I'm on a divorce roll at the moment but don't worry I'll change the subject soon! I got a private message the other day with a question from a friend who said they follow these blogs with interest as they feel they don't really know much about the subject. So I thought I'd answer their question and use the answer as a blog too in case it's useful to anyone more widely. Here goes.
This is not being too nosey at all, I'm happy to answer! There are a few distinct people and their actions which I found really helpful at the time, and they have stuck in my memory as being beautiful people.
The common point in these are people being present without forcing conversations about raw topics. The friends were not actively engaging in the event itself, they weren't giving opinions, trying to fix things or influence the shape or the speed of events. Someone going through a separation is processing their own complex feelings and deciding things with immense consequences on their future - that is more than enough to overwhelm. No-one except the couple concerned knows the whole story, so let your friend go at their own pace and in complete ownership of the situation and any talking, but make yourself visible and fully present while they do so. Don't wait for the invitation -- muscle your way in with the hot meal. And maybe a bottle of gin.
Anyone else got any thoughts and tips?
My most popular blog posts have been about divorce. So does that mean I should write about it more? Or less - you are just nosey and this shouldn't be encouraged? WHO KNOWS.
When I got divorced, I was driven by my sister into the sunshine (Cambridge) with a few bags in the boot of her car. I basically had the items I had left my university bedroom with a few years earlier, plus two wedding presents from university friends. While I was in an unhappy relationship, I cared about new windows, extensions, cars, paints. Once I left the relationship, a part of my materialism left me too. I cared about people, love, family.
There is a mental freedom that arrives with freedom from belongings. There is less to worry about and less to restrict you. There are fewer hurdles in your path ahead. I guess this is why major faiths advocate it; over time we shackle ourselves to belongings again and again, and again and again we need a reminder to release ourselves, a rhythm of recalibration, a Sabbath, a Sabbatical, a Jubilee.
I try and remind myself of this when spending time on Rightmove looking at spare bedrooms and gardens (in my view the biggest luxuries in London). Happiness is not to be found in spare bedrooms or architect's drawings. It's found in walking with the right people, down the right path and once a week, once every seven years, or 50, we need to force ourselves to remember.
When I was about 11, I crashed a quad bike. I was looking behind me to see how far ahead I was and, when I turned back around, there was a tree approaching. So I shut my eyes and put my arm out. The arm broke. It turned out the brakes would have worked better.
I remember adopting this most excellent strategy at various times when I got divorced; I shut my eyes. My amygdala didn't have a more suitable approach to adopt in its library. (Or however the brain works.)
I wouldn't read things that came to me -- letters of advice from vicars I had met once, or letters of empathy. I put legal documents quickly in a black envelope folder, reading as little as possible. When asked questions, I agreed to things I probably should have challenged. I was maxed out on confrontation. I froze at a party, with tears running down my face, as a friend questioned me how I could have done that; he had thought we were cut from the same cloth.
There are so many feelings at play with any break up, and they combine to make something that often feels too big. The feelings that have come to mind as I write this don't sit alongside each other well, and I think therein lies the problem. They combine to create a massive version of 'I want the hide under the duvet'.
Pain -- you part from someone you love(/d) and with whom you have entwined your life.
Excitement -- at new paths ahead.
Confidence -- in a decision you think is right.
Guilt -- at having confidence in a decision others think is wrong.
Liberation -- as you step away from something weighing you down.
Frustration -- at the weight of baggage that remains, and that it's not a blank canvas straight away.
Surprise -- at the level of public interest in parts of your life that are deeply private.
Urge to explain -- the situation to people whose business it isn't.
Confusion at the collision of these.
I haven't got a magic strategy for negotiating this time, and your amygdala may do something different, but equally useless. Friends can be rubbish, faith doesn't always help, and Gods sometimes don't fix things. But, with time, we contemplate coming out from under the duvet, having a shower, a cup of tea, and going for a walk. Trust me, we really do.
I bumped into an old friend at the weekend who I hadn't seen (until recently) for perhaps a decade. In the intervening time we have both been divorced. Me so long ago that I sometimes don't believe it actually happened and wonder instead if it was a dream, and my friend fairly recently. We sat and admired a beautiful view and chatted. There is so much I have to say about divorce, never knowing the right format for that, but I'll start with one post here.
I am thankful for the change in my outlook which the divorce enabled, or instigated. I am thankful in the same way I am thankful for the brief glimpse into mental illness that panic attacks gave me. Whilst I wouldn't wish either on you, things can bring about a much-needed change in perspective and I see more colour, or maybe more grey, in the world than previously. I wouldn't change that for the world.
So here is the first tip for you if you have friends going through divorce:
1. Be nice
It is a really shitty time for both people, whatever your view on the specifics. This doesn't have to be with words so don't worry if you don't have positive things to say; I remember those who left a dinner party they were hosting to come straight over to give me a hug when I told them, the sisters who housed me, those who suffered endless conversations, those who listened to my real thoughts, and those who made it clear they were still very much there and walking with me through it. I'll be thankful for them till my final breath. Some thought I was doing the right thing, some didn't, some couldn't care less. And some changed their view later. Plus, imagine what taking sides will mean if they reconcile. Awks.
So, be kind to one another...
Maybe to be continued. Who knows...