Three Years On: Life-Changing Lessons I've Learned From My Divorce
In August 2019, I separated from my then partner of seven years, after just one year of marriage. As painful and challenging as it was, I’ve grown and changed over the past three years in ways I never would have thought possible, and I’m a stronger person now because of it. If you're going through divorce, or on the fence about going forwards with it, I want you to know that it’s possible to come out of this experience stronger and wiser, so read below to find out the lessons I’ve learned in the three years since my divorce.
1. People don't realise I'm divorced!
Getting divorced as young as I did, it seems that when I now meet people for the first time, they don't assume that I've ever been married - just that I'm single at the age of 29. When you're faced with the prospect of being divorced in your 20s, you worry about being divorced at such a young age and what other people will think about you.
In my case, that hasn't happened because unless I bring up the fact that I'm divorced. There's no evidence for it and people tend to make no contemplation of it either way. That said, if you have children they may enquire further as to whether there was a marriage involved but this usually only comes from those who are friendly with you. It's hard talking about the divorce in the early stages - even with the people you trust and that love you dearly, the fear of judgement from others can make us unsettled about how the information will be received. But it gets easier with time, and you own that as part of your story, not a defining feature of who you are right now. You have the right to bring it up and explain it with people as and when you want to, and it doesn't have to be a defining feature of your character or personality; just an experience you went through.
2. The idea of "the one" is a myth
Our romantic relationships can be judged on the length of time they lasted, and it echoes the belief that someone might've be "wrong" for me because we got divorced. But romantic relationships are the only thing we put a life-time pressure on, when the world around us otherwise changes constantly, whether we like it or not.
Your job role and work place change as you progress, join a new company or switch industries. Your living arrangements change as you meet new people, or as you decide you need more space - and even if you don't move house, you redecorate for the same effect on a smaller budget! And your friends change even more than these two - how many of the friends you had at nursery, or at primary, junior, or secondary school are still people you speak to as regularly as you used to back in the day?
These previous jobs become a thing of the past, we move our lives into a new home and our friendships fade away but we don't deem them a failure; when our romantic relationships come to an end (despite a good run too!), they're classed as a "waste of time" and you can feel like you've failed.
I stand by my belief that being divorced before I'm thirty is MUCH better for me than staying with the wrong person. It was important for me to acknowledge that despite the commitment I had made, I wanted to do it differently and that meant ending the marriage and leaving this person.
But that person wasn't wrong for me for the entire length of our relationship. They were right for me during my late teenage years and early to mid-twenties, but I changed and needed something different by the time I reached 26, and I didn't have all the skills to keep on top of those feelings at the time.
And I look at life now with the view that the expectation of finding a singular person to live the entirety of your life out with, better known as "the one", is a myth, and that taking a much more practical approach to accepting that romantic relationships change as much as the rest of our lives and we will have different "ones" for the different chapters in our life.
3. Once one BIG thing changes, everything begins to change
Initiating a separation is a big change. It turns your world upside down and multiple areas of your life are reset. Your day-to-day looks different, who you go to has changed, and in my case, I moved back home in terms of my living arrangements.
But in this state of flux, everything else started to be reconsidered too. With all the upheaval in these areas, a more controlled and considered approach could be made in the other areas of my life. Now that I had undone a significant area of my life, gone through the challenge of "going backwards" and come out the other side on a new, positive path, doing it again in other areas didn't feel so scary, and the drive to make sure my life was the way I wanted it to be and not prescribed to me became even stronger.
I might've changed my mind on what I wanted to do in terms of my living arrangements more than once - after all, this was the time is for working it all out - but once I saw the space I now call "home", I really did know it was the one and committing to a lifelong mortgage really was what I wanted. And then came the job, which after seven years in education including being a Head of Year, I left to pursue running The Single Girl's Club and developing the business further.
4. Friendships are the most important connection in your life
Being plunged into singlehood meant a whole lot of support being required from my friends. Having invested a lot of time and attention into my seven-year relationship, there was a lot of empty space that became apparent once the marriage came to an end.
It turns out that whilst I had many connections through school experiences, university, social occasions and various jobs in different industries, I felt the full extent of having many acquaintances and not so many of the close friendships that are not only helpful, but required, in times as stressful as a divorce or breakup.
This isn't a comment on my friends ability to be there for me; instead, this is more to do with how many of them knew and saw the real me, who I could actually be vulnerable and open with and how to not only share my life with them, but actively include them in my life going forwards.
I didn't really understand what being "close" or even just "good" friends meant until I was forced to look at what I needed in the event of not being in a relationship for the first time as an adult, and how I played my part in showing up for my friends, being there for them as much as they had been and would continue to be for me, and how to take those friendships to a deep and meaningful level beyond the superficial small talk I was used to.
5. Doing hard things grows your character
And your character and confidence growing makes you more competent and willing to do even more hard things!
Alongside going solo buying a home and then taking the risk to work in a more flexible way, I continued to push myself in other ways to get me out of my comfort zone.
Aside from "milestones", I challenge myself to push myself personally to embrace being on my own and proving my character to myself. I've spent a lot of time enjoying the single life, going away to festivals on my own, travelling round the UK on a solo road trip and encouraging myself to make conversations with strangers I came across in these environments (all whilst being as careful and responsible as a girl on her own needs to be in unfamiliar environments).
Striking up conversations is one of my least favourite things to, but I knew it was an area I wanted to face so I purposefully designed activities that would force me to do it. And let's not get me started on learning to set boundaries and to stop feeling obligated to do things just because "I should".
6. I have changed and I'm a different person now
It's almost a little scary that I look back at the person I was three years ago; she feels like a different character to who I am now. I have evolved in so many different ways. I can acknowledge that the Chantelle of that time is now different from the Chantelle I present now, and this Chantelle will look different to the Chantelle in 10 years time. "Well that's obvious" you may think, but I mean a distinct difference, a clear line between the then and now, not just a passing phase of change. The Chantelle I am today is more understanding and accepting of others choices and the way the world works. She knows how to protect herself better, to say "no" and to not be afraid of upsetting people because of that (or even thinking that people would be upset sometimes!). I've learnt that you aren't for everybody, and not everybody is for you. It isn't about pleasing everyone, it's about making the people you care about most to be happy and maintaining strong, healthy connections with those people, and each connection will look different. Most importantly, I take responsibility for my life much more wholly. Instead of following the simple trajectory of a tick box life, I decide what I want and try to take the action to go after it. You can't control everything, but you can give it a decent shot!
If you're newly out of a relationship and looking for a way to get your confidence back again, Chantelle runs coaching on a 1:1 and group basis for single women at different stages of their single phase. Head to the Coaching page to find out which option would be best for you.