Divorce and Friendships: It’s Complicated.

By Jackie Pilossoph, Editor-in-chief, Divorced Girl Smiling, Love Essentially columnist and author

Going through a divorce is probably one of the most stressful times you’ll ever go through in your life. It’s a good thing you have your girlfriends there to support you! Or do you? When it comes to divorce and friendships, maybe not. Things can get really complicated.

I can remember at the beginning of my divorce, one of my really good friends (who had been my friend for a several years ) babysat my kids while I had to go to court and seriously sat there holding my hand throughout the first few months of my separation. I can’t even count the number of times I went to her house and she was ready with a bottle of wine and a homemade meal. I felt beyond lucky to have her. I really opened up to her, I cried to her, and she listened and comforted me. It was a gift.

But as time went on, and things started to get better for me, things began to change. She stopped calling. She stopped returning my calls. She stopped making plans with me. When I called to tell her I met someone, she never called me back. When I called to share the news that I had a book being published, I never heard back. I must have invited her and her family over to my house for dinner 25 times and she declined every time. It took awhile, but I finally got the message that she didn’t want to be friends with me anymore. I’ve always wondered why, but ask any woman on earth and she will have a similar story. Every woman has had a girlfriend dump her.

I think the timing of the dumping is interesting, though, which relates to this blog post. I really think there are some women who will be there for you through the bad times of your divorce, but who want nothing to do with you when you get your life together. I always found that strange, but a number of women tell me they have similar stories.

The best kind of friend is someone who is there for you during both the bad times and the good times. Someone who you can sob to during unbearably sad times, and someone who will truly be happy for you when something amazing happens.

I can remember at the beginning of my divorce, a lot of people wanted to go out with me, meaning have drinks or dinner or lunch. My phone was really ringing off the wall at that time, and I’d meet these people, and tell them all about why I was getting divorced, and then I wouldn’t hear from them again. I began to wonder if they just wanted to get together to hear the scoop of what happened in my marriage. Maybe they were curious. Maybe they wanted to compare my story with THEIR marriage. Or, maybe they were just being kind and wanted to show support. I really don’t have anything against those people, but I think it’s interesting.

What also ended up happening at the beginning of my divorce was that I met a woman in my kickboxing class who was also getting divorced. We went out to dinner and became instant best friends. We still are today. Over the next couple of years, several women at our gym started getting separated, and they would come up to one of us and start crying. Looking back, it was kind of funny. She and I became the “go to” people for divorcees. But it was a good feeling to be able to provide someone with some comfort. Just seeing me kickboxing and looking normal probably made women think, “Okay, she went through a divorce and she seems like she’s doing pretty well.”

I think that when it comes to divorce and friendships, you lose some friends because of the divorce, but you make new friends, or people you didn’t know very well become good friends. Throughout our lives, friends come in and out of our worlds, and it largely depends on our circumstances and how much we have in common with those people.

Of course, there are always the true friends who remain your friend no matter what your marital status is. I’d say the bulk of my friends fall into that category. They love me (and I love them) no matter what.

The friends you lose, you have to just accept it. They might feel like they have to choose you or your ex, and they choose your ex. Or, they might be married, and feel funny or threatened spending too much time with a single woman. Or, maybe they just don’t feel like the two of you have anything in common anymore after you get divorced.

In any case, my advice is try not to take it personally. It’s THEM, not you. THEY can’t handle your divorce. Or THEY can’t handle the happiness that follows your divorce, because maybe they become envious.

Focus on the friends who want to be your friend, the friends who enrich your life, the friends you admire and respect, the friends you have fun with, and the friends you would do anything for. They are the real gifts and I think you know who they are!

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Jackie Pilossoph

Editor-in-chief: Jackie Pilossoph

Divorce is a journey. Live it with grace, courage and gratitude. Peace and joy are on the way! Jackie Pilossoph is the creator and Editor-In-Chief of Divorced Girl Smiling. The author of the novels, Divorced Girl Smiling and Free Gift With Purchase, Pilossoph also writes the weekly dating and relationships advice column, “Love Essentially”, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press and the Chicago Tribune online. Additionally, she is a Huffington Post contributor. Pilossoph holds a Masters degree in journalism from Boston University.

