Divorce sucks. The bright side? You learn a lot about love, life, and finding happiness within yourself. I know. I went through it myself.
On the quest for advice on how to succeed, no one wants to hear from the Olympic athlete who won bronze or the entrepreneur whose tech start-up went under. I spent most of my 20s applying the same logic to advice about love. The divorced people I knew—and there were quite a few—clearly weren’t doing something “right.” Instead, when things started to go south in my relationship, I sought out the wisdom of the happily married, inviting myself over to their Instagram-worthy starter homes for dinner served in the Le Creuset Dutch oven from their wedding registry.
That all changed when I ended up divorced in my mid-20s. Being a 20-something divorcee still feels like something of a rarity—like a white tiger or stilettos you can wear comfortably for more than an hour. When people find out I’m divorced, their response is often confusion, followed by the sort of pity usually reserved for three-legged shelter dogs. I can see them silently wondering: What went wrong?
Let me tell you what went wrong: I didn’t listen to my divorced friends when it came to my relationship. That may seem like an oversimplification, but every single issue that caused my marriage to go up in flames was laid out there by someone who knew the territory only too well. I didn’t listen. I thought I was doing marriage “right.”
Unfortunately, there is no way to guarantee that you and your honey won’t end up glaring at each other from across a lawyer’s conference table. Statistically, about 50% of marriages will end there. But, just like with literal diseases of the heart, a little preventative care can’t hurt. Here are the reasons you should listen to the advice of your divorced friends.
1. They Can Tell You What It’s Like to Really Deal with Cheating
Prior to meeting my husband, I experienced infidelity in relationships, both on my part and my bf’s. When you’re dating someone, it’s easy enough to just split up, take a break, or fight it out very publicly at a friend’s cookout (not my finest moment). Cheating is a deal-breaker for many people, but marriage isn’t such an easy deal to break. Married couples hunker down and try to find their way through the fog of sadness, broken trust, and insecurity that envelops the relationship (often while smiling and ensuring parents/friends/kids that everything is fine). Of course, some relationships survive cheating, but it’s hard for the people involved to be open and honest about it. Divorced people have no more reason to sugarcoat or pretend. When it comes to cheating, they tell it like it is.
2. They Know Fighting is Important
I used to really resist the idea that “all couples fight.” Not us! I thought proudly. We don’t ever fight! Don’t get me wrong: there’s no excuse for partners being verbally or physically abusive to each other, and constant fighting is definitely a red flag. When I say “fighting,” what I really mean is “disagreeing in an emotionally-involved manner.” If you and your S.O. never fight, you may want to ask yourself why. Are you not expressing yourself for fear of your partner’s disapproval? Are you or your lover so detached that you can’t find anything to disagree about? When one partner (or both) isn’t emotionally open, toxic resentment might be building under the surface. Your divorced friends know this. They know that couples who never fight might be in as much trouble—or more—than the ones who argue constantly.
3. They Call Out Abusive and Controlling Behavior When They See It
Not every failed marriage involves abuse, but a lot of divorced people seem to have a sixth sense for this stuff. Maybe it’s because we’ve spent so many sleepless nights going over every little thing we did in our relationship. Maybe it’s because getting divorced forces you to look at the worst in yourself as well as another person. Either way, a divorced friend of mine called out my husband’s subtle controlling behavior before our wedding. At the time, I was furious. She doesn’t know what she’s talking about! I thought. A few months into my marriage, when I felt like a prisoner in my own house, I remembered that conversation and wished I had listened to her.
4. They Know What Matters and What Doesn’t
The hardest thing about leaving my marriage was my husband getting the dog. I still cry about it sometimes. Everyone who gets divorced gives up things they thought they could never part with: a house, time with their kids, the love of their life (to name a few). The plus side of losing just about everything is finding out what is really important to you. One divorced friend of mine finally left her asshole husband because he didn’t want to be involved with their son. Another split up because he got his dream job in a different city and his wife was unwilling to move. I used to have the unfortunate habit of putting others before myself even if it made me miserable. Getting divorced taught me that all the love and acceptance and adorable German Shepherd-mixes in the world don’t really matter, but I do.
5. They are Happy on Their Own
Too many people seem to stay in relationships for fear of being alone. I used to be in that boat. In fact, I bought that boat, named it after my grandmother, and took it to the lake every weekend. After getting through the unavoidable period of depression, your divorced friends woke up one day and realized they were okay being on their own. What’s more, as time passed, they discovered it’s actually the freaking best. With my divorce, I traded a 3-bedroom house that stressed me out for a 500 square-foot studio apartment that inspires and energizes me. If I want to have Lucky Charms and wine for dinner, I have Lucky Charms and wine. (If you’re in the sort of relationship that allows you to do this, you’re doing something right.) Your divorced friends have fought hard to find fulfillment and self-love. Whether you’re currently in a relationship or not, they can help you get there too.
A few months ago, a well-meaning but misguided colleague told me I’m too young to be divorced. My response was that I’m too young to be in an unhappy marriage. The next time your divorced friend opens up about her previous marriage, really listen. She might just drop some wisdom that will keep you from following the same path. And if you do end up divorced in the future, you haven’t failed at love. You’ve just joined an awesome, independent, thoroughly self-aware sisterhood. (We meet for cocktails on Wednesdays.)