Submitted by: Erica Manfred
You were divorced and alone, how did you manage to get through the initial period of intense loneliness?
First you must distinguish aloneness from loneliness. We live in a culture that works to diminish a woman’s sense of self. We are still stuck with the archetype of spinster which resides in the collective unconscious. It’s very different from the archetype of the bachelor. A spinster is seen as a dried up, desiccated, a throw away figure, while the bachelor is seen as debonair and eligible. Until women grow comfortable and can stretch out into themselves they carry a lot of shame.
It’s very important for women to also meet in communities and understand they’re not alone. When I give talks I let women know I’m not an aberration because I enjoy living alone.
How did you turn aloneness into a positive?
Aloneness is a neutral state. You need to take away the coloration—which is almost always negative. When I say aloneness, people hear it as loneliness as if they were interchangeable. The distinction matters. Aloneness is part of the human condition. One of the ways we get in touch with ourselves is to really enter aloneness—from there you find your way into solitude. It is frightening at first, but it gets easier.
How do you reach that state?
Everyone has had the experience of peace walking on the beach, reading, taking yoga, when there’s a lot of silence around you with no distractions. Our culture is endlessly fueling us to be distracted; it wants us to buy more, use the cell phone, stay temporarily occupied and temporarily satisfied. You’re bucking that.
You need to figure out what you need in order to feel more comfortable and in connection with yourself. Solitude is the other side of relationship. The more you grow into yourself, the more connected you are, the more you’re able to be a good friend and lover.
Women are afraid they’re empty inside. They come up against, fear and shame and guilt—what did I do wrong so this man left me? After mourning and grieving the relationship, you need to move into meditation, into a more spiritual life, into doing what you’ve never done before. If it feels scary, you may need to tiptoe into the experience of aloneness and solitude five minutes worth at a time.
Who has the most trouble with loneliness after divorce?
Women who don’t know how to be alone. There are women who have never developed an inner life and who are believers in the myth that someone else will complete them. Those women never look at themselves introspectively; they’re always looking outside themselves to be saved. When we do that we’re diminishing our own value and asking someone else to do something for us only we can do.
How do you suggest women start learning the art of solitude?
Find and pay close attention to what it is that you find truly comforting outside of food and drink. Practice yoga, or whatever calms you. Listen to music, take a walk, play with your dog. Try sewing or knitting.
Do something creative, which is not just about art, it’s about how you’re living moment to moment. A lot of women love to garden or cook. Extend the definition of creativity
It can be the simplest thing. One woman loved idea of going home, making a nice meal, setting the table and making it beautiful for herself. She created it for herself.
Help other women who are less fortunate, who don’t have resources. Let’s use our nurturing gifts to help other women.
Erica Manfred is the author of He’s History You’re Not, Surviving Divorce After 40. She has written for Cosmopolitan, New York Times Magazine, Ms., Parenting, Women’s Day, and Bottom Line/Personal. She currently runs a women’s divorce support group in her hometown of Woodstock, New York.
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