How I Dealt With Devastating Loneliness After Overcoming Divorce
My divorce devastated me, but I thought I dealt with it like a champ.
I put my game face on and plunged forward with my career and taking care of my daughter. I shrugged off the advice of loved ones to seek counseling and take time “to heal.”
Instead, I found an alternative form of healing…
The same season that my ex-husband left, I graduated with my Doctorate degree, ran an ultramarathon, and decided I should quit my secure job to “find myself.”
In fact, I had convinced myself that if I could “find” myself first, I could heal later.
So off I went.
I packed up my daughter and all of our belongings and traveled the world looking for an external factor that would somehow, someway, bring me closure.
Unfortunately, all of this backfired on me. I wasn’t OK and neither was my daughter. I knew this wasn’t it.
But yet, life continued.
I started dating again and went from one failed relationship to the next — the most recent of which I was convinced was the one.
Four years after my divorce, I was ready to get married again. But then, that relationship ended too.
And there I was…alone.
In the hours and days that followed the ending of that relationship, I found myself so vulnerable and in so much pain.
Although I had survived the divorce, I was certain the end of this relationship was going to kill me. I had failed again; yet, the worst part for me was that I felt like I was all alone.
Loneliness encroached upon me in both bold and subtle ways.
Early in the morning and late at night I could always count on her paying me a visit. It was always in the dark hours that she reminded me of the fact that my ex hadn’t reached out.
Sometimes she would encourage me to check his social media or to look at past pictures. All of this, just to remind me that it was over.
I would lay in bed nauseous and shaking with fear. He left. The others left. Did this mean I would always be alone?
Other days I felt like I had it all together.
I thought I had accepted the end and was moving forward only to find myself at 4 PM in front of my computer, suddenly gasping for air.
It was as if loneliness had suddenly jumped on me, grabbing ahold of my heart, pressing on it so tightly that my throat would give out.
In the past, I would do anything at that moment to get loneliness to release her grip: call my ex, eat chocolate, cry to my friends.
While my friends and family tried to encourage me, I knew I would eventually wear them out. Calling my ex never had lasting results, and well, chocolate ended up finding a home on my hips and the back of my arms.
This was a mess.
All of this to avoid facing myself and focusing on what I needed.
I didn’t know how, and didn’t fully understand, all the consequences of having to face my life without a partner.
How to go to parent-teacher meetings by myself, how to volunteer on field trips, and how to attend Christmas festivities solo.
It all felt too hard, too daunting. But I knew that in order to do all these things, I would have to make friends with loneliness. But how?
Loneliness had robbed me of so many moments of my life that I will never get back. When I would be having dinner with my daughter, loneliness would often join me, reminding me I was at a table of two instead of three.
When I would go to a café with a friend or a family member, she would point out all of the cozy couples who certainly had found their soulmates.
Loneliness had convinced me that my time had passed and that the best I could expect out of life was an annual pity party which would most certainly have fewer guests each year until finally I was left in a dark room with streamers and cake and nobody to feel sorry for me.
And then…I had enough!
I have a beautiful daughter who needs her happy, fulfilled mom to be present and focused.
I have a wonderful career that allows me to positively impact the lives of hundreds of people each year.
I have a loving family and many supportive friends, who even in my darkest nights, never gave up on me.
The solution to curing my loneliness?
Honestly, I am not yet all the way there. I still hurt sometimes.
I still fight feelings of loneliness that like to hide and manifest in different people and places, hijacking my emotions and throwing me off balance each and every time.
Yet, I am hopeful.
The stories of the women in this article who have gone through what I am going through and are happy and brave enough to share what it’s like on the other side of divorce, offers me profound hope and clues to healing my loneliness.
My goal is that you will equally find as much inspiration and hope as I have.
While the recipe is not perfect — as with anything in life — the following suggestions are the many ways single moms confronting loneliness after divorce, like you or me, can use our loneliness as a catalyst to launch you into the next stage of your life.
Loneliness will most likely find you at some point in your life, but in particular after a divorce or losing a partner.
If you are a single mom, feelings of loneliness can weaken the quality of your life and keep you from being the fulfilled and energetic mother your children need you to be.
Healing your loneliness may not be easy, but it is possible.
