My girlfriends meant well.
They supported me, the newly crowned "divorced" girlfriend, through copious amounts of wine and self-help books and blind dates with men they knew from spin class. My post-divorce life was a dizzying blur that closely resembled movie scenes replete with girl (me) blubbering into soggy tissue while friends nodded in sympathetic understanding as we sat on overstuffed Pottery Barn couches. [Queue another glass of chardonnay.] Admittedly, we were all novices when it came to divorce -- I was the first of our friends to be married, the first to divorce. Oh, the sudden cruelty of first place.
When my girlfriends offered their unwavering support, I lapped-up their words of inexperienced advice while they indulged me with unabashed criticism of my ex (who didn't deserve it.) To give you an idea of my mental state at that time, I read "Why Men Love Bitches" with a yellow highlighter as if it would save my soul and unlock the secrets to healthy relationships.
I was a thirty-something single mother of a toddler. God help me. God help him.
Back then, I appreciated how my girlfriends rallied and cheered me on after divorce. I needed their encouragement even if it wasn't based on any mature notion of compassion or fairness, but rather a simple desire to support a friend in need. Isn't that what friends do? Offer support no matter what?
My friends did just that.
And when my ex met another woman, my girlfriends rallied with a protesting war cry. This is, often, what women do for each other. I've done this. We immediately throw barbs in whatever direction our friend's wounded ego and heart require. Interestingly, this behavior somehow melds the seemingly unbreakable chains of sisterhood. These are bonding moments. When a friend is swept up in a self-pitying and jealous tirade, others join in (God knows tirades are much more fun with supportive company!) Armies of friends by our sides are perfect when we need hurt feelings validated and our insanity justified.
Yet, at the end of the day, my army retreated to their intact families and cozy homes while I was left to my own solitude (when my son wasn't with me) and a feeling of emptiness that burned so fiercely I thought I would melt.
So many dynamics change after divorce -- from parenting ideals to finances to friendships.
Despite my friends' good intentions our relationships changed, especially when I sensed them fearing my divorce was contagious. Divorce has a way of coercing others into marital introspection, and when I divulged something that hit too close to home, their faces morphed from concerted interest in my situation to, Oh, shit... am I next?
And another thing happened during this time -- I grew-up.
I realized I needed a positive relationship with my ex and his fiancé, if not for my own sanity, for my child's future. I couldn't expect my friends to suddenly understand this and worried those who threw the sharpest barbs in the beginning could also potentially destroy my prospects for future peace.
What had I done? Could I fix this?
I had to choose whether to maintain friendships with some girlfriends or work toward a healthy, post-divorce relationship with my ex.
I chose the latter.
I chose not to sustain negativity even if I was one of its architects.
And while there is some back story, of course, the fact is I slipped away from a group of women I once held dear. Sometimes, I miss the sense of belonging I had, the "we're-in-this-together" spirit characteristic of years-long friendships. While I transitioned between evenings filled with dinner parties and sisterhood and conversation -- to relative loneliness -- I know the time alone was exactly what I needed to evolve into the new woman I had to become. By shedding my past, including relationships that boxed me into who I once was, I was able to figure out who I needed to be.
I needed to mature. I needed to move beyond the disappointment that life didn't turn-out as I'd meticulously planned. Above all, I needed to focus on my child. This is not to say the years of self-discovery ahead weren't rocky. They were! Self-discovery is almost always a painful proposition (which is, perhaps, why so many don't do it.) But at least I had the opportunity to experience those "look at yourself in the mirror" years, learn from them, and grow without the constraints of friends' expectations of who I once was.
I've half-joked in podcasts and blog posts that I initially hoped my ex's fiancé was ugly and stupid. The thing is, I really did! I admit jealousy and insecurity bubbled-up in my thoughts for no other reason than it felt good, and even normal, at the time. In fact, it was expected of me by my friends, and even, society. Thankfully, I woke-up from this mindset (and she, by the way, is smart and beautiful.)
The shedding of this mentality (and those who supported it) allowed me to start anew and create meaningful relationship with my son's stepmother. This epiphany and transformation quite literally changed the trajectory of my life. Today, ten years later, I know I made the right decision.