The Unexpected Loneliness of Getting Divorced

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself sitting in Arthur’s office. He probably doesn’t remember me, but I came to see him a few years ago when my mom got divorced. She’d given me her wedding ring from her ex-husband and told me, “I don’t care what you do with it. I just never want to see it again, and don’t tell me what happened to it.”

I picked this particular jewelry buyer, not because they give better prices than other shops in New York City’s diamond district, but because they actually have an office. An office with a receptionist with whom I can make an appointment, and where I can sit in a comfortable, air-conditioned waiting room while I wait for Arthur to reduce the value of my marriage to the total carat weight of the items I’ve brought to sell him today.

I’m a 31-year-old Black, queer woman, quasi-single mom, and I’m getting divorced.

One of the most unexpected things about getting divorced is how lonely it can be. No matter how long you’ve been working on your marriage, how many therapists you’ve seen (both separately and together) and how much of yourself you’ve given to the relationship, when you decide that it’s over, people pull away from you like Moses parting the Red Sea.

Where I was once surrounded on all sides by leagues of support, I suddenly found myself standing in the sand alone. The people who were once part of my support system were suddenly standing in judgment of me, comparing notes and making assumptions in group chats I wasn’t invited to join.

One of my favorite podcasters, Dan Savage, likes to give a piece of advice that fits perfectly with this scenario: “You’re going to tell them one thing about you, and the way they respond will tell you everything you need to know about them.”

For my married friends, watching my marriage fall apart was like catching a glimpse of themselves in the hall mirror and wincing at what they saw reflected back to them. It hit too close to home: a professional queer couple of color, a two-mom family with an adorable toddler, trying and failing to patch the cracks in their relationship.

Instead of leaning in to offer support, they dissected my approach, vultures circling overhead as a lion takes down its prey.

“Well, what did you do wrong?”

“How are you going to fix it?”

“You can’t just leave things like this; I need to know what you’re going to do. I need to know how this is going to end.”

That brazen sense of entitlement to a neat and tidy end to my marital problems was somehow both comforting and insulting. In their own twisted way, these once-friends of mine were trying to provide a vote of confidence. As a highly educated and well-heeled group of professional lesbians, they were used to getting their way. If they wanted something, they made it happen. If they didn’t want to deal with something, they threw money at it, and the problem disappeared.

You can do it, they were trying to say. Just work harder, complain less, and fix it.

I didn’t know how to tell them that I was just as disappointed as they were that a stiff upper lip and a strong cocktail weren’t going to fix my marriage.

They didn’t want to hear about the hours I spent begging my ex-wife to talk to me, to tell me that we were still in this together. They weren’t interested in how volatile things were at home, how hard it was to leave the house and put on a brave face while living through the painful, slow, inexorable death of a decade-long relationship.

Deep down, I wonder if they were afraid that the honesty it takes to face the fact that a relationship needs to end might be contagious. If they stood too close to me, they might realize they wanted to take a closer look in that mirror too, but they didn’t have the guts to deal with what they might see.

The months of painful cohabitation and strained co-parenting interactions I endured with my ex, while waiting for our lawyers to disentangle the strands of our now-to-be separate lives, made the judgment and rejection I experienced at the hands of my married ex-friends look like a cake walk. Little did I know, the courage it took to ask for what I needed was nothing compared to the courage it would take to withstand what was to come.

As hard as I worked to keep my mind focused and sharp, the stress and pain of my divorce found a way to express itself through my body. I developed an uncontrollable muscle twitch on the left side of my face that would spasm at the most inconvenient times, and I started getting nosebleeds during my morning commute.

If you’ve spent any time in the city, you know that New Yorkers are infamous for their ability to ignore each other on the subway. So, while I frantically searched for tissues – and on one notable occasion, a panty liner – to stem the flow of blood gushing out of my nose and attempted to salvage my outfit with a Tide to-go pen, everyone around me went on with their lives like they didn’t notice me, my distress, or the biohazard I was working very hard to keep from impacting those around me.

In some ways, the loneliness of my divorce was a lot like these nosebleeds – it caught me completely off guard, and I suddenly felt like there was a spotlight on me, relentlessly highlighting something I was desperately trying to clean up before it got out of hand.

Perhaps the most unexpected part of my loneliness was that it catalyzed my courage into something real and sustainable; it made me brave.

With this newfound bravery, I used the harshness of that spotlight to look at myself and my choices through a different lens. It wasn’t always pleasant, but it was necessary. I took a hard look at the life we’d built together. I had become so used to pouring all of myself into my marriage and our little family, that I had almost forgotten who I was before I took on the roles of wife and mother.