To help divorced single moms overcome loneliness, I’ll share personal stories, interviews with other single moms who have healed their loneliness, and an interview with a clinical psychologist.
In this article, I’ll cover:
- What Loneliness Looks Like After Divorce
- 3 Powerful Ways Single Moms Can Overcome Loneliness
- What To Do If Loneliness Returns
What Does Loneliness Look Like After A Divorce?
It can be overwhelming, confusing, and may feel like it will last forever.
In many cases, feelings of loneliness for single moms are attributed to the loss of a partner to share in the daily child-rearing needs and moments.
When a partner is no longer by your side it can be challenging for a variety of reasons.
When you have a child and instantly become the main caretaker, you may find yourself stressed out, anxious, and lonely.
Loneliness is also a relative term.
What makes me feel lonely may not trigger loneliness for you, and vice versa.
Nevertheless, it has been noted that sometimes the best way to deal with divorce, separation or a break-up is to go through it, not around it.
Jumping into a new relationship too soon will only postpone the healing process that is vital to our well-being.
For those of us coming out of a failed relationship, we often find ourselves longing for a significant other to fill a void that we perceive is caused by the disappearance of the person who was once there.
In my case, I kept looking backward.
I first looked back to my ex-husband and missed what I later realized was the idea of him and the loss of a family unit.
Nevermind the toxicity of the relationship and all of the unhealthy issues I faced daily. Nevermind the pain and suffering I went through — and that often compromises a woman’s health in the years after a divorce.
Right after the divorce, I couldn’t identify what was making me hurt (there were so many things) and attributed it all to being lonely.
Sara, a single mom who has faced issues similar to my own, can identify with my anxiety. She told me:
“It’s not that I have this desire to have a man in my life, just a desire to have a partner there to help with the responsibilities of being a parent and balancing work and home life.”
For me, at some point, time passed and life moved on.
Another relationship bloomed and I had convinced myself that my perceived loneliness had disappeared. Yet, the reality was that it was still there.
Now confused by my own lack of ability to identify my emotions, I lost the trust in myself to decide what was best.
It felt bad at the time, but I was convinced that it still felt better than being alone.
I had lost all perspective on the spectrum between happiness and fulfillment, and sadness and loneliness.
Like many failed relationships, I saw so many examples of what my life was supposed to feel like, and felt ashamed at my disconnect and became determined to make that relationship work.
When it did eventually fail, I felt beyond lonely…and became utterly hopeless and desperate.
I felt like I was the only one going through this (of course I wasn’t). In fact, my feelings were consistent with other women who go through this on a daily basis.
Christine Carter, single mom advocate and writer, has definitely been in these shoes.
She was once married and now, like so many women, is successfully managing a rockstar career and life after divorce.
Christine shared similar feelings to my own. She told me:
“I also find the fact that my husband didn’t fight for our marriage discouraging…is there anyone out there who could be a good companion for me? Anyone who would want a single mom? Or have I missed the boat at love?”
Now that I am single again, Christine’s question is one that I find myself asking often. Being a single mom now in my late 30’s, the dating pool often feels small and daunting. I can’t help but feel like I just don’t fit.
Loneliness likes to accompany me while I try to contemplate the dating options I might have at this stage in my life. She can be pretty dramatic and depressing.
This is an argument I usually let her win so I can just put off getting myself back “out there” for a little bit longer. “Maybe next weekend,” I tell her trying to finish the thought to which she often responds in a smug voice, “good luck with that.”
Candace and I met when we were younger than our daughters. We went to Elementary school together and read just about every book in the Babysitter’s Club series in her living room after school.
Just like me, Candace grew up in a two-parent household; just like me, Candace went to church, is educated, and is globally-minded.
Despite the fact that we haven’t spoken in nearly 30 years, when social media brought us back together, we realized our lives continue to mirror each other.
Candace is also a single mom who has struggled with loneliness.
When I asked her if she would share what the experience has been like for her, she told me:
“A year ago, everything triggered loneliness. Seeing young families living together as a unit on TV, when I pick my daughter up from school, at her ballet classes, at the park, everywhere!
I felt like my daughter’s father robbed me of the chance to be a wife and be a part of a family. I wanted a partner to tap into when I needed to tap out. I wanted to come home and tell someone about my day.”
