3 Tips For When Old Friends Desert You While Coping with Divorce

By: Kat Forsythe MSW
Last Update: December 11, 2017

Be prepared: trusted support systems may crumble just as you are coping with divorce.

Divorce upended my life; I moved to another city, resettled in an apartment one third the size of my former family room, and redesigned my life to include morning meditation to fight the depression and loneliness. I walked into concerts by myself, single, alone. I became available for the tiniest coffee dates to make new friends. I followed my own divorce advice: If it’s to be, it’s up to me.

What I didn’t account for, however, was managing the things that weren’t up to me – the pieces of my life outside of my control. The loss of lifelong friends was one of those happenings, a divorce fallout out of my control.

My lifelong friends had been my perpetual support. When I felt invisible, I could call them to verify that I was a worthwhile individual on a rough patch of ice. They’d reassure me that I’d make it. Thus it was with my old kindergarten friend Penny, who begged me to move back to the Midwest. She painted scenarios of floating on her lake, singing our old 3rd grade tunes, laughing, giggling. Nirvana, until I did it.

When I arrived back in Michigan, I left behind fifteen years of San Francisco living. Returning meant I’d come full circle. I’d left the Midwest as a young adult, and now I was back where I started. Bittersweet, to say the least. On one hand, I missed the Bay Area dreadfully. On the other hand, I was happy to be with “my people,” though I knew only a handful.

Penny was my safety net. We planned weekends at her lake house, where we’d cuddle up on the couch for our profound "bff" talks, sip Pinot Noir, and feel secure in the home she’d loved for 30-plus years with her lifetime soul mate John.

Choose Your Support System Carefully When Coping with Divorce

It didn’t work out that way. When I got to her house, it got ugly; friction in the air. Penny kept me an arm’s length away. She asked me to stop being so nice to John. Nice? I was just bubbling with the happiness of landing softly at a safe place for the weekend. She said, “When you’re so nice, it makes me look bad.”

I was shocked, but in retrospect, it made sense. She saw me as threat. I was no longer that unhappy married woman. Lifelong friend or not, I’d become her nemesis. I was divorced, single, lonely, and scared. Her marriage was crippled with the boredom blues that lifetime marriages experience. Voila, the perfect storm. She resented me and her fear blinded her to the joy of our years of friendship. Would his wandering eye would land on me? Insecurity got the best of her. She didn’t want me in her home and I left early. I’ve heard nothing since, except the roar of silence. My safety net disappeared.

The Question for Folks Coping with Divorce

How do you keep it all in perspective so that it doesn’t become another crushing loss during divorce?

  1. Don’t take it personally: Tell yourself my favorite phrase, “I choose not be offended.” This isn’t easy! Nonetheless, who owns the problem here? Your friend owns it, not you. He/she has changed the rules, not you. She/he is going through their own struggles and you happen to be in the middle. It doesn’t make it any easier, it isn’t fair, and it still hurts. But, it gives you permission not to obsess about it and to move on. Not your problem. Not your responsibility. Let him/her own his/her own problems.
  2. Hold a place in your heart for your friend, and move on: Don’t add more drama to the mix. Gently let go for now, and tell yourself that you’ll hold a place for him/her in your heart, ready to be ignited when the time is right. You have enough on your plate right now. Don’t try to fix something that is not yours to fix. In most cases, your long-time friend will circle back to you down the road.
  3. This is the perfect time for the Alcoholics Anonymous "Serenity Prayer": You can’t change your friend and you can’t change the situation. You can only change your own actions and thoughts.

If you don’t know this prayer, pay attention. It could save your mental health. If you know it, say it with me:

God (omit the word “god” if it doesn’t suit you), grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Happily, this loss forced me to reach out to new people, and create new friendships faster. When there’s no safety net, you try harder. People disappoint, let you down and say nasty things; it’s life. When an old friend deserts you, it’s a deep cut. It’s easy to crawl in a corner and lick your wounds. You have a new life to create. Take a deep breath and know that you can go on without them, at least for now. They’ll be back at some point.

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