Where Have My Friends Gone?
Updated: Mar 15, 2019
A dear friend recently went through the worst of divorces. She became a “divorcee” against her will. Her husband of over 25 years left her for a younger woman with whom he was having a baby. “It’s different when you’ve chosen to end your marriage,” she said, “but the hurt and alienation of your spouse suddenly leaving creates a sink hole in your entire life! You lose “couples friends” almost instantly. Couples don’t invite divorcees to dinner.”
Unfortunately, it’s true. In my experience within the baby boomer generation, a divorced man will still get invited to dinner at married couples’ homes, but a divorced women won’t. Typically, the wives arrange the bulk of a couple’s social life. So if women are the ones making the guest list, why would they leave out a divorced female friend? Is it simply a case of odd numbers being awkward? Why would we invite Jim for a home cooked meal (poor guy) and leave Betty home to fend for herself (Betty who?)?
It’s complicated and based largely in insecurity. Most women won’t admit it, but hosting a solo, divorced women for dinner highlights their deep fear that divorce could happen to them. My age group still thinks a woman “lost” her husband in the same way we say a woman “lost” her baby. Neither is true, but both are thoughts most women don’t want to entertain. More sinister is the knee jerk reaction “now she has no husband…she might go after mine”. It’s petty and unfair, but some wives feel threatened by an unattached woman. The oddest manifestation of this shunning for me was at school events. Even though I was definitely the better known parent, some couples still invited my ex to join their tables while leaving me to sit elsewhere. Fortunately, I had a core group of friends who usually made room for me. Still, when you are one of the few moms attending your child’s school play alone, the feeling that you are somehow tainted clouds the experience.
The origin of your previously shared relationships influences this dynamic as well. Are you friends only through marriage? Unless you bonded closely with the wife, your ex will keep that friendship. People feel they need to take sides and they will usually stick with the person they knew first. Other couples will unite in their absolute loyalty to their divorced friend by completely disavowing the “enemy” ex-spouse. Fortunately, I found in most cases this was no big loss.
Like most relationships, friendships we make through our partners are only as deep as we allow them to be. Sometimes we connect only with the husband or the wife. If your bond was largely with the husband, it will be nearly impossible to continue that companionship. Some couples will be receptive to socializing with you if you avoid bad mouthing your spouse or dwelling on your divorce. Once they realize you’re still the person they enjoyed spending time with you may find yourself included again, at least when your ex is not.
I expected to lose friends in my ex’s home town where we lived for most of our marriage. I was pleased that over time many of them were welcoming when I reached out. When my mother died, plenty of couples I thought I’d lost came to pay their respects. I was grateful for the courtesy. Still, a few key people stayed away and I confess it stung.
Even with good friends, recognize that there may be “couples” dinners where singles are not invited. Don’t take it personally. There are plenty of divorced women who are experiencing the same feelings of isolation and they would love to meet you for dinner. Time to make some fun plans of your own!