Candace’s comments really resonated with me.
She, like so many women like us, has felt the sting in social settings and with media that remind her of what she is supposedly missing out on in her life.
Chrissy is another single mom I interviewed for this article. Chrissy, just like Candace and I, is a single mom with one child.
Her experiences echo much of the same sentiments shared by Candace. Chrissy told me:
“At the end of the day, I was often emotionally exhausted. Being a single parent, you don’t have another person to share it with. You don’t have another person to turn to in the evening and say: ‘Whew! We made it through another day’”.
Both Candace and Chrissy underscore the importance of the support system that a partner provides.
Honestly, everything is overwhelming at first.
From bills, to drop-offs, to pick-ups, to grocery store shopping, quality one-on-one time, to aftercare…single moms must adapt to a new schedule and routine to do all of this…alone.
It’s exhausting, and many even struggle with mom guilt over their decisions.
The irony is that the one thing that might make this all easier to carry solo is the emotional support of a romantic partner. But of course, if we had the emotional support of a romantic partner, we likely wouldn’t be dealing with this solo.
Loneliness looks a bit different for Sara, Christine, Candace, Chrissy, and me.
Despite the differences in the details, we share a common theme of heartache and disappointment.
At the end of the day when we’ve gone to the gym, worked at our professional jobs, made breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, given baths, and helped solve algebra problems, what most of us really want is affirmation, and perhaps recognition that what we’ve done counts and that we’ve championed through another day.
We all want to continue being the wonderful moms we are, but many of us feel incomplete without a romantic partner or traditional nuclear family unit there to cheer us on.
Maybe you have felt this way at some point? Maybe right now?
I certainly know that I have. Know that you are not alone.
Loneliness does not discriminate; she is prevalent and rampant and I can only imagine that the same loneliness that likes to strike up conversations with me late at night and early in the morning is probably paying you an unfriendly visit as well.
Loneliness as a single mom can be depressing, debilitating, and frustrating. It can be even more so after a divorce.
While loneliness normally likes to wake me up in the middle of the night as I stretch my arm out to remind me the other side of the bed is empty, she is likely to bring along a couple of friends of hers when she remembers I’m a divorced single mom: guilt and shame.
While loneliness reminds me that I’m (well…alone), guilt likes to bring up that dating is selfish because I’m taking time away from my daughter while shame shows up to tell me for the millionth time that I’m divorced, just lost another relationship, and I’m getting closer and closer to my next birthday.
I think it’s also important to point out what loneliness isn’t.
For many single moms like me, boredom is a word that we no longer know how to pronounce. It is not a luxury we can afford between managing our households, professional careers, and trying to bring up a healthy child.
For most of us, loneliness is not attachment or neediness. It’s not a lack of self-love or clinginess.
Honestly, at my own personal peak of loneliness, I went to the doctor to try to figure it out.
I literally expected my primary care physician would look me over, take my vitals, weight, and measurements and would be able to tell me without a shadow of a doubt, “I’m sorry ma’am but all indicators show you have a broken heart.”
To that, I was prepared to tearfully acknowledge him and request any prescription he could give to mend it. Apparently, no such drug exists.
Sure anti-depressants and anti-anxiety drugs exist, but for a broken heart the impact of such medicine often only takes the edge off momentarily.
Learning to deal with loneliness may come down to making a decision to face it and changing specific behaviors to keep from going back down the same behavioral patterns that got you there in the first place.
Most moms would likely agree that the socially acceptable and right thing to do is to put our children first, especially after a divorce.
In reality, moms need to take care of themselves first, before they can meet the needs of their children — you know, the whole “oxygen mask” thing?
One of the easiest ways loneliness can manifest and fester after a divorce is by putting yourself and your needs last. It’s a slippery slope.
Self-care is actually giving your children the best of you, instead of the worst.
Far from teaching selfishness, meeting your own needs by going to that gym class, getting your nails done or indulging in a weekly massage — or having a night out with the girls — teaches our children that they are human beings first and that life does not stop once they have children of their own.
I grew up with a mother who I rarely witnessed practice self-care.
Because of that, I still have to battle to quiet the voice within me that is quick to judge or make me feel guilty for hitting the gym after work…for the fourth day in a row.
