The Ten Commandments for the sensitive treatment of friends who are newly single
It was the road trip from hell. For a start, it was 38°C outside the car and inside, thanks to the malfunctioning airconditioning. Then there was long-weekend traffic gridlock turning a four-hour drive into six and a four year-old vomiting in the back.
My friend's phone calls got me through: "Hang in there. You can do this. Do you have enough water?"
It would normally be a partner who makes those phone calls. Or, better still, they'd be in the car too, holding the vomit bucket. But, in the absence of said partner, it's moments like these when the kindest of friends step up – checking in, giving a toss, wanting to know you made it home safely.
Marriage can be the loneliest of places when the love is gone, but more daunting even than that is the gaping abyss of uncertainty in Splitsville, the mild panic of feeling solely responsible for the wellbeing of your family, carrying the load without back-up.
* I'm not my hot friend's manager
* How friends react when singles find a partner
* Stop analysing your single friends
Even in a defunct marriage there's a presence, however vague or destructive. Once it unravels – whether chosen or not – it's on you.
In the year or so since I made the heartbreaking decision to leave the family home, this is what I know: that soul searching, centredness and forgiveness are vital for healing, but the graciousness of others will pull you through.
Here's how to be nice to the separated.
1. SHOW UP
Don't just say, "Call if you need me." Disentangling from a life they assumed was forever doles out such a battering to their self-esteem and world order that they're unlikely to reach out, but they'll take help if it turns up. I'm eternally grateful to the friends who helped me move house, quietly brought meals, flowers and sage sticks, lent us a TV and a car for a bit. And who called. Those calls – outlets for uncensored rants, tears down the phone – buoyed me more than anything.
2. INVITE THEM OVER, WITH THE KIDS
Strangely, this rarely happens. The dynamic of a woman alone with her children doesn't fit the nuclear-family mould of Sunday barbies, and invitations dry up overnight. "We get that it makes for an odd number at the table," laments a divorced mother of two. "But it still hurts." Yet it's exactly what single-parent families desire: the company of other adults, the role-modelling of solid relationships and intact units, the sense of belonging at a time when you feel like you don't.
3. INVITE THEM OVER, WITHOUT THE KIDS
One of the things I feared most as I contemplated ending my relationship was not solo parenting but solo time. I didn't have children to not be with them, yet here I am. Children need time with both parents (in most cases), so an occasionally empty home is an unavoidable by-product of divorce, but nothing prepares you for the chasm of their absence. I leave their toys on the fl oor to kid myself they'll be back any minute. I sit on their beds and cry. "Alone time" loses its thrill when it's forced on you by crushing circumstances. The only salve, I find, is time with friends. A happy distraction.
4. DON'T SAY, "I KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE BECAUSE MY HUSBAND IS AWAY."
The difference is, he's coming back.
5. CUT THEM SOME SLACK
Let them be sad and self-pitying for a bit. Let them be boring. It's too hard to fake it.
6. BE THERE
No need to solve their anguish or to criticise the ex. Just be. "The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence," says Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. "When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers."
7. DON'T ASK WHAT HAPPENED
Avoid conducting what author Stacy Morrison calls "forensic studies" on the demise of the relationship. In her memoir Falling Apart in One Piece, she describes friends and strangers "trying to puzzle out what had led to the end of my marriage… not because they wanted to know if I could have saved my marriage [but] because they wanted to save their marriages"
8. DON'T ASK, "HAVE YOU MET SOMEONE YET?"
You'll hear when they do
9. DON'T ASK, "HAS HE MET SOMEONE YET?"
How is this relevant?
10. DON'T ASSUME IT'S A NEGATIVE
"The horrified looks on people's faces when I mentioned I was separated!" recalls a friend. "It didn't occur to them that having the courage and strength to leave an unhealthy relationship is a good thing. I'm excited about what's next." •