A friend of mine (who lives in my computer) lost her husband a year ago June 30th. Recently, she wrote on Facebook about her experience buying new underwear. She had waited so long, the holes were ridiculous and embarrassing. But after 4 trips to the mall, she had to stop and ask herself why it was so hard. What kind of underwear does a widow wear? What would be appropriate? I went through a similar experience after my ex left me. No, he didn’t die, but the divorce was like a death to me. I felt tremendous grief. And I felt that acute sense of abandonment just as strongly as if he had perished. In my situation, it wasn’t so much about underwear and what a divorcee should wear. It was more general and encompassing; about how a divorcee should navigate life alone. How do you conduct yourself appropriately? How do you make sure everyone knows you’re not after their husband? How do you connect as a single with your old couple friends…now that you are no longer a couple? How do you go about finding your footing in this new, perilous world? Doesn’t seem it should be that hard because life as a couple had been filled with pain, rejection, disdain and the union was without love on his part. But it was yet another layer of trauma. I had no idea how to be a single person.
I remember going to church after the divorce. A new church. My old one was no longer a place where I belonged, nor was I wanted or welcomed there. So at the same time I was adjusting to a life without a husband, I was also trying to find a new church home; a place I could fit and connect. It was a grueling experience. I discovered that a woman my age, all alone, is invisible. Completely undetectable. I walked in, sat, stood when people stood, sang when people sang, listened when people listened, and then left. I was in a bubble that kept me totally cut me off from everyone around me. It was as if I had the plague and had to be quarantined. I was isolated. I walked out untouched, disconnected, empty and utterly alone. The experience did nothing but highlight the fact that I no longer had a mate waiting at home for me. There would be no one to talk to about how the service went. No one to notice my return.
There were other visits to other churches and I finally settled on one where some friends from my previous church had started going. But the disconnection never improved. There is a fairly major difference, I discovered, between single and couple friends. It was awkward to try to hang out with them and their family now that I was on my own. It further emphasized the fact that my life was empty. And theirs was full. I was never able to connect with others at the church I tried to plug in to. I felt shame over the failure of my marriage and acutely more and more alone every time I went to a service. Even felt cut off from God. It was as if I existed in a different dimension from the rest of the planet. I moved among them, but went unseen and undetected.
I stopped going.
Guilt would drive me back for a few services, but ultimately, the isolation and disconnection caused me to give up and quit until I gave up and stopped trying. Now, I sleep in on Sunday mornings and talk to my dogs who pretend to listen, but respond only to the tone of my voice (and a few key words).
My eating disorder returned with a vengeance. I lost weight. I did buy new underwear. And new clothes. I probably dress too young for my age, but I no longer care. No one sees me anyway. I’m just an old lady who is all alone. I pass among people, but go unnoticed. It doesn’t matter what I wear or what I do. I am the invisible woman. At most, I receive an occasional nod as I walk into the grocery store, but that’s fairly rare. Mostly, people look right through me and walk by without so much as an averted glance.
As a divorcee, I am less acceptable than a widow. A widow has remained married until death do us part. Even if that death was premature, it’s vastly more respectable and deserving of compassion. Divorcees are failures. They have baggage. It was probably their fault. You were left alone for a reason. And at an age when most people are retiring, the single men my age want to find a cute young thing to hold close to remind them they aren’t as old as the numbers tell them they are. They don’t want someone who is also beginning to realize the end is coming all too soon, that you really do slow down and you actually do grow black hairs on your chin that have to be plucked, or ear hair that has to be pulled. The wrinkles are deeper and no amount of anti-aging cream or serum is going to keep them at bay. Time marches on. One day, it will march on without you.
So I go like a ghost through the days. Shrouded in solitude, wrapped in invisibility, I don’t even produce a blip on the human detection radar.
I despair at ever being able to connect in any meaningful way. Which isn’t all the fault of everyone else. I did, after all, stop going to church. I don’t, after all, go to any events or parties nor have people over. I go to the grocery store, the pharmacy and the gas station. I occasionally schedule appointments with various doctors. I take my dogs to the vet. I go to work. Otherwise, I am home 99.9% of the time. Obviously, I’m not truly providing myself with many opportunities to build meaningful relationships. To forge connections.
I don’t know how…to do this or to change what I am doing. Going places by myself is a painful experience. Not going is painful too, but maybe not as much. I’m not having my face rubbed in my singlehood. It’s not glaringly obvious that I’m isolated when I’m at home with my dogs. I’m not invisible to Zoe and Hannah. I guess there’s something to be said for that.
I don’t know how to be a divorced older woman in this youth worshiping society, nor do I have any idea about how to build a meaningful life. I have additional complications…the depression, eating disorder, debt, feelings of worthlessness, all that damage from being abused as a child. Stuff I should be over. Should have been able to recover from by now. Sources of shame. But I don’t know how to live in a society where it’s all about being young and pretty and happy and fun and positive when I’m old and have never been pretty and I’m overwhelmed with despair and I’m not much fun and I tend to be negative. I don’t know how to wear the mask any more. Not that I ever did that good of a job, but I certainly fooled a few people besides myself.
I bought new underwear. It’s lacy and frilly and girly. I like to wear it because it makes me feel like I’m someone. Still desirable. Still alive. It’s my little secret and it feels good to have something hidden that isn’t such a bad thing. Because I hide so many things. So many ugly things. So much of what I am is disgusting by human standards. But at least one of the things I wear beneath my clothes is pretty and sweet and delicate. At least one thing about me is a pleasant surprise. There is a woman inside of me who likes the fine, dainty, laciness of those hidden undies because she desperately needed something to feel good about.