To my inner voice, I say: ‘I need this’.
As a result, I am happier and more patient with my daughter. We both win.
I give you permission to watch movies, get your nails and hair done, eat ice cream, take a bath, read a book, go to bed early.
Single mom, you have welcomed a child into this world, which in my book makes you a goddess!
Something that has been really effective for me is to come up with a top 10 list of your own personal “goddess moment activities” and promise to do one of those when loneliness tries to hang out with you.
Another tip that I have recently started is to make a list of activities and resources that I can have handy whenever my loneliness starts to creep in.
I have found it is much easier to follow-through if I have a visible list of actions that I can do in front of me than have to come up with one each time…especially during a moment of low motivation.
When loneliness hits, our inner vices tend to want to come out and play.
You will do anything to anesthetize this feeling, and if you are not guarded, you may find yourself turning to alcohol, drugs, past toxic relationships, over-exercise, over-eating — you name it.
Whatever you once struggled with as a coping mechanism will fight its way back to the surface and the temptation in comparison to the pain of loneliness may just win you over.
My “go-to” was exercise.
While a little bit of regular exercise is good, upwards of four hours a day was excessive. Not to mention that it drained me of any extra energy, leaving me more irritable and less able to confront and move through my underlying feelings of loneliness.
Balance is key.
Even though strong, independent career single mothers like Christine, who we spoke with earlier also deal with loneliness, she has found a way to face it head-on and improve her life. Christine told me about her own unique form of self-care:
“When I wake in the morning I remember it’s a new day, a new opportunity to show myself self-love. In spending time in therapy I learned I’d literally rather risk my safety or inconvenience myself for other people than put myself first.
That’s truly unacceptable because I wouldn’t allow the people I love to be treated that way, so why would I allow myself to treat myself that way?”
Don’t Forget About Romance
Research supports that practicing self-care actually makes you a better parent and allows you to have the energy and peace that you need in order to tackle the difficult issues at hand.
Part of that self-care practice includes allowing yourself to have romance, fun, and more love in your life — you have every right to find and have a significant other — if that is what you desire.
In fact, dating as a single mom may be more liberating than dating prior to your former relationship with children.
We’ve been there, done that. As single moms, we can’t help but see the world a bit differently and are often less inclined to play games or be clingy and needy.
According to Psychologist Christie Hartman (who sits on our medical review board), “Some moms worry that they don’t have time to date, or that dating would interfere with time and their kids, or that it is selfish to want a partner.”
“But, moms are human and it’s natural to want more than their children can give them, or should be expected to give them,” she continued. “In general, what’s good for mom is often good for kids, because kids want to see their parents happy.“
The timing for when to begin dating again is unique to each of us.
In my experience, I believe I would have benefitted from more time alone with my daughter and properly grieving my divorce before trying to look for my soulmate.
In hindsight, I can see how my desire to not feel lonely disrupted the process that I needed to go through. I thought that perhaps I could skirt around the hard times and just go straight to the other side.
In reality, all I did was delay the healing process.
Now, years after the divorce (and other failed relationships), I am finally taking the time to properly heal, let go, and move on.
Keep Yourself Busy
This is a no-brainer.
If you are a single mom, you are likely always busy.
Yet, loneliness is so tricky, if we aren’t prepared, she’ll pay us a surprise visit between work meetings, while waiting in the school pick-up line, or the very moment our kids go to sleep.
The solution…have a back-up plan!
According to Psychologist Christie Hartman, “spending time with friends, family, and setting up playdates with other single moms can help stave off loneliness.”
Paramount to overcoming single mom loneliness is to learn how to be alone and enjoy the solitude that comes with it. One way in which you can make peace with loneliness includes shifting from feeling lonely to embracing solitude.
According to Author Henri Nouwen, as quoted here:
“No friend or love, no husband or wife, no community or commune will be able to put to rest our deepest cravings for unity and wholeness.
Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect and turn it into fruitful solitude…Loneliness is painful; solitude is peaceful. Loneliness makes us cling to others in desperation; solitude allows us to respect others.
Learning how to ‘sit’ in stillness and quietude can be the first step toward knowing comfort in aloneness.”