12 Responses to “Divorce and Friendships: It’s Complicated.”

  1. Mellymel

    I am at the place in my separation where I am finally coming to grips with the up coming divorce, but I am scared to share my secret with friends or family.
    I have only told one other friend, but now thinking I told the wrong friend. I’m not sure why a can’t confess yet. It sounds silly, but the only person I’ve confided in is my brother. I feel that my family really loved my soon to be ex, and I think I will disappoint them.

    Reply
  2. Doug, Chicago

    We’ve all heard the saying “you don’t know who your friends are until something happens.” I always took that to be a warning against “fair-weather friends” that disappoint you. But when “something happened” to me (my marriage came apart) I was introduced to a more wonderful meaning for that expression … I discovered the friends who I never expected to be “first responders” … who ran into the flames and took the full blast of the fire with me … the ones I never imagined had it in them because life had not yet presented the circumstances that allowed them to shine. That was an amazing surprise. Their kindness was a “silver lining” (a “free gift with purchase”) of an otherwise terrible time.

    So it is probably worth remembering that sometimes those same people don’t know how to BE after they’ve been their best … they don’t know how to return to “normal” … when the fire is out they feel awkward and out of sync … they may have lifted a car off your back and now don’t know how to look you in the eye … perhaps they’re embarrassed by their own vulnerability that was revealed … sometimes they return to being an awkward Clark Kent.

    After a fire, the firemen pack-up and leave the rebuilding to others. It’s not an insult. They just don’t know how to do the rebuilding part. If you’ve lost friends in this way, it’s great to have compassion for them and for yourself. Instead of feeling “dumped” you can feel grateful for the help when it came. Instead of assuming they resent you for recovering, perhaps just feel blessed that they freely offered help when it was needed. When I think back at those times and of those friends, I have to smile at both their generosity and my good fortune. They were great friends at a particular time and in a particular context. And like any friend in life, I was lucky to have their friendship when I did.

    Reply
    • Cindy

      Thank you for writing that. I walked away from a friend who I had helped and hugged through divorce and I now get to hear I am jealous of her. I don’t understand that logic. Honestly, I am not jealous, I am tired. Everything is good for her now – new job, new husband, new life. That is so great. But with that, comes a new role and new relationship with her. I’m too tired to do the work that entails. I hope that doesn’t sound awful. I spent a lot of time with her during those dark hours and now want to refocus on my own family and life again. I hope that’s understood by those who want to label their support system during a tough time as “envious”. Understand we are just tired and maybe tell yourself that instead of judging, you will help someone going through the same thing sometime. Then you will understand.

      Reply
  3. Josh Hoch

    Divorce is “Social” too. You do “divorce” friends, activities, memberships and more. Having a few friends nearby when divorcing can be very helpful in terms of a support network. When telling friends and family about divorce, I often encourage people to frame it as an opportunity. “This is an opportunity for things to be better or me and my children” or “I know I’ll be in better place once we work out the terms of the divorce and that everything is going to be okay”. I also hear from lots of couples that they became better friends after the divorce. After the stress, anger, and/or hurt has had time to pass and heal. Stay positive!

    Reply
  4. Adele

    Hi Doug,

    It’s interesting that you used the word “fireman” when I used the word “warrior”. She doesn’t seem to know what to do with me other than being a warrior to save me. I truly am thankful for what she brought into my life. It doesn’t matter that she is now keeping a distance. I’ll be there if I know she needs me some day. But I’ll pray that she doesn’t need me at all.

    Reply
    • Doug, Chicago

      Adele, I think I understand what you’re saying. Some people are limited in their tools for interacting and those tools can feel blunt or abrasive … simply not the right tools for you when you’re no longer on the battlefield. I would only offer that the irritation you feel is itself an invitation for you to bring compassion to this person who has limitations born of injury … her outsized instinct to be a “warrior” is a reveal of battle scars of her own … she is trying to hug you but is impeded by her own hard-earned body armor. When someone arrives with the gift of friendship, no matter how imperfectly delivered, I find there is still magic in the gesture that is affirming, life enhancing and worthy of my attention and gratitude. Best, Doug

