Thursday, October 23, 2014

What NOT to do when your friend is divorcing

I've been divorced now for almost four years.  And in that time, I went from feeling like a pariah to one of many good, normal people who experience this personal life-changer.  I've seen more and more of my friends go through this awful thing, and seeing their so-called friends (and even family) make them feel worse is infuriating to me.  But then I realized, maybe people just don't know how to react when someone is going through this.  It's AWKWARD.

So your friend's getting divorced... and you don't know what to do?  AWKWARD.

So I decided to post a few tips here on how NOT to act when your friend's getting a divorce... and a few things you ought to do.
  • DON'T assume fault or salacious storylines.  There are three sides to every divorce: his, hers, and the truth.  (Note: I'm for marriage equality, so feel free to substitute pronouns.)  The reality is, divorces don't always happen because someone cheated, someone was abusive, etc.  They happen for the same reason that any other breakup happens... it's just that there's a legal contract, social construct, and more that makes it that much worse.

  • DON'T feel entitled to the details.  When I got divorced, acquaintances on Facebook (as in, people I haven't talked to in forever) sent me messages to ask why my relationship status changed, or why my name changed.  Um, seriously?  If you're just a casual observer of someone's life on social media (as in, the most interaction you have is "liking" their photos or saying Happy Birthday once a year), you are NOT entitled to know the details of your so-called friend's divorce.  And even if you are a good friend, realize that you will never know everything that happened, and that's okay.  It's your job to be a friend, not soak up all the juicy gossip.  She'll tell you what she wants you to know, when she's ready.
  • DON'T act like it's contagious.  Divorce is not a literal plague.  So if you're married, don't cut your friend off because you're scared her reality could become yours.  Seriously, there are people who cut out divorced friends because it casts a new light on their own imperfect relationship.  The only one who can break your marriage is you and your spouse..  You don't have to feel weird inviting her to things you'd normally invite her to, because she's the SAME PERSON.  No need to be afraid, or wear a HAZMAT suit.

It's not ebola, people.
  • DON'T disparage her ex.  Well, not too much anyways.  Commiserate with her, but don't blast her ex to the point that she would never see you in the same light if they reconcile.  It's been known to happen.  Also, she'll wonder why the heck you never said anything about how much you hated him before they married!  It's fun to jump on the hater bandwagon, but she's the only one who is allowed talk *real* trash about him.
  • DON'T judge when she starts dating again, no matter how soon.  A divorce is not a death.  There is no required mourning period.  I learned from divorcing, and witnessing my friends' divorces, that whether you wait a year or a month to start dating again, it's going to be "too soon" in someone's (irrelevant) opinion.  Guess what?  Everyone is different... and while she may only be divorced a month, she probably hasn't felt like she's been in a healthy relationship for even longer.  You don't get to judge.  Also, don't set her up (especially with your husband's last, weird single friend) unless she asks you to...  she's not desperate, she's just divorced.

THIS is what your last single friend looks like to me.  Don't set me up.

I know I've listed a lot of things that you shouldn't do when your friend is divorcing... but there are also things you SHOULD do.  Or at least, these are things that I appreciated and try to do for my own friends.
  • DO... date your friend.  You know how when you're part of a couple, you look forward to Valentine's Day, birthdays, etc. celebrations with your loved one?  Suddenly, your friend no longer has that significant other around to take care of those things anymore.  So make an effort to make her smile, and "date" your friend.  Go to dinner, a movie, to a winery, send flowers, thoughtful things like that...  In many cases, your friendship predates your own marriage or relationship.  She deserves a little love from you.

It's time for sisterhood and friendship!
  • DO... realize that this is about HER, and not about YOU.  If you're worried about awkwardness around your friend, seeing her ex in public, people associating you with her divorce, and other stupid things, guess what?  She feels 1000x worse than you!  You do NOT get to be more upset than she is!  Period!  Don't make this your own drama.
  • DO... recognize that this is devastating for her, and she may not be herself for awhile.  Forgive her (within reason) for being a bad friend for a while.  Don't get offended when she doesn't "like" all your happy Facebook posts.  She'll come around, but it takes time.  In my opinion, divorce feels like an amputation: a part of you that you thought you'd always have is suddenly gone, and there's a lot of pain and even phantom limb sensations about it.  It's awful... but you get used to the loss after a while.

I know this isn't perfect advice.  And I'm not always the best at these things either.  But I wouldn't wish a divorce on my worst enemy, let alone a friend.  So try to be a friend to your friend... this too shall pass!



  1. Very appropriate and well stated Aubrey. The addition of friendship issues to an already miserable situation makes divorce even more painful.

  2. Thanks Whitney! I hesitated before publishing this post, but once it was live I got a lot of private messages from folks who could relate. I'm glad I took the plunge!

  3. Thank you. I agree, dealing with the reactions of friends is just one more complexity added to the ordeal. It's even harder when you're dealing with mutual friends who feel they need to "choose sides" as they know both people in the marriage.

    Family can be an added complexity too... even though I swear half my Korean aunts/uncles have divorced, my divorce was so hush-hush due to a stigma of shame (ugh!) that I have Korean relatives who think I'm still married. I just gave up.

    Although I didn't write it above, I did find that divorce showed me who my real friends are... and I deleted a few hundred lurkers off of Facebook during the process.

  4. I love how heartfelt this is. It's about her not you is always a great reminder, pretty much for any time your friend comes crying to you, but more so when something so life shattering happens.

  5. Thanks, Megan! It's not an easy or comfortable thing for anyone to experience, and it's hard for people to know how to best react.

  6. I just finished Amy Poehler's book and she has a whole chapter on this. Great minds, Ms. Knope! Great post, too.

  7. Now I want to read her book even sooner! :) Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling are my trifecta of lady goddesses.


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