If you sometimes feel overwhelmed with trying to combat loneliness, one of the best things you can do is simply breathe.
Paying attention to your breath will help you slow down and become more present with your feelings and needs.
Learning how to be alone is indeed a skill that we all can learn at any point in our lives.
If you are like me and prefer to have a specific activity to focus on with the people you hang out with, consider starting a directed activity with friends instead.
For example, you can use your current friend group to initiate and organize a book club or you can look for one online to help you connect with new people.
A great site to help you get started is meetup.com for finding a book or other activity club in your area.
Another great idea is to follow Chrissy’s lead and start a blog!
Single mom Chrissy, who we spoke with earlier, needed a healthy outlet to deal with her loneliness following her separation with her daughter’s father.
Chrissy told me:
“My old loneliness coping mechanisms were out…I couldn’t go out and hit the town or open a nice bottle of wine to relax — not that these were healthy coping mechanisms in the first place!
For a while, Netflix became my BFF. Then, I eventually started my blog which gave me a healthy hobby, a way to re-energize at the end of the day, and a way to reach out to other single moms.”
Creative activities and hobbies are a great way to express your feelings and can ground you during times of stress, like the holidays. Perhaps you’ll even tap into a hidden talent!
Participating in support groups or in spiritual communities can keep you busy while helping you cope with the root of your loneliness.
My Elementary school best friend and single mom, Candace did just that. She shared with me:
“I started going to a church that a friend of mine had suggested. I knew that I needed to surround myself with people who were uplifting.
Finding my faith again and having a deeper relationship with God has healed me. He filled the brokenness I felt and healed my heart. I am happier than I can ever remember being.”
Christine suggests that single moms shouldn’t be afraid to participate in activities that help them get to know themselves in new, unique, and intimate ways. She told me:
“I encourage other single moms to date themselves, to respect themselves, to honor all that we do in a day and how much we’re contributing to the world.
I know the loneliness, fear and doubt will never completely fade, however, I’m finding comfort in knowing how much I’ve accomplished and learning to love myself.”
Creative activities and hobbies are a great way to express your feelings, get to know yourself, and perhaps even a way to tap into a hidden talent!
Make The Choice To Be Happy
Not judging yourself as you sift through the root causes of your loneliness will greatly serve you in the healing process and in finding your prescription for self-care.
For me, the cause of my loneliness appeared to be the absence of my partner, but the choice I was making to maintain it was not as easy to understand or accept.
Knowing that loneliness is indeed a state of mind (which I control) is liberating as I have free will to release the feelings that keep me in my perceived state of loneliness and opt for a state of bliss and freedom instead.
The single moms interviewed for this article all underscored the fact that happiness is indeed a choice and not a miraculous circumstance.
As my childhood BFF, Candace mentioned, “I choose to be happy and because of that, my daughter and I are living out our best life together.”
In addition to strengthening her faith, Candace realized she had to forgive her daughter’s father to truly release any negative feelings that fueled her unhappiness and loneliness.
She told me:
“I had to forgive my daughter’s father for his shortcomings as a man and as a father. Not for him, but for me. I accepted the fact that I am living life as a single mom. This is my present reality.
I choose to live in the moment instead of being angry at the past, or stuck daydreaming about the future. I had to take myself out of my head and look around at all my blessings in front of me and start being grateful.”
While it may be true that we all were born with a happiness set point, this point can be reset through intentional behavior and choice.
Some ways in which one can do this include: mindfulness, gratitude, helping others, practicing compassion, and by simply smiling.
Understanding that happiness is a choice is incredibly empowering. This teaches us that we have the power to control our emotions.
At the end of the day, Louise Hay reminds us that, “loneliness is merely a thought that we think,” and if we can redirect our thoughts to something positive, to help someone else, or to gratitude, that nagging feeling may just start to dissipate.
When you look around you, you can likely come up with several reasons to be upset or lonely. Yet, there is so much to be grateful for.
The #1 reason to be grateful is the amazing, healthy, beautiful child or children you are raising.
When you stop focusing on the negatives of what is and instead start directing your attention on the positives and all of the wonderful things in your present and all of the wonderful things in your future, you can start to feel more hope which can, in turn, be a powerful weapon to slowly kill off the part of you that is still clinging to something that once was — perhaps somebody you once were.
