One of the great joys of marriage is being friends with married people. One of the great challenges of divorce is being friends with married people.
If you think that finding couple friends is hard – seeking out that perfect other pair who you and your husband both like, “dating” over dinner and maybe playdates with kids, keeping in touch when schedules get swamped or after one person makes a political comment that doesn’t sit well during drinks – consider how difficult it is to stay friends with those same folks once your own marriage ends.
Divorce creates a divide, and it is often a surprise which of your friends stands with you as you dive into the chasm of separation, parenting plans, division of assets, moving, dating, changing identity and showing up to weddings without the familiar plus one. No divorced woman I’ve ever known or coached could have predicted which of her married lady-friends would evolve as she did, becoming an ally as well as a bestie during this time of life. I am one of those women.
I knew single mothers when I got divorced a decade ago, many of them older than me who became mentors as I navigated family court and solo parenting. I had a crew of single ladies, many of them who stepped forward to guide me through online dating apps and talk to me on weekend nights when I was home alone, eating sushi and drinking wine on the floor of my new apartment. I had very few recently divorced friends, and they were all preoccupied with the busy-ness of their own changing lives and our children’s visitation schedules never seemed to line up.
There were also married moms who came forward, swiftly and eagerly, offering to pick up my son from school or host pizza parties at their homes on Friday nights. This served me – and saved me – many times.
It was also married moms who were quick and persistent in offering advice wrapped in all kinds of “shoulds” and “I woulds.” The harshest words I heard about my choices, from serving my ex with papers to dating before I was officially divorced and even to having a child years later with another partner, have all come from married women skirting my circle of friends.
The list of criticisms is long and cuts deep. Why would married moms feel so free to drop these bombs, especially when they don’t have experience in divorce?
Because of their own relationships. Once it dawned on me that the criticism was revealing cracks in those women’s marriages, I had more compassion for their reactions to my divorce. And even if their relationships seemed perfectly happy, seeing another person’s divorce unfold can make us all consider what our own lives might look like outside of marriage.
Because of the drama. Divorcing people will be prodded by others to share the dirty details. There will come a point when that kind of disclosure just keeps the divorcee sitting in a muddy pool of negativity. The prodders don’t care about that. They want the gossip, the drama, the deflection from their own lives or issues. Your divorce gunk feels exciting and energizing to them, so they keep digging, asking, degrading.
Because of their own assumptions. All of us know someone who has been divorced and we might take the shortcut of applying how that one went to everyone else’s split. But each divorce has its own two people, set of circumstances, negotiations, pains and opportunities. And only experts, like attorneys and therapists and coaches and people going through it can really see that spectrum. Sure, you might think you’d never sleep with someone new a few days after leaving your own husband – until you are perusing Tinder to keep yourself from sobbing or having another glass of Pinot. You may believe you and your spouse would be totally amicable in divorce – until you find out he has a secret bank account or he’s discovered that you do.
Because they don’t want things to change. When the playgroup moms I’d met with weekly for three years ganged up to tell me that I should go back to my husband, that I’d regret it and probably end up remarried, I burst into tears. With grace and time and distance from their “advice,” I saw that the fear inside that dysfunctional little group was that everything would be disrupted. They were right. I moved and I moved on. I got a full-time job and new friends. I no longer wanted to be a part of that dynamic. I didn’t need them like I did when I was married. Change is hard and also good, I repeated nightly to myself and to my son in the dark quiet of his room. But for some people, change is only hard, and they lash out, grasping too tightly, staying stuck.
Of course, there were married moms who rose up in magnificent ways, who apologized when they hurled judgment at me, who went away for a while but then came back and who were more curious than critical. I didn’t dismiss them just because they were married, just as I didn’t want to them to disapprove of me because I was divorced.
A single mom friend of mine echoed this all recently on my podcast while we talked about the lessons and regrets of divorce. “You can have married friends,” she advised confidently, “but you cannot rely on them to help you and really understand your divorce. They don’t get it. They can’t get it. That’s OK, but don’t fall into that trap and destroy friendships thinking they will be right there in the ways that you need.”
Can divorced women be friends with married people? Of course. But should they be your only friends? Not anymore. Trust us – you need more now.