15 Things I’ve Learned In My First Year Post-Divorce

Recently, Facebook memories popped up with a nearly 10-year-old photo of my newly blinged, stunningly beautiful engagement hand. First of all, screw you Facebook - aren’t you supposed to know everything about my life? I don’t want to see that shit. And secondly, damn, a lot has happened in the last decade. 

At the time of writing this, the one-year anniversary of the end of my marriage has rapidly caught up to me. While I have a lot of thoughts about it, the private details will remain private and frankly, they’re irrelevant. But being a writer, this is how I process best, so what follows are the things I’ve learned in the last year as an admittedly flawed AF, ironically grateful and, I believe, better-for-it human being. 

My hope in writing this is that, if you’ve found yourself in sinking sand post-divorce, I can offer some encouragement to slowly pull yourself out, while having some idea of what may come. Some realizations were harder for me than others, some were completely blindsiding, and all were necessary. Here’s what I’ve learned so far in a year following the end of my marriage.

1. You will quickly learn who your people are. Getting divorced is unfortunately much more common than we like to believe, but statistics don’t grant you immunity from the gossip train. Ignore the ones who just want to be nosey, whom you haven’t spoken to in years but heard a rumor and want to know “what happened”. Those aren’t your people. Confide only in a few loyal friends who will let you cry sans judgment (because it’s okay to feel all the feels), tell you the truth (because you can handle it), and encourage you to pick yourself back up (because you will). Allow them to help you stay afloat while you find your footing again. Those are your people.

2. Be prepared to do some self reflection like you’ve never done. This next statement may offend some people, but here it is: it takes two individuals to reach the end of a marriage. Forever playing the self-serving blame game of whose “fault” it was is simply a massive waste of energy. What actually matters is identifying what you contributed to the situation that you’re not proud of, and how you’re going to be better. Maybe that means being better to your person, better to yourself, or both. We all instinctively want to believe we can safely sail away on the victim raft unscathed when things go wrong, but the truth is, that raft ain’t going anywhere useful. Sometimes it takes the world-as-you-know-it falling apart to look in the mirror. And if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. In other words, if you don’t pick up your own garbage, you’re going to find yourself in the same fetid pile over and over again. 

3. You’ll be surprised by how strong you actually are on your own. Never dealt with all the finances before? You’ll figure it out. Need a new place to live? You’ll find it. Have to get a job? You’re employable. The idea of having to suddenly do everything by yourself is overwhelming at best, but I promise that you have the intelligence and capability to get all your ducks in a row and make ‘em fly. And the best part is, once you do eventually find yourself a new partner, you’ll be self-sufficient and that much more confident in your own skin. Chin up.

4. The 5 stages of grief are 100% real, and you’ll follow them like a jagged road with lots of annoying potholes and hairpin turns. As a refresher, these include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Emotions will hit you like a ton of bricks when you least expect them. You might be triggered by seemingly miniscule or material things, at inconvenient times. I’m here to tell you to gracefully relinquish control in this area, because it’s an imperative part of the healing process. If you skip pain, you miss lessons. Without lessons, you can’t grow. (P.S. You can turn off Facebook memories, and tell Google Photos and Shutterfly to stop harassing you with “on this day xx years ago” pictures.)

5. Only you know when you’re ready to do anything. I briefly dated a well-intentioned guy who constantly compared my divorce and dating timeline to his own, to a point that it felt patronizing. While I certainly understand his caution, I also won’t be with someone who makes me feel like I have to prove my “okay-ness” instead of trusting that I‘ve got a good grip on my sitch. Don’t let anyone tell you when you “should” or “need” to do x, y, or z. Burn the wedding dress and sell the ring if that's what you want to do, or keep the photo albums in a box in the closet for years to come. Date when you feel ready and go at a pace that makes you feel comfortable. Nobody gets to decide those things on your behalf, and you owe no explanations.

6. You will no longer judge other divorced people, not even a little bit. I’mma go out on a limb and say, from personal experience, you’ll probably judge very few people at all anymore. There’s a lot of truth to the saying that “everyone has a story you know nothing about”. When your own world is turned upside down through something as uprooting as divorce, you will no longer have the audacity to think you know a single thing about other people’s relationships or what they ought to be like. 

7. The Universe will slap you right in the face with the same lessons, over and over again, until you learn them. And only then do you get to move on to the next one. Haven’t done enough self reflection yet? Then you’re probably going to end up dating someone who brings out your worst qualities. This is also a perfect example of the Law of Attraction, meaning that what you’re putting out into the world is what you’re going to get back. Be willing to change for the better, eager to love others unconditionally, and open to receive, and you may be surprised by what positive opportunities fall into your lap. Remain closed off, hiding under a cloak of hurt, and full of resentment, and you’ll stay in an exhausting place of “why me?”.