      Reply
  5. Johanna

    I have a friend who is recently divorced and I now want to walk away too. Here’s why. We met before she got married. Even as they were dating, he cheated on her constantly and i was always a shoulder to cry on. As someone who loved her, it was painful to watch as she allowed this man to constantly put her through drama. I begged her to just walk away from him and find a guy who loves and appreciates her, instead she married him. Even though I didn’t agree with this, i was supportive. All throughout their two year marriage i remained her shoulder to cry on as he (surprise, surprise) continued his cheating ways. Eventually something terrible happened that finally woke her up and she decided to leave him. I continued being there for her during this time. When her divorce came through, I felt like a soldier returning from war but happy that the emotional rollercoaster was finally over. Except it wasn’t. They share a daughter so now the new drama is about him not stepping up as a dad etc. I get it, but I’m exhausted. I want to be a good friend but feel like I’ve reached the limit of what i can offer without continuing to feel drained and there’s no good way of telling someone that their problems are too much for you. For me it’s been​ over 7 years of dealing with drama related to her now ex. Maybe I’m being a bad friend walking away now when she’s finally walked away from her ex, but I’m tired. She also stopped investing in our relationship during the divorce, investing instead in new friends going through similar situations. Although it hurt, I understood and gave her space. The distance turned out to be a blessing as it helped me realize just how draining the last few years have been for me. Her life is getting back​ on track and although I’m truly happy for her because she deserves it, i like that I’m no longer her bff and want to maintain the distance between us. The friends she made during the divorce have recently moved so she is trying to be close again but to be honest, I’m not interested in being that close anymore where I’m the shoulder to cry on… I’m still exhausted and need some me time. People underestimate the toll on friends and i can totally relate to why it might feel like your friends are abandoning​ you, but if you try look at it from the perspective of them having been a long-term care giver to you and now feel like they need a bit of love, it might help explain. It may not necessarily be that they’re being bad friends or are jealous you’re finally on track. It might be that they’re emotionally spent, feel like they’ve helped you get to the otherside and are now needing to focus inward but don’t know how to tell you that without being the ‘bad friend’.

    Reply
    • Lexa

      I get that you feel spent and horrible after years of performing the actions of a true friend. But really? You want to leave them now? The 10% sadness you dealt with inconveniencing yourself because of your divorced friend was 300% of that persons life at the time. Imagine what they felt at the time and how vulnerable they are to reach out to you. That’s all they thought about. Yeah, maybe they didn’t make the right choice because feeling lost and confused. But real friends speak up or at least don’t abandon friends in crisis or in good times. Sorry for the annoyance they were to you but try to think about what you would want your friends to do in this situation. We all know friends suffer in this situation, that’s why we’re trying to understand and we’re reading blogs. Your comment has a way of kicking people while their already down, very down.

      Reply
      • Millie

        I don’t agree that Johanna’s kicking anyone. I think that there are limits to what friends, even concerned friends, can personally absorb when someone is going through a crisis. Therapists have set office hours, with 50 minute sessions, and they have structure and boundaries and limits around how they do their work. If trained carers don’t think that listening to someone’s emotional upheaval for hours at a time is a best practice, then how can the expectation be that a friend — someone who isn’t trained, who has their own life uproars going on — can absorb that on demand? Caring about someone and taking on the full load of their emotional well-being in real time for as long as they need aren’t the same thing.

        Reply
  6. So confused

    Hello, I am so confused by my best friend. Any insight would be appreciated!!!
    I went through my marital problems completely alone. I never disclosed that we were having any troubles to anyone. The last six months of our two year separation I finally opened up to my best friend. My situation become very toxic. I had to work my entire divorce without lawyers (due to Finances), and did vent to my best friend during the 4month divorce.
    Now I have been divorced for two years and am in a serious relationship. I’m happier then I have ever been. I have asked my best friend to meet my new boyfriend but she refuses. We have been dating for a year and she says “she’s not ready”. I understand that helping a friend through a terrible time can be hard, but i didn’t burden her at all during the marriage. A year and a half later I pushed and asked her why she never asks about my new guy and why she doesn’t want to meet him. All she says is, “ I didn’t know you guys were having problems; then you told me all this stuff about your marriage at the end. I’m just not ready to meet him:”she was Not friends with my ex at all.
    Any constructive insight would be appreciated. Thank you for listening

    Reply
    • Jackie Pilossoph

      I don’t want to judge too harshly, but this woman doesn’t sound like a very good friend. A true friend would be thrilled for you that you have found love again. A true friend would be jumping up and down to meet the new guy. I don’t even know this woman and I’m annoyed. You have done nothing wrong. The fact that you didn’t want to burden anyone with your unhappiness is very selfless. If that’s her excuse for not wanting to meet your new guy, that’s a crappy excuse. I think you should give up and move on. Enjoy your happiness with the guy and let your friend make the next move. Hope that helps.

      Reply

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