Divorce can be terribly lonely – especially in the beginning, especially for men who often internalize personal stuff. Well, guys, you’re hardly alone. This year, over a million American men will face divorce – and then there’s the million guys from last year, and the millions more from the years before that.
So why does it feel so lonely? Well, we’re not really the kinds of guys who say to our golf buddies on the second tee, “Hey, can I vent about my divorce for a minute?” or, “Guys, I need a hug.” No. The problem’s a personal one, and so are the solutions. So what can you do to shore yourself up and know that you’re not alone, and that you’re going to be OK?
When a touring pro has trouble with his golf swing, when a major league hitter tries to work his way out of a slump, or when a business’s sales start to lag, what’s the first thing the pros do? They go back to the basics.
Here’s how for guys who are divorcing.
1. Find in yourself the person you were when you came into the marriage. If you used to like to go fishing, find your old fishing buddies (the ones she couldn’t stand because they ‘took you away from her’) and go fishing. If you used to like playing softball, do some stretches (!), pull out the mitt and find a team. If you liked to paint landscapes, find an art class and get yourself an easel. How about the dusty one that’s still up there in the garage rafters? You’ll gain strength because you’ll be with people with interests similar to yours, and you’re ‘becoming your old self’ again.
2. Get a tune up. Drag your tail into the gym or strap on the running shoes and kick-start the exercise regime. Eat better. It will help bring back the vigor you need to confront your new circumstances. Plus you’ll look and feel better – and that gives you confidence which inevitably draws others to you.
3. Find your community. If you used to go to church, or to your synagogue or mosque, but life ‘pulled you away,’ go back and get involved. You’ll feel that sense of belonging that’s important at this time, not to mention you’re reviving your spiritual life, which will shore you up from inside.
4. Find a special common interest with each of your children. If your son loves baseball, take him to games and start following interesting players together. If your daughter loves clothes, develop an interest in costumes you can share with her, and take her on field trips to museums and shows. If you don’t have children, take your niece or nephew. Kids see the new and wonderful in things you may miss – and their joy and curiosity is contagious. Catch it!
5. Create new traditions. Take the kids to a fun theme park and plan to make it an annual gig. Take your kids or friends to a local dive restaurant known for amazing pancakes – and plan for regular visits. Go camping with your kids or friends and bring along an unexpected treat to make it even more special, like the fixins for s’mores or bananas foster on the campfire (just don’t get burned, cowboy). Turn it into a tradition you share with your kids or pals. Everyone loves looking forward to fun planned events, no matter how small.
6. Become that fun guy you used to be. Want to feel some real love? Go ahead, get the Santa suit, tuck the pillow into the front and surprise the kids at that Christmas party you were dreading. Or live a little, pull out the grill and offer to cook hamburgers and hot dogs at the school field day or for the veterans after the local parade. Or, take a cooking class. If the custody of your children is at issue, you’ll want to make the chow at your house as tasty as it can be. If custody’s not at issue, you’ll be more fun in the kitchen for your friends and new companions.
Everybody’s glad you’re back!
7. Pull out the old drum set. So you were a garage bander – you even had some buddies who thought you were good. Who cares what your soon-to-be ex thought. She’s history. You’re you, and you’re back. You’ll be amazed how quickly you’ll find some guys – or gals (probably who’ve gone through divorces themselves) who want to join your band.
8. Make some extra money. We all know divorce is expensive. Work harder at your day job, and for a new night job, follow a passion of yours. If you love cars and you’re handy with them, fix up a ’56 Chevy and sell it well. If silver’s your thing, study the values and then comb the junk stores. Shine up the bargains you find and sell them well on eBay or at the local flea market. Value is created when a sharp eye and elbow grease get together.
9. Look up an old friend. Wives and marriages have a way of closing guys off from some of their old pals. Check a couple of those doors and see which one or two swing open easily.
10. Tip your hat to your competitive side. Exercise moderation here, but this can be fun and liberating. If the ex always demanded to decorate every corner of the house, do a good job decorating a room or two at your new place. Work at it. Consult professionals, but you be the general who calls the shots your own way. If the ex always handled all the travel arrangements, book yourself a trip and dig into the details. If she was the party-planner, throw yourself a first-class party. Nothing tastes sweeter than the forbidden fruit. Then, other than this one self-indulgence, don’t think about her. When you look back, look back to before the marriage. But don’t look back. Look forward. The best is yet to be.
E.B.Gunn is a journalist, investment banker and political consultant. He is the author of The Gentleman’s Guide to the Nasty Divorce and The Gentleman’s Guide to Cooking Through a Child Custody Battle, both published this month by GunShy Press. He is happily married to his third wife and he has many children.