Learning The Art Of Solitude: Living Alone After Divorce

Submitted by: Erica Manfred

Here are some wonderful insights and advice on living alone from Florence Falk, Ph.D., psychotherapist and author of On My Own; The Art of Being a Woman Alone

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 oferica book post2 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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Holiday Loneliness: How to Beat the Post Divorce Holiday Blues

Comments

  1. 1

    says

    Great advice! I espcially like…”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.”

    I’m not sure how it happened but I’ve never felt I needed someone else to define me. I was raised with the idea that a woman marries and has children. If not there is something wrong with her.

    Somehow I didn’t buy into that and being a woman over 50 who lives alone it is a good thing I didn’t.

  2. 2

    says

    Very insightful. I was older when I married, and therefore already comfortable with “aloneness” and able to distinguish between being alone and lonely.

    Post-divorce is a very special situation, precisely for the reasons the author enumerates. We feel we’ve done something wrong and we’re to blame, though it takes two for a marriage to work or not work.

    “Lonely” can hit at any time, any age, any person. We need to remember that it’s like a warning flag that our needs for human connection are not being met. Reaching out – often to other women – is a great start for those of us who are recently divorced. Or even many years later, if we find ourselves alone. And being around others – kids, adults – also reminds us that life is everywhere, as long as we don’t isolate ourselves.

  3. 3

    Rhonda says

    Thank you for this great article. It is true! I have come to learn, it is very important to understand the difference between being “alone” and “loneliness”. I didn’t seek to be alone (dreaded it) until I experienced the deep pain of a divorce (two divorces). Though it was very hard at first, it gradually began to set forth a healing on the inside for me as I worked through the emotional pain. I then began to really face myself and decided what I really wanted in life. Another romantic relationship was not the answer and I began to seek God. I knew needed to heal and made deliberate choices to support my progress. The time of aloneness paid off in a huge way for me. I am a songwriter/musician and In the midst of healing, began to write songs about my experiences/journey (this was therapy!) and I began to tap into other talents that was dormant and began to blossom; volunteering in community service and ministry.

    I believe if each person would take time to seek “solitude” first as singles (prior to marrying), there would be healthier marriages and less divorces in this world. We often look elsewhere for something or someone to complete us, when it starts on the inside of ourselves first. I no longer take for granted, the peace that solitude gives me. I am so grateful for each day I am given for it is a gift of time to love, to live and create.

    Rhonda 

  4. 4

    says

    I am still struggling with loneliness years after divorce but I think part of the problem is that I work alone as well as live alone. Also, my childhood was lonely and that always comes back to me. But sometimes I really like living alone. Depends which day you talk to me. I do think Florence makes some great points. Her book is worth reading. And don’t miss my book either. LOL

  5. 5

    Midweek friends says

    I have been divorced for 4 years. Previous to that I lived in a commuter marriate, often apart from my now ex husband for many years, and got used to being alone. However, at that time being alone much of the time was by choice, and on the weekends I was with him and part of a couple.
    There is a great difference between being alone when you choose to be alone and being alone when there are no other options to be with other people. I find it difficult because most of my friends are married, and there is somehow a taboo about calling them if I find myself alone on a Saturday night. It’s the same with my single friends who have children at home, Saturday is reserved for family time.
    I do, for the most part, find ways to connect with others for at least part of the weekend, but I find myself getting really angry at friends who are your friends when they need you during the week, but who are never your friend on Saturday, the day you need them most and the day one is likely to feel the most alone.
    I feel I can’t talk to my friends about this, because I don’t want anyone spending time with me when they don’t want to. I suppose I should be grateful that I have friends and should be thankful for the time they do give me, but I have considered not answering the phone during the week, when they want to talk to me. I suppose that is juvenile, so I would appreciate someone else’s comment on this.

  6. 6

    says

    Have you been told by your friends that Saturday is “family time” or, are you assuming that is how they feel?

    Why not ask your couple friends or single friends what they are doing on Saturday night? Don’t wait until Saturday when you are lonely to wish you had someone to spend time with.

    Have them to your home for dinner, ask them in advance to go shopping, make plans to go out to eat. They may not be available to socialize with you every weekend but I’m sure they would be open to spending time with you…their friend if extended an invitation.

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