Be compassionate with yourself! Stop punishing yourself and rid your mind and body of any extra mom guilt that you are carrying around.
This is not all your fault. Forgive your partner, forgive yourself. Keep searching for that sweet spot of balance that will uniquely fit your life and your needs.
Get to know the new version of you that has emerged from relationship status changes, childbearing and rearing, and new emotional armor.
Look for ways to enjoy your life guilt-free. Take the time to figure out your needs and tend to them. Get yourself back out there and date again when you are ready. Find new hobbies and meet new circles of friends.
You deserve this! I deserve this! Choosing happiness is not always easy, but I know we can do this together!
When Loneliness Returns…Ask for Help!
If you experience chronic, severe loneliness after a divorce that just won’t let go, or you feel the loneliness is severely impacting your and your children’s lives, it’s time to step things up a notch.
Friends, family, online support groups, and distracting ourselves with our kid’s activities are all great tools for staving off loneliness when you are a single mom.
Yet, even if you have ticked off all 3 suggestions that I listed, it is possible that you may still find yourself needing more help.
When Candace reached out to other single moms for support to ward of her loneliness, she would often come away from those meetings feeling worse than before.
“Other single moms were going through the same feelings I was, so playdates consisted of wine and baby daddy bashing. That wasn’t making me feel any better. Since misery loves company, those negative feelings were just feeding off each other.”
Consider talk therapy.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to a therapist in your area to help you sort out what you are dealing with.
Prefer online therapy?
Try using talkspace.com to help you find an online therapist that may better meet your needs.
Not sure what you need?
Visit your primary care physician and he or she can help determine what type of care may be best for you.
Bottom line: ask for help.
The question is not if loneliness returns, but when.
The sneaky part is that it will likely creep up on you when you least expect it, even if your divorce was an amicable one. Thus, the best approach may indeed be a proactive one. Anticipate your triggers and have a plan for action.
Think of your “goddess moment activities” from before as your own personal loneliness repellent. If you have your tools armed and ready you will be less susceptible to loneliness’s nasty venom.
And sure, even with the maximum level of protection, you might suffer a bite from time to time.
Many of us struggled with loneliness during the COVID-19 pandemic, for instance. Our life circumstances can change on a dime and loneliness can bite us when we least expect it.
But the difference is that the bite will not fester or swell, but just be a bit itchy — but if you don’t scratch — it will finally go away.
The women I interviewed for this article are brave and courageous for sharing their stories to help other moms like you and me who are going through some of the same struggles after separation or divorce.
My hope is that you can identify with the women who shared their stories and that you find inspiration in their triumph.
As for me? I found the stories I learned to be extremely therapeutic and resourceful.
Following their advice, I attended my first dance class in my town just a few weeks ago. I was shy and insecure about going into a room full of people who I didn’t know and then having to dance with them!
Yet, thanks to my bravery, I quickly found myself laughing and caught up so much in the moment that I lost all track of time and space.
It wasn’t until the class ended and I glanced at my phone that loneliness tried to pay me a visit. So, I quickly shoved my phone back in my purse and went back to the dance instructor to sign up for the next week.
One more battle won.
Ladies, I think this might just be the secret — loneliness may never truly go away altogether, but the way we approach it and manage it can change and tremendously improve our quality of life.
I like to remember that loneliness is truly just a feeling provoked by a thought. And since I have all of the power over which thoughts I choose to think, I can make the choice to be happy.
Just because loneliness comes knocking on my door doesn’t mean I have to let her in. It also doesn’t mean I have to put out a trap or leave poison on the doorknob either.
I have to learn how to make peace with her so that she becomes something I do not resist, but rather accept and acknowledge.
The difference in my own life is perspective.
My own personal struggles and the challenges of women like me have taught me to get closer to God and to take my power back. I am enough. You are enough.
Everything we need to know is already inside of us. He or she cannot provide that for you, because you alone have the key to unlock all of the treasures you have been seeking.
The road to self-discovery and self-love is flooded with collateral beauty at every turn, at the top of every hill, and at the bottom of every valley. All you need is to know where to look and you’re there.
I believe in you because I believe in me. We’re in this together! Let’s do this!