When I was married, I didn't have any divorced friends. But if I did, I'm sure I would have tried to give them advice--the misdirected kind, skewed by my marital goggles.
I am not suggesting that us divorcees are part of some special club, but we do have a unique experience that those who have not been through can't really understand. Fortunately for them, they just don't get it.
I suspect it's no different in reverse. Should someone who has never been married give marital advice? Should someone who has never had children provide child-rearing tips? I once told my sister, when her two year old was colicky, that she should stop trying to feed her corn. That didn't go over so well--with either of them.
Two of my close girlfriends are divorced--we all split with our exes around the same time. They are now both in serious relationships, and like me, they have pretty much healed (or want to believe they have).
The only difference between them and I is I'm still single.
To some people, single is a condition that needs fixing. I understand that people close to me feel the need to "help" me. They want me to be happy (even though I think that most of the time, I am), and they think if I find my next husband, like my divorced girlfriends have, I will be.
I realize that their intentions come from a good place -- love. I understand the ache, or the itch, to make a loved one's burden lighter, and sometimes we can't resist the urge to scratch it. Even though it might not help.
Here are my top ten favorite bits of well intentioned, but painfully misguided, advice that I've heard divorcees receive over the years:
File under: "Even though you had a bad divorce, can't you just kiss and make up?":
Divorced person says: "I got a very sweet email from my ex-husband...after all this time..."
Married person answers: "Maybe you two should go on a date."
File under: "I've never been divorced and think moving on is as easy as moving a couch" :
Divorced person says: "I had a dream that I saw my ex-husband and we made up. I woke up really sad."
Married person answers: "Wow, I can't believe you're not over it yet."
File under: "Since I'm happily married I've never had to online date, but it can't be that bad":
Divorced person says: "This guy I met on Match.com told me his last girlfriend called the cops on him after they had a fight, but that she's the one that started it."
Married person answers: "Give him a chance."
File under: "I've been married so long I think a ticking clock is that thing on my nightstand":
Divorced person with no kids says: "I can't believe I'm going to be 40 this year. When I was married, I thought I'd have at least two kids."
Married person with kids answers: "You're overreacting. My friends started having kids at 44. You can still have three."
File under: "I don't want to judge you but I'm going to anyway":
Divorced person answers: "Sometimes it still hurts that my husband cheated on me."
Married person says: "Didn't you know that was going to happen? You can't just travel for work all the time and expect your husband to stay faithful."
File under: "I'm competitive with my spouse so I'm assuming everyone else is, too":
Divorced person says: "I just heard my ex-wife is getting married again."
Married person answers: "Wow, so she beat you."
File under: "You should have planned things better when you were married":
Divorced person says: "I really want a child and my divorce has delayed everything."
Married person with kids answers: "Just do it. Pick anyone. It doesn't matter who."
File under: "Since I've never been divorced I can't relate and I'm not going to try":
Divorced person says: "I'm sorry I haven't seen you for a while. Our friendship is important to me but it's been tough and I needed space to process my divorce."
Married person answers: "It's okay, I'm just going to pretend you went on vacation."
File under: "Ever heard of beggars can't be choosers?":
Divorced person says: "My wife wants me back, after five years."
Married person answers: "Try it. What do you have to lose?"
It's true that on the surface, none of the above suggestions seem constructive, or applicable. If we wanted stock advice, we could pick up a self-help book (or read "Eat Pray Love").
Maintaining a close friendship with people who have never been in your shoes can be tricky. If you let it. I try not to expect any magical pearls of wisdom. We are the sole survivors of our own history and experiences - no one else wakes up in our own skin. And that's okay. That's how it's supposed to be.
So I guess the choice is ours. We can put a wall up between ourselves and those we care about who "just don't understand," and protect ourselves from frustration. Or, we can choose to share, in order to nurture and sustain that relationship. And if that means that suggestions are going to be offered, so be it.
You may even be surprised that sometimes, if you stay open, a pearl of wisdom might sneak its way in.
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