Each month, SilverSingles proudly brings you curated guest posts from some of our favorite online experts. Their opinions can be caring, controversial, witty, or warm (and sometimes all of the above), but one thing stays constant: This is expert dating advice straight from the heart.
This month: We talk with Suzy Brown, founder of the blog Midlife Divorce Recovery, about how to enjoy living alone after divorce.
SilverSingles: Hi Suzy, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
Suzy Brown: My story is the story of women going through divorce in midlife or late-life. I was divorced at 53, after 33 years of marriage, 4 amazing children and even grandchildren coming along. I didn’t want to be divorced. I was a mess, and I thought I’d never be happy again.
To make it through this unexpected divorce, I started a group called RADiCAL, an acronym for "Rising Above Divorce in Confidence And Love" which is what we were all desperately trying to do.
SilverSingles: On SilverSingles, we also have a lot of members who are dealing with divorce in midlife. For many of them, this means that they’re living alone (often for the first time ever!). So, we’re really grateful to have your expert insights on this situation!
First up: what would you say is the single biggest challenge of living on your own after divorce? And do you have any tried-and-true ways of facing that challenge?
Suzy Brown: The first time I returned from a trip as a single person living alone, I remember waiting for my luggage by myself, getting on the bus by myself, going to the car by myself. It was snowing, and I had to scrape the snow off my windshield and make my way home … by myself.
I finally made it home, unlocked the door, and went into a dark, cold, empty house (my dog wasn’t even there because she was at the kennel). I remember sitting on a stool in the middle of the quiet kitchen wondering if I was going to feel this empty ache in my heart forever?
After five-plus decades of being in my family home, living in the dorm in college, getting married my Junior year and being in a busy family with four kids and lots of friends, I was faced with living alone for the first time in my entire life.
When you divorce in midlife or later, you may enjoy the freedom for awhile (I didn’t have to hide my despair and fury from anyone!). But after a few weeks and months of living by yourself, often the loneliness and isolation set in. Research we did a few years back showed that being alone was almost always in the top three most difficult issues after divorce.
If you’re like me, at times I felt like I was this one little boat in an ocean of couples and families. Also, the loneliness after divorce is a whole different animal when you may be facing other life losses as well – parents getting older or maybe dying, kids leaving home, menopause and other physical midlife challenges.
Loneliness vs Solitude
So how do we turn things around and face living alone after divorce? One of the first things is to change how we look at being alone. Don’t call it loneliness. Rename it. Call it solitude. Most great thinkers cherish solitude. Learn to embrace it.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Is she crazy?! That’s NOT going to happen!”
Even though you think you might, you are not going to die of loneliness. So, take a deep breath and use this time to rediscover who you are, what you want, what your gifts and goals and dreams are as you move forward.
SilverSingles: The idea of reframing loneliness as ‘solitude’ sounds like it could really help with the moving-on process. What else can do the trick? Could you share your best tips for dealing with those first few days of coming home to an empty house?
Suzy Brown: After midlife or late-life divorce, being alone is often about being alone, alone. 24/7. It’s not like being alone occasionally. It’s waking up alone. Getting dressed alone. Eating alone. Going to bed alone. Coming home to an empty house alone. I felt lonely even among family and friends.
Doing a deep clean of your house is a great after-divorce undertaking. It’s physically demanding, plus It will make your house look and smell great. Getting rid of clutter is a huge step in our post-divorce healing process. Cluttered surroundings lead to muddled, confused thinking. Fix things that need fixing.
Think about changing up your spaces. Find a Feng Shui book with great illustrations. It makes moving furniture around exciting, and I loved my “reclaimed” clean, inspiring personal spaces. Try it! It’s liberating.
If there are some things you just can’t get rid of after your divorce, bag them up in a big black trash bag and at least get them out of your face. Take them to the basement or the attic. You can deal with them later.
Or get a dog! Seriously, getting a pet or even a houseplant that you are responsible for helps ward off depression. My dog was an amazing comfort to me those early days of living alone. She sat by my feet in my home office and slept by the side of my bed at night. Her enthusiastic presence was a comfort and joy every day.
SilverSingles: And how about when your ex has officially moved out your shared home – are there any must-dos that can help you deal with it? Do practical things like redecorating help?
