Divorce without friends
November 12, 2017 12:09 AM   Subscribe

I am thinking about divorce. I won't go into the reasons now, I don't think they matter for this question. The thing that's holding me back most is that my spouse is my only friend. I have no other friends.

I used to have two friends, but we moved across the country about a decade ago (my spouse wanted a job here) and I lost touch. It's totally my fault, both friends did make an effort. I have not made any new friends here. One problem is that we moved to a more rural place and I don't really feel like I fit in. Many people are racist and sexist here. I can't move though, we have a teenager, and it's important to me that they can finish high school here (this is non-negotiable for now).

I'm not asking how to make friends. I have read questions about that, and I kind of feel like: I have made an effort, it has never worked out in the past 10 years, it's not really likely that I suddenly will be great at making (and keeping) new friends after the divorce.

I am prone to depression and I don't respond well to meds or therapy. I am afraid that loneliness after divorce will be worse than being in an unhappy marriage. It's not like we're constantly fighting now. Our marriage isn't good, I'm pretty sure that if I were to ask about it here, many people would say to DTMFA (and to try counseling, but that's not an option for us). But it's not always awful either. There's no abuse. When things are going okay, it's nice to have someone to talk to at the end of the day. Still: if we did not have a child and/or if I did have friends, we would most likely not still be together.

I welcome any experiences and insights to help me with this. This question has been on my mind for months now and I'm not getting any further. I feel like I should make a decision to either stay and just accept the bad parts, or go. But I don't know how.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
This sounds like a pretty tough situation. I'm sorry you're in it.

I ended an unhealthy marriage some years back and the period that followed was challenging on many levels. It was hard enough dealing with it with the good friends I had. I would have struggled much more and possibly floundered without them. Disentangling from a long term relationship, especially if there is a strong friendship, is a huge process. There are many layers, more than I expected, and the grieving went on for much longer than I expected or wanted. I was living in an isolated rural environment and, after the ex and child moved, I was very lonely.

From your description it sounds like the marriage is not unbearable. Given your non-negotiable parameters and tendency toward depression, I wonder whether staying with your partner until your teenager finishes school might be the least onerous of your options. I'm really not sure, because I don't know what "not always awful" means, and I don't know how many years before the teenager finishes school.

If you can't stick it out, it seems critical to me that you move to somewhere where you have a better chance of establishing some social networks or even just reconnecting with old friends if that's possible. If there is somewhere you could go that doesn't preclude both parents having access to your teenager, even if it's not an ideal spot for other reasons, I would be thinking about this. Even if it ends up being disruptive for your kid and they hate you for it, if you have to go, then you just do. They will get over it and forgive you eventually. You must put your own oxygen mask on first.

Again, I'm sorry you're having to face this stuff. Life can be incredibly difficult sometimes. Above all else, remember that whatever's happening will pass.
posted by mewsic at 1:46 AM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

I've never been divorced, and I've always had at least a few close friends, but I have been through a few long-overdue breakups, including one which, initially, I really did not want.

In every case, after the initial period of escalated emotions, there was an absolutely delicious and deeply sustaining sense of coming home to myself. It was like I'd been stuck in a bad coach seat on an airplane for months on end and then suddenly, I was back in my own comfy and spacious living room with a cheese tray, a good book, a fire, and a purring cat.

You really can learn to be excellent company for yourself. It sounds trite, I know, and as someone who has struggled mightily with depression, self-hatred, and a variety of related things, I am well aware that it may also sound like some kind of impossible bullshit that only works for the kinds of people who perennially have an aromatherapeutic yoga mat slung over one shoulder, and who have in Instagram full of Kinfolk Magazine-looking pictures of smoothies and healthy breakfasts, all tagged with the word "BLESSED." I am here to tell you that it is not bullshit, and it is not impossible, even for a person who is disposed toward depression, misanthropy, and lashing out, horribly, at oneself.