It was painful to see the ways I traded my own happiness for the stability of married life. Without realizing it, I had started to conflate the two: if my marriage was stable, then I must be happy. Unfortunately, that stability curdled into stagnation, and the sense of comfort I used to derive from that stability started to feel more and more like quicksand. If I wasn’t careful, it would swallow me whole.

After my mom’s divorce she moved to Florida, much to the confusion of our extended family. Growing up, my mom hated going to the beach. She spent her career as a high-powered corporate business woman, too busy and too stressed to enjoy something as simple as watching the waves with her toes in the sand. Now in her 60s, she’s at the beach at least twice a week.

When I talk to my mom about my divorce, she tells me how proud she is of me. “I’ve been married three times,” she told me, “and it’s taken me over 65 years and three divorces to figure out what makes me happy. It is so wonderful to see you asking what makes you happy in your 30s. Don’t wait until you’re my age to figure it out.”

After spending so much of her life pouring into others, my mom is finally pouring into herself. For the first time, she has built a life that prioritizes her happiness over the happiness of others. Those decisions haven’t always been the most popular or well-received, but the joy I see in her face and hear in her voice makes it clear that they were the right ones.

On hard days, I remember the happiness my mom has cultivated for herself, despite the criticism of others. She didn’t let the stability or routine comforts of relationships she’d outgrown keep her stuck in a pattern at the expense of her own well-being. She took a risk, and put herself first. She was brave.

Some days, it’s hard for me to be brave. Getting divorced is exhausting, time-consuming, and expensive. Dear god, it is so expensive. Holding space for myself and my daughter as I navigate this process takes a level of strength that I didn’t know I had, right up until I needed it. In those moments, when I’m not sure I can hold anything else the world throws at me, I remember that I didn’t just make this decision for me. I made this decision for my daughter. I want to show her what it looks like to choose yourself, even if it means disappointing others, even if it’s hard. Especially when it’s hard. I want her to know that she is brave, too.

In her book, Untamed, Glennon Doyle talks about her decision to leave her husband, Craig, and marry her now-wife, Abby Wambach. My copy of Untamed is filled with highlights and notes in the margins, trying to memorialize every bit of wisdom and sage advice Glennon offers as she tells her story.

Every time I open it, I find something new to help me think about and process my divorce.

When she talks about her decision to finally tell Craig she wants a divorce, Glennon says, “I don’t owe Craig the rest of my life, but I do owe him my honesty. It’ll be hard, but it’ll finally be the right kind of hard.”

Being the one to say my marriage needed to end was the hardest, loneliest decision I’ve ever made. Every day, it is hard to wake up and navigate this new, messy, world I live in, doing my best to make sense of my life in this new context.

But for the first time in a long time, it’s the right kind of hard.

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Jálynn Castleman-Smith

Jálynn is a Black, queer, neurodivergent writer, mom, and professional nerd living and growing in Brooklyn. When she’s not reading, writing, or co-parenting, you can find Jálynn in the kitchen, or working on the same scarf she started knitting almost 5 years ago. She hopes to finish it before her toddler goes off to college.

Jálynn has written 2 articles for us.


  1. 31 and going through a divorce. Absolutely wild how the people you thought who would be so supportive suddenly disappear after a couple casual “have you tried __?”comments. You are spot on about your divorce being too much like a mirror for many others. If I had a dollar for every time someone winced when I described my marriages issues, I’d be able to pay for my divorce! Soldier on friend 💚

    • It truly is wild! The ways divorce shows you who’s really in your corner is so interesting. Sending you all the supportive vibes as we keep soldiering on through this process, and thank you for taking the time to comment! ❤️

  2. This resonates so much. I was shocked by the way my divorce played out in my support network and social circle and even though my ex and I were friendly throughout, the loneliness of the experience is hard to overstate. It ultimately was also an incredibly positive experience but I really appreciate this piece naming the feeling. Thank you for sharing.

  3. One of the most honest & true things I’ve read on divorce. Just ended a 12-year relationship and it’s been so hard to accept that it’s just not working any more. It’s lonely! But the framing that it makes you brave is so beautiful and just what I needed to hear.

  4. I went through my first marriage rupture at the age of 35, and part of the reason I stayed for another five years was because I had no colleagues in the work of divorce at the time; no one knew how to do it, and I was terrified to blaze that trail. Five year later, I’m separating from my spouse and finding the most fabulous network of people who have been through it/are going through it. It is lonely, but pieces like thing create space for people who know.

  5. I got divorced this year after 12 years and two kids together. It was very amicable, and we’re great co-parents. But almost all the friends we made together went with her, and I regained my friends, many of whom I had let slip away, from my life before her. Luckily.

    This par could have been written by me: ‘I had become so used to pouring all of myself into my marriage and our little family, that I had almost forgotten who I was before I took on the roles of wife and mother.’

    It’s been months and months of rediscovering myself, and it’s been worth it.

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