Three years ago, at the age of 31, I separated from my husband and divorced. Thus far, it ranks as the most frightening decision of my life and coincidentally, the one that set me free.
The most difficult part of ending a marriage is leaving behind the companionship and partnership (fulfilling or not).
When we marry, we adopt an instant partner -- an eating partner; a sleeping partner; an "obligatory social engagement" attendee partner; a travel partner; a movie and television viewing partner; an "I need help zipping my zipper" partner; a "changing the air filter" partner; a hand-holding partner; a fighting partner; a laughing partner; a sex partner; a parenting partner; a "when you have a bad day at work" venting partner; an "I'm on your side when your mom is driving you nuts" partner.
It is excruciating for anyone who has experienced this entrenched companionship, to abandon it or be abandoned by it, because life immediately becomes hollow -- the seat across from you at the table, vacant. The space next to you at the party, empty. The bed sheets aren't as messy in the morning, the bathroom remains cleaner, the refrigerator is filled with food gone bad, because you bought too much (because that's what you're used to doing).
There is an absence.
In the absence is where the loneliness lives. Within the loneliness, are the lessons we are meant to learn. In order to learn the lessons, mistakes must be made. If we learn from our mistakes, we recognize the recipe for finding real love within ourselves and within our relationships.
If there is anyone who has made more mistakes over the past few years, it is me. All of my mistakes, have led me to a sound place, a calm place, a place where love has found its way in and out.
For the women who have boldly gone where now 50 percent of first marriages have gone, I want to offer some insights as you embrace your new life.
1. Have sex.
You have spent years, if not decades, in a (most likely) loyal relationship. You have worked hard -- raising children, maybe working outside the home, arriving home to laundry awaiting, dinner to be made, dishes to be washed, bills to pay, emails to answer and homework to tend to -- only to pass out when it's done, without any time for yourself.
You have been devoted to everyone else, possibly void of any sort of passion for years.
It's time to desire and be desired.
It is important to fulfill your most fundamental and primal needs without the burden of a relationship as you are healing and reclaiming your individuality. It is also a way, to learn what you want and what you don't want in a partner -- sexually and romantically.
Learn to feel the difference between love and lust. What is it like to just have sex purely for pleasure? You are not a slut, you are not being irresponsible -- you are having experiences and learning from them, simultaneously.
This is also an opportunity, to make friends with your body and become comfortable in your skin. Acknowledge what turns you on and what doesn't. Be a fearless explorer -- try new positions, role play, be the goddess you have always wanted to be.
Date. Learn how to have a conversation again. Get butterflies, get anxious, feel what it's like to be exposed -- to tell your life story to a stranger. Pay attention to how you describe yourself -- it is how you feel about yourself.
When we are in our most vulnerable state, we are the closest to our authentic self -- this is where love is found within and recognized by others.
2. Be celibate for a while.
I suggest it in this order: 1. Date and have sex, then 2. Be alone.
Go wild and then tame yourself. This is the way of the spirit after a breakup. It's like letting a horse out of a stable when she's been bucking, frustrated with the restraints. Let her out, let her gallop. She will tire eventually, return to a trot and go back to the stable to rest.
You will need time to process all of your experiences, so being alone and focusing on yourself is an organic progression on this path.
Do not lose the connection to your sexuality during this time -- buy a vibrator and then snuggle up to the loneliness. Curl up to the loneliness almost to the point you forget, yet miss, what it's like to have the weight of a man on top of you and just enough time to feel content in your solo life that you contemplate staying single forever, but know you could never become a nun.
3. Take a solo trip.
If you have kids, get a sitter. If you work, go on your day off. Don't make excuses about why you can't go on a trip by yourself. Drink a bottle of wine in your robe on the balcony of your hotel room. Read a good book. Go to restaurants and eat foods you would never allow yourself to eat before. Put your phone away and romance yourself and your surroundings. Pay attention to what is going on around you.
Explore a new city or a new country.
Go lay on the beach all day and get sunburnt.
Go to the mountains and hike until panic starts to set in, and you think you are lost.
Sit at a bar -- or a park if you prefer -- and strike up a conversation.
Until we are alone, we don't realize how much we isolate ourselves from the world when we aren't alone -- when we are part of a couple. We hyper focus on one another, not others around us. However, the others around us can offer just as much support, if not more than our partner.
Build a relationship with adventure and the people you meet along the way. They've all got something to teach you.
4. Learn something new or do something different.
Take a class. Pursue the degree you've always wanted to. Apply for the job you've always wanted and quit the one you hate.
There's a treasure to be discovered -- your passion. You will find it, because you are looking for it.
Finding your passion is like marrying the man of your dreams, but it's even better than that -- your passion will never divorce you.
5. Expand and contract your friendship circle.
For those of us who were married for extensive periods of time, male friends were non-existent. There is value in platonic friendships with men. They offer a different perspective, necessary as you explore the single life.
We have a tendency to keep distance in our friendships when we are in a relationship or marriages, because of our priorities and lack of time to do it all. You've cleared space now, turn to your friendships and give them your time. The bond between women is invaluable. After this, you will never take them for granted again.
Divorce is like ripping off a blindfold -- you will learn who your true friends are immediately. The way to know if a friendship is true, is to make mistakes, hit rock bottom or get divorced.
The ones who stick around -- those are your friends, keep them close. If a person who is not blood related stands by your side when you are in the dark, you can be certain they really love you. Love them back.
6. Try a relationship on for size.
Try having a relationship, when you are ready. Observe how you feel. Fall in love and be prepared for heartbreak.
The first person you fall in love with after your spouse, is as intense as your first love. They are usually the opposite in character of the person you were married to. During this relationship, explore yourself and your boundaries, mess up, do all the wrong things and see what works and what doesn't.
I think this first relationship after divorce is a rite of passage. There is always that person, the person you meet (in between your old life and your new life) who teaches you the most about yourself. The person who prepares you for you.
If you are anything like me, you missed out on your entire 20s -- the era of dead-end dating, one night stands, failed relationships and a closet full of wisdom to wear.
We need time to catch up with everyone else, so dive in and just know you will always come out the other side, no matter how painful it is.
7. Go to therapy.
Talk with someone who is not your friend, not your mother, not your aunt and preferably has a degree hanging on their wall.
We all have unresolved issues and traumas, even if we don't think we do. We all need someone objective to sit and listen, offer advice, a healthy perspective and validate our perceptions.
You will need and want to process the experiences you have on your adventures.
8. Fire your desire to claim absolutes.
I swore I would never date this, that and the other and guess what? The person who is perfect for me, is all the things I said I never wanted. (Because I didn't know what I wanted. I didn't know who I was.)
Open your gate, let down your guard and be prepared for anything. This willingness to accept things or people you never thought you would, will expose your heart and invite love in you never knew existed.
There is no deadline on this journey. You don't need to hurry. Take as much time as you need.
Enjoy this adventure while it lasts, because life will surely settle in again. You may even get married again, and look back on this space between as the most precious time -- when it was just you. You married yourself, became your own partner, held your own hand, went to movies with yourself, traveled with yourself, shared meals with yourself, zipped your own zipper, became your own date.
Maybe you will reflect on the time you spent alone as the most petrifying and liberating period in your life.
I sure do. It was all worth it, no regrets.
By Rebecca Lammersen
First published on elephant journal.