A buddy of mine made it through a very long and very nasty split, despite having an actively hostile family and being alienated from nearly all of her local friends, by becoming heavily involved in some online communities for divorcing people. In particular, she got a lot out of the divorce fora within the cracked.com community. (Granted, she has a very cracked.com sense of humor.) These communities exist all over the internet. I'm sure that you can find at least one that suits you, and you can probably find more. Obviously that's no substitute for a flesh-and-blood person who'd make you tea, drag you out for walks, or drive around town with you all night blasting your favorite music and listening to you scream, but it ain't nothing. For my friend, it was one of the key things that kept her functional, sane, and hopeful.

I won't make you any guarantees, because I don't really know the specifics of your life, personality, and history, but I will say that there is a decent chance that, once you start to relax into your post-divorce life, and once you stop holding whatever mental pose you had to assume in order to deal with your relationship, making connections with other people will become more possible. That's how it's always been for me (and I am socially awkward AF) and that's how it's been for a lot of people I know.

I wish you luck, happiness, strength, and peace.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:21 AM on November 12, 2017 [21 favorites]

Without knowing either of you it's possible that some friendship gambits youve made have failed because of your husband. Ive met nice people but where the partner was just sufficiently not my cup of tea that it never developed. It's also possible people haven't wanted to invest in a new friendship with someone in an unhappy marriage. You might find solo socializing easier, after.
posted by Iteki at 3:10 AM on November 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

It sounds to me like focusing on your marriage is just a distraction from the underlying problem - your depression. Until you get your health under control you should not make any life-altering decisions. Try different treatments, different medications; focus on exercise, nutrition and mindfulness. Is your job fulfilling? Perhaps that needs to change, or volunteer with different organizations that you are currently if they are not making you feel productive.

Depression contributes to distorted and self-distructive thought patterns and your lack of any real issue with your marriage makes me think the ruminating on divorce is self-sabatoge that will actually leave you worse off and more depressed.
posted by saucysault at 3:49 AM on November 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

I’m about six months out from my spouse leaving and my initiating a divorce. And yes, there are times when I’m lonely. But I have found that I have so much more emotional energy now that I’m not keeping my ex propped up all the time, energy I use to nurture other relationships.

Even though this process wasn’t my choice, the loneliness I sometimes feel is better than how I felt when I was married. With some time and space I can see how bleak things had gotten.

I remind myself that I deserve better than what life was like before separation. We all deserve partners (if a partner is desired) who at the end of the day lifts us up instead of dragging us down.
posted by We'll all float on okay at 3:52 AM on November 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

It sounds like the area isn't your favorite place to live. Have you already checked in with your teenager to make sure they are happy where they are?
posted by amtho at 4:16 AM on November 12, 2017 [10 favorites]

I think it's possible you will get better at making friends after the divorce. Lots of people in healthy or unhealthy relationships end up drifting away from friends because they're putting the relationship first. And for people in unhealthy relationships there's an additional reason — partners who don't have our best interests in mind can do subtle things to separate us from our friends and keep us dependent on them. So I wouldn't rule out the possibility that things will get better.

Still, I agree with other folks that your depression may be a big part of the problem here. I have depression myself and I understand how hard it is to get your hopes up about treatment when you're depressed, and how easy it is to feel like you've Tried Everything and Nothing Works, but … have you really? Have you gone to a psychiatrist rather than getting a prescription from your family doctor? Tried atypicals like Seroquel or Latuda? Lithium? Other mood stabilizers (Lamictal, Depakote, etc)? Tricyclics or tetracyclics? MAOIs? Off-label stimulants like Adderall or Modafinil? Have you tried meds that did-a-little-but-didn't-work-100% in different combinations? If a med worked for you but had unbearable side effects, have you tried other meds in its class to see if their side effect profiles differ for you? Same with therapy — if CBT didn't work for you, have you tried DBT, or some of the trauma-focused therapy styles, or solution-based therapy, or etc etc etc?

This probably sounds like I'm throwing a pile of homework in your lap, and I'm really, really not. I just… I know that I've thought of myself as "not responding at all to meds" for a long time, and that in spite of that I've gradually, over the years, found better and better meds that I respond more and more to, and that's made a huge difference. And I know that every time I've gone to a real psychiatrist (not just a general practitioner) and said "Hey, I've tried everything and nothing works," they've (politely, not in so many words) told me I was full of shit and there were still plenty of good options still to try. I wouldn't call my mood disorder cured or anything, but even making it 30% better or 50% better does a lot to make me more sociable and more able to maintain friendships, and knowing there are literally dozens of meds and med combinations still to try if I want to go down that route gives me hope that things could keep improving in the future.

