There’s something about going through a divorce that makes you pretty much bulletproof—eventually. Eventually you don’t care when people ask really awkward questions, or when you’ve been walking around with toilet paper stuck to your leg for two hours. Eventually, after you’ve been through a tough divorce, nothing short of life-and-death could make you bat an eye.
But during a divorce? Not so much. Let’s be honest here: divorce is a fragile time for everybody. And it takes a while to get back on your feet. YOU WILL. But it takes some getting there.
Unfortunately, this is when the awkwardness creeps in. You’ve gone through and are still going through a huge transition, and suddenly you’re dealing with stuff like, your neighbor asking you whether your spouse is traveling a lot for work lately, or being invited to the birthday party of someone’s kid, as a family. It’s awkward. It’s even a little painful.
Here’s how to handle some of the more common moments you’ll run into—advice prepared with a hint of humor and a dash of pragmatism, as per usual.
If you’re doing the co-parenting thing, which most people these days are, this is one you’re sure to run into pretty regularly. This advice applies to your kids’ sports games, piano recitals, school plays, birthday parties, Girl Scout thingies and so on.
When it comes to your kids, you have to be there, and you have to be composed. The key thing to have in mind is: when in doubt, focus on the kids. Feel a wave of resentment coming on because your spouse is late? Focus on how cute your kid looks in that carrot costume. Another thing that works in these situations is to make a concerted effort to talk vivaciously to the other parents. Be the social butterfly, you’ll find you’re able to avoid talking to your ex or soon-to-be-ex, and you’ll be nice and distracted from thinking about them being there.
Running Into People Who Don’t Know.
I found that this was a real challenge at first. It takes about a year for everybody to catch on to the fact that you and your ex aren’t together anymore, and that’s through no fault of their own; yet I found myself getting impatient with having to explain, even vaguely, to yet another person that Yes, my marriage fell apart, and how are you?
A big, helpful crutch in this situation—which you’ll stop needing once you start feeling less, eh, vulnerable—is to have a statement prepared. Have a one- or two-sentence answer that you use, which is generally a nice combination of grateful-for-your-concern and no-further-questions-on-the-subject-please. Then go immediately to asking about them. People love to talk about themselves.
When People Ask Intrusive Questions
So how about when you’re at said event, and someone with no sense of boundaries whatsoever asks you, loudly, “So what happened between you and [insert spouse name here]?? You were such a great couple!!!” Yeah, stuff like that gets said. In such situations, a good thing to remember is that this person is the one who should be embarrassed—not you. And then refer to number 2.
Events with THAT Side of the Family
For a lot of us, divorcing our spouse doesn’t mean divorcing their family. I happen to get along great with lots of my ex-wife’s extended family, and particularly for the kids’ sake, you might find you want to keep the relationships strong. So showing up at family events is going to happen, and you’re going to have to be prepared.
A good rule of thumb is to have realistic expectations about how people are going to react, especially in the beginning. They’re likely to feel loyal to your ex, because they’re blood, but at the same time they want to be fair to you—so they’re going to feel awkward. Be understanding about that. Don’t say anything that puts pressure on them to choose (like complaining about your ex). And be ready with lots of conversation topics that don’t involve the divorce.
Parties of Mutual Friends
If you feel compelled to go to an event where you ex is likely to also be there, the best thing you can do is to have a plan, which you mentally agree with yourself before you get in the car to go, of a) what to say if you have to talk to them, and b) how you’ll make a graceful exit if such is required. As for a), the main goal is to be civil, bland, and brief.
For b), the main goal is to avoid making any kind of scene, such as arguing in public, crying, & etc.Depending on where you’re at and where your ex is at, this can be a real risk. So explain to the host, if it’s a friend, that you might have to make a quick exit—they’ll surely understand—and if you do, do. No biggie.
Didn’t expect this one, did you? This is the one that you don’t WANT to be awkward, but it just is. It’s also one of the game-changing moments post-divorce: you’re likely to see things a bit differently before this moment, than after it. So it’s important. But, yeah, it can be pretty awkward.
I think the best advice in this situation is more or less what your mom/dad/grandma told you about dating when you were sixteen: Be yourself. Be honest about the fact that you’re recently divorced—it’s only fair. And if you try to hide that kind of thing, you’re guaranteeing yourself a train wreck. If you’re not ready to tell the person across the table that you’re a divorcee, you’re probably not ready to date—and that’s no biggie, either.
Have something to tell me, want to vent, or need a hug? Leave a comment below or tweet to me.
James J. Sexton