A year and a half into divorced life, I managed to accumulate enough frustrations to produce a video blog detailing the most annoying things every divorcée hears. That includes everything from, “I never liked him anyhow” to “did you try therapy?” to my personal favourite, “my brother’s sister’s fourth wife’s cousin just remarried with seven kids. If it can happen to her, it can happen to you.” While these sentiments left most divorcées feeling heard and validated, it left other viewers wondering what they should actually say. People watched the video and then mentally scanned all their previous interactions with their divorced friends to make sure they hadn’t said, ‘the wrong thing.’ It left people feeling frustrated because they genuinely wanted to help but felt they may have unintentionally stuck their foot in their mouths’ instead. They want so badly to say the right thing but just don’t know what that it is and consequently, choose to remain silent for fear of hurting someone who has already been through so much.
People in their heart of hearts are good. People make poor choices but that doesn’t stop them from being good. Of course, psychopaths, mass murderers and sanctimonious Internet mommies are the exceptions to this rule. In the year and a half I have been divorced, I have experienced so much good from so many people – those who were deliberate about doing something and others who did so merely by being themselves. And even for the ones that may have offended or may have caused unintentional hurt, it without a doubt, came from a place of misguided good – a place of wanting to help but simply not knowing how.
People have the best of intentions and say something like, “I want to help, I just don’t know what to do or what to say.” I’ll let you in on a secret – you don’t have to say anything. There is no need to offer your apologies. I know you are sorry and I know you didn’t want this life for me. No one wants to see me and my children go through the pain of uprooting our lives and starting over. Let’s face it, unless you’re my lawyer, no one is happy that I am divorced.
The fear of saying the wrong thing immobilizes people from doing the right thing. They are so afraid to insult or offend that they stay away and the invitations for meals stop coming and the calls for play-dates disappear and the texts for coffee dates just don’t come in. Woody Allen once said, “showing up is 80% of life.” You want to know how to show support for your friend going through a divorce? Show up – whether it’s dropping off a meal, sending over cookies for the kids, texting to get together. Just be there. Stand up and show up and say I’m here. At time in life that is filled with such loneliness and often isolation, your presence and effort will always be welcomed and appreciated.
My kids had a PD day and I took them for lunch before a movie and as I was contemplating whether they were too old to be dropped at the fire station, a man came up to me and said, “ I just want to tell you how impressed I am with how you’re handling your children, sitting here and so under control.” My first thought was to look around and see who was standing behind me because surely this wasn’t meant for me. I thanked the man and told him how much his words meant to me. He knew my situation and has known me for years. His kind words acknowledged my situation, acknowledged my struggles and efforts and did so without ever mentioning the “D” word. A compliment has the power to display your empathy without showing sympathy. If actions are too difficult or sometimes just not possible, never underestimate the power of a well thought compliment.
And if you’ve read all this and still pay no heed to my words and are hell bent on discussing my divorce, then take timing into consideration. Don’t start asking me how proceedings are going while I’m standing at the bus stop with my child in hand. Don’t ask me for my thoughts on my ex dating while I’m sitting at a wedding. Don’t ask my why I got divorced while at our friend’s birthday party. Actually, don’t ask that ever.
Next time you see that new divorcée and want to say something, tell them how great they look, tell them how you admire their strength, tell them you want to go for coffee and take out your phone and make a time and date right then. Saying you’re there for someone isn’t half as important as actually being there. Do what you can and do it with love and empathy and it will never be the wrong thing.
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” ― Aesop