The Vault This is the friend who listens, and listens, and then listens some more. And who understands that his only role is essentially not to react to 98 percent of your utterances as you are processing all the impossible changes that are heading into your life, except with a full range of compassionate “Mmm-hmm”s, “I know”s and “I bet”s. He doesn’t call you on some of the more outrageous or crazy or unstrung things you might say (and there are a lot of those thoughts in your mind; read 15 Irrational Thoughts for some typical examples). And she doesn’t interject with her own opinions of Where Things Went Awry, as if she could have some omniscient insight into your marriage (She might, but she knows it’s only likely to make you feel worse.) Instead, she merely nods, pours you another cup of coffee, and doesn’t look at her watch until she is pretty much positive that she’s supposed to be somewhere ten minutes ago. And more important still, is the simple fact that The Vault will never repeat a word of what you’ve laid bare. So it’s almost as if you’ve never said any of it, but somehow, you feel better anyway.
The Entertainer There’s a whole lot of introspection that goes on in divorce-and generally, it feels pretty crappy. That’s why you need a friend like the Entertainer, who will take you out of your head and into the world. The Entertainer doesn’t really want to know the gory details about what you’re going through-and that’s a good thing. This person is the Life of The Party, or the Hostess With the Mostest, and they don’t need to be troubled by the fact that life can be a big, fat downer. This is, for you at this moment in your life, their most redeeming trait. They will be only too happy to have a friend who wants to see the latest movie, go to the newest restaurant, hear their freshest jokes, and basically drink in their big personalities while you get a few hours to escape from yourself and remember that there’s still plenty of fun left in the big, wide world. So make a standing Friday night plan with this friend; you’ll thank yourself for it.
The Taskmistress (Or Taskmister) It’s bad enough that you’ve lost your spouse, but it turns out that you’ve also lost part of your mind. And not just in the feeling-crazy sense; in the remembering-to-tend-to-life’s details sense. Paying bills, going to the doctor, filing insurance papers, registering your kids for summer camp and so on-all these niggling, but important, tasks that need your attention, at a time when your attention is very divided. That’s why you need the Taskmister, someone who will step forward and be the co-pilot of your life. In my case, I had a great friend and co-worker who, when she started planning childcare for her daughter’s winter break, would ask me if I’d done the same. (Um, no, actually.) She reminded me about annual insurance registration and flu shots, tax returns (oh, right, that) and the dreaded summer camp decisions. And frankly, she was the person who reminded me that I hadn’t yet figured out what my son and I were going to do the day my husband was moving out of the house. “You don’t want Zack to see that,” she said. Right. And I didn’t want to see it, either. I ended up spending the day, and then the evening, with her and her family, and Zack and I had the time of our life. And not only because we were at a museum, having fun, dancing with our kids and drinking wine. But also because she always helped remind me that, even though friends can’t help you with the big stuff-the heartbreak, the financial woes, the identity crisis-they’re really, really good at helping with the small stuff. And truly? That’s no small thing.
Your First Single-Parent Friend One of the hardest parts about breaking up with a life partner is that you are suddenly very alone, like, existentially alone. Suddenly your don’t fit with your married friends quite the same way anymore, and if you’re a newly single parent, you can’t launch yourself into your single friends’ social lives that easily, either (plus all their freedom is a little hard to take when you feel so weighed down by your history). What you need, if you’re divorced with children, is to make a friend who’s living the rough-and-rocky road of divorce and the challenges of co-parenting. Because you will understand each other in a way that no one else can possibly match. And that feels really, really good. Since I was the first person to divorce in my circle of friends-any circle of friends: my New York friends, my college friends, my high school friends-I was going to have to go out and find this person. Fortunately, the internet makes all of this much easier than it would have been decades ago. I simply typed “single parents” and the name of my neighborhood into Google, and voila! A single parents’ message board popped up, and changed my life in short order. I suddenly found dozens of voices who were dealing with the same confusing tasks, like giving up precious time with your child, trying to manage a household with one adult and one salary, trying to be a good parent when you are sad and stressed. At a single-parents’ get-together, I met Susan and Nicholas, among many other single parents who both were and weren’t like me-though they were like me in the way that counted most. Susan and I exchanged dozens of emails, posted long discussions on the website, and organized get-togethers. We talked about our careers and our challenges; we talked about clothes and losing 10 pounds; and a year or so later, we talked about guys when we started stepping out and dating again. It was such a relief to have a friend who understood the underground grief that becomes a part of daily life, but who was up for the challenge of figuring it all out and having some fun, too. And then, in that wonderful way that life works, lucky Susan married lucky Nicholas from the single-parent group-proof that joining a single-parent group really does get you ready for the online dating thing. Hey, it’s a process!
The Fountain of Your Youth When the person you share your life with looks at you and says, “I’m outta here,” it’s a short trip down memory lane before you hit the my-whole-life-has-been-a-lie cul de sac. It’s easy to call all your happy memories into question, even though deep down, you know that those years you lived with that person were the real deal, both the good and the bad. But still, it gives you a pretty creepy sense of not knowing who you are, a vague, discomfiting sensation that lodges somewhere behind your solar plexus. Now is the time for you to lean on your oldest friend, that person who knew you in braces and skinned knees, who would remember the name of your prom date, who knew where your parents hid the vodka, or was the first person you met at Camp Sunny Farm. This friend will reintroduce you to the you you still are and have always been, by reminding you that your whole life’s memories are not stored in just that one person who doesn’t want to be married to you anymore. The first time I got together with the friend I’ve known since I was 5, we laughed until we cried, and then I cried until I laughed. He brought back to me that sense of my younger self, the one that wasn’t afraid, who expected that life would bring me great joys and surprises-and reminded me of the simple delight that there is no such thing as a stupid joke. Tapping into that very solid sense of myself reminded me about the core of who I really am, the part of me that would bloodied, but not bowed, by heartbreak.