Suzy Brown: If you are going to stay in your house, you’re going to have to make those familiar, memory-filled spaces your own. I got a smaller bed to replace our king-sized bed. I found an old metal farm gate to stand up behind the bed, and I put a string of white lights on it. I loved it!
Get new bed linens, especially if your ex’s lover ever set foot in your house! Get rid of stuff that reminds you of your ex. Bring some big potted plants into your home to help neutralize the lingering aroma of him or her. Our sense of smell triggers memories more than any other sense, so get as many of the ex’s things out of the house as possible.
Make the space yours! Transform your old space into a space that is comforting, yet empowering, for you now.
SilverSingles: The idea of using living alone after divorce as a means to empowerment is great! Do you have any other suggestions for newly-divorced singles who are living solo but who also want to find empowerment and even a sense of community?
Suzy Brown: Find a safe, secure online community
One of the first things women going through divorce need to do is take advantage of online community groups like the MDRcommunity at www.midlifedivorcerecovery.com, especially if you’re living alone after divorce. We created a place for women from all around the world to connect with other women on the divorce recovery road. Here are a couple of comments from the group.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you – all of you wonderful girlfriends! It helps me so much to be understood. All too often I hear people tell me to “just get over it” – like it is as simple as mind over matter. We will all survive this ordeal and we will have gained so much from going through it.” C.H.
Here is another woman talking about how our community of women was helping her:
“To me the friendship (of the RADiCAL women) has meant someone who always understands, laughing through our tears, and most of all becoming instant and lasting friends. The encouragement to one another is amazing. I am very fortunate to have these women in my life!!!!!!!”
Men need to find a place like that as well. MeetUp.com is also a valuable tool for men and women to find interest groups in your area for just about anything. Be brave! Try something new:
1. Host a Party (Yes, YOU!)
Reach out to people. When I first moved to our new house after the divorce, I walked around the neighborhood and hand-delivered invitations to everyone on the block. I announced that we (my youngest son had one more year of high school before going off to college) were having a “meet-the-new-neighbors, show-my-old-friends-where-we-live-party.” Everything was very casual, and each household was asked to bring a simple appetizer to share.
We were immediately embraced by our new neighborhood! An elderly neighbor taught my son how to tie his bow tie for a concert at school. Others helped us get settled or shared vegetables from their garden or gave us tips about the neighborhood. Step out of your comfort zone and try hosting a gathering whether you have moved or not.
2. Join a Gym
One of the “must do” things after divorce is to take care of yourself! You need to make a new commitment to getting healthy and fit. Taking care of your physical body helps with everything else. You have more energy. You look better. You feel better, and you have more confidence and optimism about the future.
If you join a gym, or start going to the YMCA in your neighborhood, you can meet a whole gaggle of new friends who also care about their body. They are usually outgoing and fun, too. Be friendly. Smile. Practice getting back to small talk! It will help when you decide you’re ready to start dating again.
SilverSingles: Yes, dating! How does living alone after divorce prepare you for getting back into dating?
Suzy Brown: When we live on our own, we have to figure out how to stop being afraid of our own company. Go to a bookstore and explore things you are interested in (stay away from the self-help section!). We have to face our singleness head on and find strategies to make the best of it. Or we can refuse to adjust and be miserable. It’s our choice.
Focus on something besides worrying that you’re going to turn into a crotchety old person living alone forever with a houseful of cats. (SECRET: YOU WON’T!) Get comfortable in your own skin. Figure out what you like, what you want, what makes you happy.
SilverSingles: And finally, living alone certainly isn’t all bad! What’s the best thing about living on your own post-divorce?
Suzy Brown: This alone time may have been forced on us, but we can still use it to learn about our deeper selves …. scary but enlightening at the same time. Even though it’s difficult, think about what you want your future to look like. You’ll be more sure of yourself when you start dating again.
Be kind to yourself and be patient with the process. Get help. You’ll get through this. Your life can be as rich and full and fun as ever! It’s up to you!
About the Author: Suzy Brown is the founder of Midlife Divorce Recovery, a blog detailing the ways to cope with divorce after 50. As part of Midlife Divorce Recovery, she has spent the past 18 years fine-tuning the MasterPlan program of transformation after divorce. It changes lives.
The MasterPlan is a road map to get you to the life you deserve. The Midlife Divorce Recovery team walk alongside you, connect you with other amazing woman and provide the resources and support you need to grieve, heal and start rebuilding.