I guess what I'm saying is that the main thing is not to give up, and to grab ahold of every silver lining you can reach. Probably you won't immediately turn into a social butterfly after the divorce. But you can keep working on your shit — both the medical and the social aspects — and slowly but surely rack up some small victories and eventually realize you've gotten to a better place.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:08 AM on November 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

your pool of potential friends will be different if you are single, to some degree. Not entirely; but to some degree. Couples tend to socialize with couples, married people with other married people. Even if you don't like socializing with your spouse, the problem is that someone else who is married is less likely to make plans and nurture connections that don't accommodate their own spouse, either by including them or by scheduling around them, so they're less likely to connect with you. If you're single, you'll more easily make plans with other single people.

I agree with someone above who suggested that ruminating on divorce while suffering from untreated depression is not likely to put you on the best path though.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:44 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you're divorced and sharing parenting time, your opportunities for making social connections are a lot different.

If you are week on/week off, you have an opportunity to travel on your week off. Go back and visit those places with old friends and family. If you can work from this remote location, so much the better. With just weekends off, you have an opportunity to travel to larger centres 3-4 hours out to participate in social events or meet people. Online dating, meetups, etc help with this.

I am now 1 year separated from my ex and I suffer anxiety/depression, my family lives across the country and my colleagues are my only friends. It's been fine. My dogs keep me company at home when my daughter isn't there. Music, tv, and podcast for background noise helps. I travel more (my ex hated traveling).

I did have some bad symptoms of depression/anxiety, even now I spend a lot of my non-parenting weekends just sleeping and resting due to ongoing stress (mostly work) and also the unrelenting work of single parenting (I have the most parenting time), but I feel this is a large improvement over married life. I even took six weeks off work due to anxiety symptoms and I was still fine and not lonely. I was being emotionally abused during my marriage, and felt lonelier when I was married than I do now. If I feel lonely now, it's easy to explain and easy to remedy (take dogs to dog beach, go to farmer's market, go to yoga, be where people are, phone an old friend, etc).

This is only year 1 and I feel that I am not my best self just yet. I am working on getting my personal power back. I am taking a longer view. This is setting me up for more success and a stronger life in 5-10 years. I felt my husband was holding me back from personal growth.

In terms of treating depression - just keep trying. I met yet another therapist this year that is also a divorce coach. I paid $$$ for just a few sessions and got more out of that than previous therapists with longer engagements but only $/$$ per session. It made a difference. Massage and exercise have good scientific evidence for the treatment of depression. Diet and meditation can help. There are new therapies for treatment resistant depression - rTMS and ketamine. I am sure there are drugs you haven't tried (did you graduate to mood stabilizers such as lamotrigine?). You can make a difference with depression. And if your husband takes care of your son, you will have time to pursue treatments. (week on week off can get you treatments in a larger city centre, which will give you more options)

The other posters do have a point about single parenting with depression being hard. So there are definitely arguments for staying. Perhaps your marriage can be saved, and depression treatment might prompt you to step up and ask your husband to give you what you need. Maybe that will work, and if it does that's your best option. Divorce is hard. I shared my story just to let you know that divorce can be a viable path for you. Good luck.
posted by crazycanuck at 8:49 AM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't completely write off the old friends you've lost touch with. Can you get back in touch? Maybe it won't take, and even if it does they won't be local, but you have nothing to lose and something to gain by trying. I have friends that I've not spoken with for many years float back into my life, and it's nice.

Whatever you decide to do about your marriage & depression, try not to give up about making friends. Maybe get more focused on your child's life and meet other parents that way (PTA, sports, whatever).
posted by danny the boy at 9:59 AM on November 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

There's another thing I want to say about making friends and I hope you'll bear with me as this is a theory I'm kind of just waking up to.

