Update 8.13.12 – The Huffington Post published this piece!
I started drafting this during my divorce as a response to well-intentioned friends who kept asking what they could do for me. I was at a loss as how to reply (make me not hurt? speed up time? buy me a house far away?) and started jotting down moments when I felt loved or special or smiled – and the list grew. While no one can remove the pain, they can ease it. Here are 12 things people did that actually helped:
1. Sent me flowers at the office – from the family dog.
Not only was this just the cutest idea, but the flowers were perky and colorful. And since they were from a dog I had a story to tell that didn’t involve me talking about the soon-to-be ex-hubby. Looking at them on my desk gave me a smile.
2. Included me in family traditions and meals.
Even if it was out of pity, I appreciated it. It made me feel wanted and like good company, and forced me to talk to people rather than (only) eat boxes of mac ‘n cheese on the floor. These outings often meant I didn’t have to cook for one. (Don’t underestimate how awful cooking alone becomes compared to the ritual of cooking with someone else). This is one of the best gifts to give someone feeling lonely—the gift of inclusion.
3. Promised to introduce me to any eligible, worthy single men they knew.
This was important because I needed the hope. And a reason to wear eyeliner and care if I flossed. This led to some very interesting blind dates, as well as some lessons in love and even a few great guy friends. I didn’t always say yes to the offers, but I’m glad for the ones I did.
4. Cried with me.
Friends cried WITH me because I was sad. This was so unexpected and unexperienced that I was deeply touched. I remember sobbing in my friend’s driveway, then looking and seeing her eyes brimming with tears. Someone cared enough to hurt alongside me — which made me feel valuable at a time when I felt like utter shit. Kudos to those dear allies who held me, fed me and let me bawl on their couches, beds, floors, driveways, sidewalks, office chairs, shoulders, cars…
5. Let me give back to them.
It’s hard to feel needy and lonely and stuck in a dark cloud all the time. I wanted opportunities to give back to those who welcomed me while I was a mess. I did this by babysitting, making meals, volunteering to help set up parties, running interference at their uncomfortable family gatherings, recommending hair products or salons, listening, cat-sitting — anything that allowed me to offer a small gesture of gratitude in return for all the support I received.
6. Ignored the ‘judgment’ button and pushed down the “human” button.
I may have turned pink when I shared my walk(s) of shame, but the truest friends didn’t tsk-tsk or lecture. They asked with a smirk, “Was it good?” and “Is that a new shirt?” It is MY life and I have responsibility for it. Support the sometimes questionable decisions, and also let us vent about the disappointments – even if you saw them coming. Now is not the time to opine on the scientific validity of psychotherapy when you know we’re going 3x a week.
7. Allowed me to NOT talk about the divorce.
On occasion I wanted to listen to other people’s lives to get out of my own head. Sometimes I needed to NOT talk about the dissolution of my marriage so I could pretend to feel normal, and not solely identified as “the friend going through a divorce.” Don’t worry about complaining about your life, stress, jobs, and amusing moments. I want to hear about your struggles and realize that your life isn’t perfect either. Just try not to one-up us on horrible divorce stories.
8. Complimented me.
One of the lasting pains of divorce is the feeling of utter rejection from someone who vowed to love me for life. Combating the pervasive question of “What is wrong with me that made them leave?” is not a simple or quick process. I made lists of nice things people said to me during the day just to focus on positive interactions. Here’s to Caribou coffee guy saying my nose stud was cute, and to jealous colleague sending me a nice email, and to the creepy video man saying my shoes and suit were nice, and to the old men at the bar saying that I looked like a movie star, and the drunk concert hipster who said my hair was awesome. There can never be too many compliments in the world, and since your friend is feeling particularly unloved, your words bolster them. Be the person they add to their list of ‘nice moments today.’
9. Took care of me when I was weary to the bone.
There is so much emotional effort involved in divorce and maintaining sanity. The transition from a twosome to a single is tiring. All the time. And suddenly we don’t have a person to make soup or bring us kleenex or lay our head on, which doubles the misery. When I got sick after drinking too much, a kind boy held my hair, cleaned me up, and texted my sis that I was fine. When I was grouchy at work, a girl dragged me to yoga and loaned me an outfit. When I was too tired to leave home, no one make fun of me. When I fell on the ice, a colleague bought me a bar of chocolate. When I called bawling from a restaurant, a darling lady told me to taxi over – and then fed me buttered toast while I sniffled on her couch, wrapped in a Snuggie. The thing is, your friend IS capable and independent and doesn’t need a man or a woman to complete them. But sometimes they forget.
10. Offered to beat up my ex.
I adored this offer. And I loved that it came mostly from boys – including my dad. (Okay, so maybe my dad drafted an entire assassination plan, which I only recently learned about…), but the point is this sentiment warmed my heart. It still does.
11. Accompanied me to difficult, divorce-related events.
The day my soon-to-be ex was moving out, I thought I could handle seeing him and his sister pack up “his” pile. When that delusion quickly vanished in a pool of tears I called a friend. We made pizza at her place while I waited for the “all finished” text. Then she asked if I wanted her to come inside and see the place together. I would never have thought to ask, but it was exactly what I wanted – a steady hand to see the condo for the first time stripped bare—just how my heart felt. I was terrified at what I’d find, and she bolstered my spirits by walking around with me.
12. Agreed to hare-brained ideas.
Look, I knew you didn’t want to go clubbing; you were tired, stressed, had a family/child/pet waiting for you and a mountain of dirty laundry to tackle. Yes, you gave up sake bombs years ago and certainly don’t have any flag football skills to speak of. But when I needed to try new activities, I had friends who said yes. They were game! They were willing to step outside their comfort zones to prioritize time with me while I spread my tender, new wings in the social and dating arenas. Say yes when your divorcing friend asks you to try something. At the least, it’ll make for an entertaining story.
Let your humanity shine: listen, compliment, be thoughtful, respond sincerely to your friend’s needs and withhold judgment. And give chocolate, lots and lots of chocolate.