When I knew my separation from my husband was looming, I worried a lot about how lonely I would feel once it was all said and done. I’d spent almost nine years surrounded by my kids at every waking moment. How would I feel, suddenly waking up alone in an apartment several days a week, hearing the sounds of other people’s children, and not my own?
But mostly, I worried about the nights. I thought about the loneliness of fixing dinner for one and putting only myself to sleep; of not smelling the tops of my children’s sweet hair before bed.
I worried it might eat me alive.
This kind of being alone wouldn’t be like taking a vacation or a solo-trip to the grocery store (which for a mom, is basically the same thing). Even though I’d had plenty of moments of yearning for alone time over the past decade or so of my life, I knew that being alone like that would feel different. I couldn’t run home on my nights off-duty, and tend to my babies the moment I missed them. I couldn’t interfere in their dad’s time with them, which would be far less than mine anyway.
I would have to learn to step back, step away, and embrace the change.
I had a lot of other fears about what separation would feel like, too — the financial burdens it would cause, the stress it might put on my kids, and so much more. But being alone seemed to top them all. It had been years since I’d had almost any time to myself, and even though I imagined that in some ways I wanted it, a fear of the unknown still took hold.
Now that I’m here, fully entrenched in my new life — where I spend several nights a week away from my kids and wake alone to the rising sun, instead of their hot morning breath — I do have moments of sadness. But I know this is normal. Most people I know who’ve been through this before have warned me: This may very well be the loneliest, most gut-wrenching time of your life. But you just have to get through it.
In some ways, I’ve already found that they were right. On my first visit to the apartment my husband and I swap out of each week, I cried all night, sobbing hysterically until I had no tears left. Then I collapsed into a bed I bought from a stranger and covered in clean sheets. I slept longer and harder than I had in years, emotionally drained from my first night without my children in the next room.
In these moments, I worried that this deep-dark yearning I felt within me might never fade, that I’d never be okay in my new living situation, that I’d always grieve the end of my family as I knew it. I was terrified that I’d feel the tug of loneliness forever and there’d be no way to stop it. After all, this was the sadness everyone had been talking about. I was in it and there was no turning back.
But despite it all, I wanted to move forward.
So I kept talking to other women. I joined online groups for divorced mothers. I found myself being invited to dinners for single moms. My female neighbors, all happily married, took me out for tacos and tequila and wouldn’t let me pay for a thing. My oldest friends came knocking, texting, calling, and inviting me out on my off-duty nights. I received messages of support from women who were practically strangers.
Soon, I realized I scarcely had the time to feel alone. Because even though my life was changing, I had friends and acquaintances circling around me, waiting for the right moment to lend a hand, offer a drink, or give me some words of encouragement.
At times, it was almost too much to keep up with. But knowing it was there anyway propelled me. It helped me find the forward motion I’d be searching for.
I listened when women who had been right where I was told me, “I promise, it gets better.” And to my surprise, I didn’t have to try very hard to believe them. Deep down, I knew it would get better, because it had already begun to. Before I had too much time to feel devastated, I began to feel rejuvenated by all of the support that had surrounded me, both forcefully and intentionally. It started to uplift me; and then, it planted me firmly in my new life.
The most unexpected surprise of the ending of my marriage is just how intensely other women have shown up for me; and how they’ve rallied around me at every possible turn. These communities of women, from friends and neighbors, older women who’ve been divorced, and women who’ve never experienced it, have always been there. But now that I really need them, they’ve shown up in a new way. There is so much support coming at me from all angles, I can barely keep up. I don’t have to look far to find someone to talk to. In fact, I don’t really have to look at all.
While women are often pegged against one another — we’re said to be constantly judging one another’s choices, competing for attention, or told we’re each other’s enemies — I see something much different.
I see strength in connectedness and compassion. I see the desire to help, to listen, and to sincerely root for each other. Scarcely have I felt judged, beaten down, or belittled. While it’s happened, yes, it’s been so rare that it’s hardly worth mentioning. The support has been far more impactful and unwavering. And it’s the support that I will cling to and always remember years from now, when I’m even more firmly planted.
But even then, I won’t forget this feeling.
In essence, my life change has given me something I never expected: a deep and meaningful adoration of the women in my life, and the women who came into my life. I’m floored by how they knew how to nurture and support and simply be there. This collective strength of women has pushed me through one of the most challenging times I’ve ever been through, and it’s changed my experience of it altogether.
As I watch how much harder it is for my ex to find support as a man navigating his own struggles with our separation, I can’t help but feel immensely lucky and grateful. Because unlike him, I don’t have to try so hard; I get to feel unrelenting support without searching.
I’ve never been more grateful for this sisterhood of women than I am now, and I’ll never again doubt for even a second that it exists. For once I truly know, without question, that I’ll never really be alone — because women, at least the women in my life, are even better than I thought. And I already thought they were pretty damn good to begin with.More On