It's basically this: the friendships that matter -- the ones that benefit your spirit -- are the ones with people who you feel see you truly. This is why (I'll just speak for myself here) it does me no emotional good to, for instance, hang out with the PTA moms. Because that part of me - the PTA mom part - is a tiny little part and is largely at odds with what I'm really about. (I mean yeah of course I love my children but I was a whole person before they even came into my life; and I really dislike the entire mileu of elementary school.) Thus being seen through the lens of PTA momhood offers me no emotional benefit, and hanging out with those folks, however nice they are, winds up being an expenditure of emotional energy.

What I'm trying to say is that it is possible that if you are "living a lie" - living in a marriage that you dislike - that it itself may be preventing you from making friends. Because your inner truth is that of a single person; but your outward situation is that of a coupled person. Does that make any sense?
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:00 AM on November 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Definitely reach out to your old friends and see if you can rekindle a little connection. Your message doesn't have to be a big intimidating outpouring (and actually it shouldn't be). Just: "Hey- I was thinking about you! I saw this article/video/thing I thought you'd like [link]. How are you?"

Also - would getting a dog be helpful? They're good for encouraging you to get exercise which helps with depression, they're fun and diverting, they encourage socializing with your neighbours, and you might make some social ties at the dog park.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 12:12 PM on November 12, 2017

Are you on Facebook? It’s a really easy way to find people from your past no matter where they are and keep in touch. Then as you meet new people add them on Facebook and you’ll see your circle of friends expanding.

once you start to relax into your post-divorce life, and once you stop holding whatever mental pose you had to assume in order to deal with your relationship, making connections with other people will become more possible.

Absolutely this.
posted by bendy at 1:31 PM on November 12, 2017

Here's my personal experience: I stayed in my last relationship long after it stopped making me happy, in part because I had no other friends. There was no abuse, and we rarely argued, I just felt no joy when I imagined myself spending the rest of my life with my partner. Yet every time I thought of ending the relationship all I could imagine was how lonely I would be, and I balked. Then we split up, I found myself living alone, and surprisingly all I felt was relief, not loneliness. In retrospect I wish I had ended the relationship earlier, as there's a chance we could have kept our friendship if we'd ended things before they entirely fell apart.

I don't have a heartwarming story about how now my life is full of true friends. I'm still trying to figure that out, since I'm also terrible at making and keeping friends. But I've reached out to some people who I had lost touch with years ago and found they were surprisingly receptive to getting back in touch. Even if it's only over the phone/internet, reaching out to those people helped me feel less alone. I'm also still struggling with my own mental health issues, but being alone has unquestionably been better for giving the emotional space and motivation to work on those issues than being in an unhappy relationship.

A further note about friends: I've managed to find value in relationships with acquaintances even if our worldviews are so different that we could never be close friends. Like, I've worked jobs with sexist/racist coworkers who I'd never have spent time with if not for the circumstances, but once we found a few common points of interest, I still got some enjoyment out of our interaction. Maybe there are some people around who have something in common with you - even if it's just that they also have a teenager, or like cooking or fishing or whatever random thing - who you can spend a bit of time with talking only about the thing you both have in common. It's not the same as having the kind of friends who you feel see you truly, as per fingersandtoes' point, but it might help you with feeling lonely, especially if you know it's only for a limited period of time until your teenager finished school and you can move.

Also, I hate to be a person who says "just keep trying!" when it comes to depression, since I know how frustrating that can be when you feel like you've tried everything, nothing works, and you just want people to believe you. But seriously, keep trying. Until you've tried every possible combination of available meds, and different kinds of therapy with different therapists who you feel comfortable with, please don't give up hope that meds/therapy will work for you. (And since you're in a rural place don't forget about the possibility of Skype meetings with a therapist)
posted by ersatzhuman at 3:12 PM on November 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

I had a friend contact me after many years, because they were about to divorce their partner and wanted to get back in touch with old friends. I was so happy to hear from them, and I bet your old friends would love to hear from you too even after all this time.
posted by harriet vane at 5:52 AM on November 13, 2017 [6 favorites]

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