By Gwenn Voelckers
I recently heard from an “In Good Health” reader.
Divorced and on her own for several years now, she shared by email how much she appreciated my advice and encouraging words over the years.
I was touched by her kindness and also curious. I wanted to learn more about her journey in search of contentment after her marriage ended.
And so began an email exchange in which she shared her early struggles, as well as her efforts to make ends meet, stay connected with others and, ultimately, find joy.
With her permission (and using her first name only), I’ve included portions of Kathy’s email correspondence below, in hopes her story might offer some insights and inspiration for other readers.
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KATHY: I opted to end my unhappy marriage and initiate a divorce about five years ago. Since then, I’ve been on my own.
It wasn’t easy at the beginning. I was surprised to discover that many of my married friends no longer included me in things, maybe fearing I was some kind of threat.
But, I also dropped the ball. I made my daughter the singular focus in my life, and lost contact with family and friends alike. Over time, I developed the attitude that I had nothing to offer and slid into a mild depression, during which my world became very small.
Finances were another issue. I was a stay-at-home mom and enjoyed caring for my daughter but, after my split, found it necessary to get a job to make ends meet.
Kathy, like many divorced women (including myself), found herself bewildered and fearful of the future when her marriage collapsed. For many, the experience of having a marriage of many years unravel is not unlike becoming the victim of an unwelcome catastrophe.
No matter what, and even though more Americans are waiting longer to walk down the aisle, most of us still hold onto the dream of “happily ever after.” That dream is powerful. Letting go of it can seem next to impossible.
While getting and being divorced can feel overwhelming, most women (and men, too) press on and, lo and behold, experience a change in attitude and perspective that ultimately enriches their lives and opens up possibilities — possibilities they couldn’t have imagined when they were in pain and the throes of loss.
KATHY: It’s taken me time to get it together. I went back to college and graduated with a degree in nursing. Nursing keeps me busy, but now my only child is preparing to leave for college.
Life will be very different (and a lot quieter) without her here, so I am being proactive. I like to be physically active, so I joined a walking group and became a member of the YMCA. I also recently joined Meetup, which was reactivated after a hiatus during COVID. It’s social, it’s fun, and I’ve met some great people on my Meetup excursions.
Note: Meetup is an online social networking program that gives members a chance to find and join others who share common interests — things such as hiking, reading, food, movies, pets, photography, hobbies …well, you get the idea.
KATHY: I also make a point of getting out more with my colleagues at work. And, I’m no longer waiting for an invitation; I’m initiating the get-togethers. That feels good!
Reading your columns — always so positive and full of great tips — inspired me to take better care of myself, to get up off the couch, and to make healthy decisions. I often clip them out and hang [them] on the fridge.
I’ve learned that even small changes can make a big difference in my day. I now create a nice place setting for dinner, stock my cupboards with healthy food, and try to keep my kitchen counter clear of clutter.
I put a sweet “Welcome Home!” wreath on my front door, replaced some threadbare towels in my bathroom, and purchased a pretty comforter for my bed. These small changes and others turned my house into a home — my home.
While few women and men consciously decide to live singly, more and more are finding themselves alone and on their own in midlife. The good news? Like Kathy, they are making healthy choices and learning to enjoy their newfound freedom and independence.
KATHY: After my divorce, I had this dreaded thought that I would be alone for the rest of my life. I identified with Whistler’s Mother, in a dowdy dress and rocker. I now realize that just because I choose to live alone does not mean that I am alone: I have many people around me and I am very content.
I am no longer frantically seeking the next relationship or the next big thing that will cause excitement in my life. I am happy to spend time at home alone, or to go out with friends. I even date from time to time.
As I’ve embraced my singlehood, I have also realized that I am responsible for the positive changes in my life. That realization is empowering. I’m active, and I’m having fun for the first time in many years.
On her own, Kathy has fashioned a life that works well for her. You can, too. Being single can give you the time you need to sustain a diverse and interesting network of friends, to date, to pursue your professional or personal aspirations, and to experience adventures yet to be imagined.
Below are some final words from Kathy, in answer to my question: What advice do you have for others?
KATHY: My advice? Don’t close yourself off from people. It’s so easy to stay home, dig a rut and wallow in it — but that’s a big mistake. Grab the Weekend section of the newspaper, check out Meetup, or look at an online “What’s Doing” calendar. Find something interesting and fun to do. Go … even if you have to go alone. Who knows what you might discover?!
Kathy has found her “happily ever after.”
Gwenn Voelckers is the founder and facilitator of Alone and Content, empowerment workshops for women and author of “Alone and Content,” a collection of inspiring essays for those who live alone. For information about her workshops, to purchase her book, or invite her to speak, visit www.aloneandcontent.com