Does it ever feel to you, after you're separated or divorced, that there are two parallel towns you live in? There's the one you lived in when you were married, peopled with the couples you hung out with, and if you have kids, populated also with the parents of your kids' friends, possibly (in some egregious cases) in-laws... There was a whole teeming population of people many of whom- when you got divorced, got wiped off the map. And then, Alice In Wonderland-like, you suddenly found yourself in a whole other place, you could call it Second City. Even if you stayed in the same apartment or house, it's different, your town has become a much less populous and thriving place. In fact, around this time of year, it can be downright depressing if you haven't at a minimum found someone new to repopulate your bed let alone your neighborhood.
Why is it that you need to move into this second, somewhat barren city? You kind of liked the one you were in, relationship discord notwithstanding. It's like punishment, banishment, for a crime you didn't commit! (on the other hand...) It can feel like a bad dream or a Twilight Zone episode where you are waving and shouting "helllloooooo" to everyone as they pass, the parents of your son's friends, the couple who were your movie buddies, but they don't see you, you are walking through your town like a ghost.
Before you become the ghost of Christmas past, here are some random do's and don't's for repopulating your new world and dealing with the deconstruction of the old:
• DON'T: Panic because you feel lonely and dislocated. You may be lonely but you are not alone and it's not forever.
• DON'T: Rush to get into a serious relationship. You will have many moments when you are desperate to reconstruct the life you had and a romantic relationship seems like the silver bullet. But you can't reconstruct it. If and when you are ready to have a real relationship, you will be constructing a new life, not just reconstructing the old. And rebound relationships are fraught with- well I probably don't need to say more.
• DON'T: Try to get your and your ex's mutual friends to take sides (setting aside the infinitely more complex issue of the kids!). I know, MUCH easier said than done. You may win some battles that way, but ultimately if you adopt a divide and conquer strategy you likely lose the war- the war of independence from the relationship you are leaving- and enhance the likelihood that you will be divided from more friends.
• DON'T: Beat yourself up over the loss of some of your friends who are couples. You have lost tons of friends over your lifetime, I would wager, just by attrition, change in personalities, being busy... Friends who are couples, as opposed to older friends who happened to become couple friends when you became a couple with your ex not that the result is always different, may inevitably drop off due to the awkwardness of trying to avoid taking sides (see bullet immediately above) or the awkwardness of third wheel syndrome. I would love to be able to say it doesn't happen among mature people, but it does... Not to be too cavalier, but if you can try to adopt a c'est la guerre attitude it will help.
• DO: Date as much as you can (OK, the obvious...). Even if you don't think you're ready. What have you got to lose except your pride and your STD-free status (and if you don't know how to protect against the latter, you probably aren't reading this...)
• DO: Seek out new friendships and re-kindle the old ones, and not primarily with the opposite sex (!) Friends are hard to come by as you get older, but especially in this brave new world you now inhabit you need them more than ever. It can be hard work and even a bit degrading. Make yourself do it!
• DO: Get therapy if you can afford it, even if you don't believe in it. It's the people who feel they least need it who in my reckoning can benefit the most. Even if this seems like a walk in the park. Just do it.
• DO: Put the kids first if you have kids. Easier said than done especially when romance comes back into the picture.
• DO: Have very happy holidays and a happy, healthy, sex and fun-filled New Year- you can, you know. Even if you now live in Second City!