For years, during my marriage, I attended a Super Bowl party at the home of a very nice family. It was fine, save for the fact that I don't like seven-layer dip, I hate football, and I didn’t relate to anyone there. But when you’re married, you do these things because your kids are friends with those people’s kids, your husband works with that guy, and going along is the easiest, most amenable route.
There are times in your life when you choose to make huge changes, and then there are times when change happens whether you like it or not. Going off to college was a big, welcome shift that gave me the opportunity to meet new people and reinvent myself in ways I could never have done with people who had known me since I was a ten-year-old skateboarding tomboy not keen on washing her hair.
Divorce was a seismic shift in my life, too, one that had a tsunami-like effect on the structure of my world, my identity, and my social life. At my lowest point I had to unfollow people on Facebook because their glamorous lives consisted of announcing—while dangling from zip lines in Belize or sipping lattes in Sienna—their gratitude for the soul mate they were celebrating their fifteenth anniversary with.
Unfriending in real life happened for various reasons. Some friends stayed away as though my divorce were catching. It reminded me of one of my favorite scenes in Woody Allen’s Husbands and Wives. Woody Allen’s character, Gabe, and Mia Farrow’s character, Judy, are shocked and gutted by their best friends’ announcement that they’re separating. Gabe demands, “How can you break up? That’s insane! You’re Jack and Sally. You have two kids!” Judy has to sit down. “I feel sick. I’m just shattered!” Sally, the one whose marriage is actually breaking up, says, “Come on, let’s eat.” Judy replies, “What do you mean? ‘Come on, let’s eat?’ Come on? I can’t eat!”
Some of my friends seemed to react like my divorce was their tragedy. Or like I was in "Sophie’s Choice": The Divorce Version. They didn’t know if they were supposed to choose my ex or me.
Others choose to avoid the messiness and ugliness of the split altogether, perhaps to protect their own emotions, like the friends who avoid hospitals when you’re sick, because hospitals freak them out.
Some friends disappeared because they were his before the marriage, like his well-worn Let It Bleed vinyl or the awesome Parisian cafe chairs I also had to part with. Others succumbed to lifestyle drift; some married-with-children-friends just weren’t free to grab a last-minute drink and hear some music with the now co-parenting, sometimes-child-free me.
The good news in all this? As I discovered, there are ways to survive the social upheaval of divorce and use it to make new friends—ones whose lifestyle and interests may actually match yours better.
How do you do that? Here are four things I tried:
1. Indulge a new interest.
Take a class in screenwriting, acting, cooking, or whatever it is you are passionate about. It will get you out of the house, meeting interesting, like-minded people. If you are in a frame of mind to date, you might find this is a much more relaxed environment to meet people than a crowded bar full of twenty-somethings. My friend Kim, a divorcee in New York City, took classes in jewelry design at the 92nd Street Y. She loved the creative outlet, and also realized how desperately she needed to get out of her house, out of her head, and away from small children for a few hours of adult socializing.
Cathy, a divorcee and mother in Los Angeles, set herself the New Year's resolution of moving beyond her comfort zone. She signed up for hip hop lessons at a studio in downtown Santa Monica. “It was intimidating at first; I really needed to clear my head and focus each time I did it,” she says. “I’ve kept it up since then. It’s helped me balance work, kids, myself. And I ended up meeting some really great people.”
2. Reconnect with old friends and old interests.
After separation, I was happy to get reacquainted with an old friend who moved out to L.A. from New York, also newly separated, and went to hear music once a week with him—something I hadn’t done in years because my husband did not like hanging out in bars, and he wasn’t much for going to hear bands. I also indulged my love of hiking, flea markets, exploring downtown L.A., all things foodie, and I connected with friends who loved doing those things, too.
3. Take a hike (or other adventure).
If you love hiking, canoeing, or biking, sign up for an adventurous trip. I learned this one from my 80-something divorced mother. She took very adventurous trips, in groups. Not only did she make great friends on her various trips, but she also she met her long-term boyfriend, Tony, on a hiking trip in Bulgaria. Tony lives in England, so he and my mom meet up every three or four months, planning great trips to see each other, or meet up in Mexico, Tuscany or Spain.
The Internet has made adventure trips of all kinds accessible. If you love to be in nature and around other nature-lovers, check out the Sierra Club's adventure vacations. MeetUp.com has a group for international adventure seekers. For snow ski lovers, there are great group trips that head to Mammoth from Los Angeles, and include lodging and social events. Or check out a single ski trip in the Rockies.
4. Give back.
I spoke to a happy survivor of divorce, Carmen Lynch, who turned to volunteering as a way to get out of the house, meet people, and feel a part of something bigger. Carmen had always volunteered at her kids’ schools, but during divorce she became a Meals on Wheels driver. She ended up bonding and befriending many of the elderly people she met on her rounds, particularly one couple, named Julie and Pau. “What an amazing feeling to see people’s faces light up when you walk into the room,” Carmen said, urging me to try it. “You know you’re the only person they’re probably going to see that day. It’s impossible to think about your problems when you’re out in the world and spreading a little bit of love.”
I’ve come out the other side of my divorce happier and healthier. The friendships that buoyed through it were a mix of some old, and a lot of new. Together they make up a tapestry that enriches my life now in so many ways. I feel inspired, encouraged and very lucky in the friends I now have.
Rebecca Cullen is a television writer and mother of two in Los Angeles who recently separated from her husband, after 20 years of marriage. She's now writing about her new single life.