Aprilia. I got to be on the back of that thing. I don’t think I’ve come down yet, and that was three hours ago. We were doing 120 miles per hour. 120! I loved it—if you didn’t hold on tight, you’d fly right off the back. Not that I objected. I was stuck to him like a burr. Even with a big guy in front of you, though, there’s just nothing between you and the wind, and we cut through it at full throttle. What an amazing morning.”
Perhaps less exhilarating than a street bike slicing the wind at 120 mph but a far more amazing gift for the soul because of the lasting and unconditional love they give us—a love that we just don’t experience with humans because of its simplicity—is when a four-legged companion arrives on your new doorstep. Finally, the haven becomes a home. The solitude has another voice and personality in it besides yours, and that nurturing you need to lavish on someone, some sentient being, has an outlet again.
Eighteen months later:
“I have a new kitty! She was dropped off on my co-worker’s front porch by one of her neighbors who decided to move to Texas and couldn’t take the cat. Her name was Noodles…not my style. But Lulu sounds like it and suits her much better. She’s a little beauty, so feminine and so sweet. She chirps me awake in the morning and sits with me while I journal, just purring and blinking at me with her shoulder pressed up against my leg. I’m so happy I’m crying. She’s my little fur girl. I’ve never had a long-haired cat before—she’s so fuzzy.”
And then comes the time when the new replaces the old with full sensory impact, not just from the inside out (which is the most critical part and the part that lasts—your authentic self that living alone has given room and air for expansion) but from the outside in as well in the form of someone new.
And because you’ve come through the hardship of divorce and the attendant grief and you are now stronger than you ever thought, you are able to experience this new someone with every nerve ending alight with sensation, knowing yourself, your own value, and your own desires in a way that won’t be denied because there simply isn’t any reason left not to unleash them.
A pursuit of happiness…and being pursued
Two years later, in the living room of my new place, I discovered a whole new level of joy in living alone after divorce and being unmarried (and have never been so thankful to not have a roommate):
“I eye-stalked him for a year before we finally went out with a group to a bar downtown. All I wanted was his hands on my hips and to feel him move—he’s such a superhuman athlete—lethally graceful, like a big cat. And then, a couple weeks later, he came over. I was still sweaty and in my work-out clothes, but I didn’t care. I was so nervous and thrilled and completely unable to concentrate on anything but his voice and the fact of him there with me. He asked if I wasn’t going to unpack my gym bag, and when I turned, he moved behind me like a hunter, took my hip in one hand and my neck in the other and bent me straight forward over the arm of the recliner. He stood there pressed to me, just letting me know he was completely in control—like I had any doubt—and then he pulled me up, fisted his hand in my hair at the nape of my neck, turned me to him, slid his other hand to the small of my back and laid his mouth on mine. Dear God. I’ve never been unexpressed sexually—my friends will probably laugh at the understatement of this. I’ve had amazing sex with amazing men, but this guy? A class unto himself. I have never, ever, experienced any man who was so raw, so primal and masterfully dominant and yet so cherishing, so present and so instinctively, sensually potent as this man.
We may not be together now, but I don’t regret the year and a half I got to experience him and I still purr when I think of him that way.”
It’s not important that your new relationship lasts, though having to end it may make you sad and wistful (and then again, it may last after all). There are two reasons why it’s not important. One is that you’ve already been through the worst of it and are not only intact but better and stronger than ever. And two? You last, and you are your own greatest joy.
Living alone after divorce means drinking yourself in. Revel in your own authenticity and the authorship you have in this new phase of your life. Copyright it. And don’t miss a minute of who you are becoming.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.
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