8. You will receive countless opinions and unsolicited advice. With the exception of people who scold you for obviously not trying hard enough to save your marriage, that you should have stayed together for the kids, or that divorce is a one-way ticket to hell, most input from other people comes from a place of caring and attempted empathy. Nobody can entirely understand your situation though, so take input with a grain of salt and feel free to tell the line-crossers to kindly shut their traps.

9. If you have kids, they will drive nearly all of your personal choices from here on out (if they didn’t already). This includes how you interact with and speak about your ex, when and who you date, how you talk to yourself, and pretty much every significant decision there may be in the future. While you don’t have to be friends with your ex if that doesn’t work for you, there is zero benefit to initiating drama, instilling hurt, or rehashing flaming piles of crap from the past. Wish the best for your ex, and actually mean it. Co-parent the best you possibly can. Keep your wounds separate and work to heal them privately. This is non-negotiable for a healthy outcome. Lastly, ask yourself, how will this behavior/decision/action influence the way my children view healthy relationships and their own self-worth? And if you don’t have kids, I would humbly suggest acting as if you do. 

10. Any filters you’ve previously worn in relationships will wear off over time. Dating after divorce eventually becomes, “Are we doing this thing or not? Cuz I’ve got shit to do.” Take your time to get to know people well enough to decide whether you want to invest, yes, but don’t be afraid to pull up your assertive pants and ask for what you want up front. Authenticity to yourself and others, I’m learning, is the only way to achieve the truest form of connection we desire, and you may lose some people for that. But even the ones that don’t work out will teach you valuable lessons. To the ones who reminded me that I can still fall in love, that not wanting the same things romantically doesn’t mean you can’t have a kickass friendship, and that I can always trust my gut: thank you.

11. Dating people in their 30s (or 40s, 50s, 60s...) can be just as disappointing as those in their 20s. We now live in a time that being able to say you’ve been ghosted by someone is almost a rite of passage. Uh hi, you literally just texted me that you were coming and then you never showed, aren’t answering your phone, and have evaporated from the internet. That’s right, rather than just telling someone you’re not interested, you can go to extreme lengths to come off as a gigantic asshole instead. This realization can be jarring after trying to re-enter the dating scene post-divorce which, by the way, is entirely online now regardless of whether there’s a pandemic. That being said, I can attest that there are good ones left out there - it just may take a hot minute to find them. 

12. You will be hypervigilant of potential red flags. I’d argue that this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as you’re cognizant of what’s actually a red flag and what’s more likely your anxiety-ridden baggage being lugged around from previous relationships. I know love is a frickin’ battlefield, but try to leave some of your armor on the ground. That being said, the last thing any of us need to do in relationships is settle, and red flags aren’t going to magically disappear. You’ll find your person eventually, and you’ll be grateful that you didn’t ignore red flags before then. 

13. Divorcee and single parent support groups will be both cathartic and utterly toxic. Immediately after divorce you’ll be looking for people you can relate to in some small way, and online groups are a convenient option full of insight and words of encouragement. But from what I’ve observed, many divorced women will also spend a lifetime slandering their exes and pledging to never marry again. I challenge you to think differently. Feel your pain and let it go. Don’t let one relationship decide the rest of your life, or punish potential future partners before they even have a chance. Also, leave your dirty laundry off of the internet. 

14. Break-ups after divorce can hurt as much as divorce. It may be because you weren’t as ready to date as you thought you were. It may be because you were ready, but heartbreak layered on heartbreak leaves a gaping wound. It may be one of a million reasons. I was recently watching an episode of the TV show Younger in which they label the first person you date after a significant relationship ends as “the bad pancake” - though let me be clear that this isn’t necessarily reflective of the character of that person themself. But after all, the first pancake of a brand new batch is inevitably high-risk for not turning out well, may feel like a waste as you scrape it off the skillet knowing no amount of butter can salvage it, and is painful to discard even though you gotta do it. It almost always leaves a burn mark on the pan that takes some elbow grease to make shine again. Of course, the bad pancake isn't inevitable for everyone, but how’s that for an analogy?

15. You’ll be better off on the other side. At the end of the day, every human on the planet just wants to feel safe, loved, and happy. Whatever the reason was that your marriage ended, staying in it wouldn’t have resulted in either one of you achieving those life-giving desires. Where you stand right now is an incredible opportunity to change that.

Divorce is an unexpected, unfamiliar chapter that’s been brutally terrifying at times, but I’m free to write the rest of my story without inhibiting myself - or someone else - any longer. I’m resilient, I’m worthy, I’m messy, I’m flawed, and I’m going to be okay. That’s what I’ve learned in my first year post-divorce.

About the author:

Lauren Panoff, MPH, RD is a mom, writer, and plant-based lifestyle strategist for families based in Colorado. Find her at laurenpanoff.com or on Instagram @chronicplanet.


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