The Loneliest Number

For many people, one of the hardest things about divorce is the fact that you’re suddenly forced to think about yourself as a single person again—not two, not a unit, but a floater. This is terrifying to many. And I’m not going to pretend I don’t get it, because as a divorced person, I do.

Yet one of the things that surprised me most about divorce, and something I get the sense is surprising to a variety of people I’ve counseled through divorces, is just how NOT horrible it is to be an individual again. This is probably especially true if your ball and chain has been making you miserable for a period of months, years or even decades. The experience of being a single unit again can be like the lifting of a giant angry albatross from around your long-embattled neck, and yes, I want you to picture the albatross. If you don’t know what one is, here you go:

This was your marriage*.

Now you get to be single again.

Some people say that being single again is a chance to improve yourself: lose that spare tire you gained since getting married, for example. I challenge you to do exactly the opposite of this: DO NOT IMPROVE YOURSELF. You have probably spent the last x number of years of your life adapting yourself in various ways to a person and a relationship that did not pay off, and you’re probably tired. I say, sleep in. Bathe if and when you feel like it, provided you aren’t smelly at work. Clean up when you feel like it. In short, be who you are, which may look something like this:

Relatedly, you can now do things with your time that interest you and only you. Possibly you don’t even remember what that means. If this is the case, FIND OUT WHAT INTERESTS YOU. Maybe it’s building model airplanes. Maybe it’s brewing wasabi- flavored beer. Maybe there’s something you wanted to try but never did, like rock climbing or hiking a small section of the Appalachian Trail so you can post Instagram photos of it. Whatever floats your proverbial boat, you can now do it. You have the right to do this and you don’t have to ask permission:

I remember when I first got divorced, many years ago, and had to decide what kind of couch I wanted for my living room. In all candor, I hadn’t considered that question in years as my ex-wife always enjoyed decorating every place we lived. What kind of couch did I want in my living room? The question itself felt odd and liberating. I enjoyed figuring out the answer in the weeks that followed.

Going through a divorce is crappy, and I assume if you’re reading this that your marriage is or was crappy. But one lovely effect of divorce is that it allows you to be an independent human being again, with individual concerns and interests and goals, and this, my friends, is not crappy.


James J. Sexton