Falling in love straight after your divorce (and lessons I have learned).

It’s clickbait, guys. But it’s also true. Argh. Love. What? Why? And more please.

You know the story. The ex husband and I were horribly in love, had twelve excellent years, acquired offspring, and then discovered that we were no longer in love anymore and were left scratching our heads about what to do about it until we called it quits in March. Now we talk fondly (and occasionally with some irritation) about our relationship over weekend coffees, midweek dinners and kids’ birthday parties we were too stupid to get out of having to attend (why do children have so many birthdays?).

We (the ex and I) have moved in very different directions in terms of relationships, but these directions have been accurate reflections of our personalities. He is slow, steady, stable, chill AF. I have gone about things with characteristic chaos and uncertainty. With me it’s been more a case of, ‘where am I?’, ‘who are you?’, ‘what is this?’ and ‘I think I’ll change my name to Audrey, that sounds like a good escape plan, bye’.

It’s not been easy. Oslo is a very isolating place. Which has its perks for a person from South Africa who detests how everybody and their aunty is up in their personal business.  But with little to no eye-contact on the streets, and almost zero noise apart from human footfalls and the ominous sound of crows circling garbage bins, this place can be quite trying. 

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Pretty, quiet and eye-contact-free Oslo.

Soon after we initiated the divorce, I went into a mad dating frenzy, not knowing how to be single at all, not even knowing what life was meant to look like solo. I had craved my personal space for so long, but as soon as I had it, my body and mind seemed to want to take the shape of a tethered person once more. It was irritating and confusing, and I found myself constantly seeking the company of potential romantic partners: pulling people in because I craved their companionship and then pushing them away because I craved independence.

It has been less than a year since we split. But several lifetimes. I personally have taken many forms, and can now call myself a shapeshifter with some confidence. I look back on the person I was a few weeks after activating singledom, and I can barely recognise that form. Was she really that insecure? Did she really drink that much whisky? Who even is that weirdo? Jokes, she was cool, she introduced me to some good tunes and also had that epic night making honey tequila with Nicole. But still. It’s a different person that sits here now.

Currently drinking whisky, mind you. Some things do not change.

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Blurring into my next shape.

So what of this falling in love? 

I’ll tell you. And you will roll your eyes. Do it now, get it out of your system. 

It’s fucking platonic. It’s not even quite limited to a person. OK, that’s not true, it’s definitely centered on people, starting with one surprise knock to the chest of infatuation, then extending to a couple more people around me, and now to the bloody city itself. Yes, the city of the eye-diverters, garbage-crows and expensive booze. 

I am 100% in love, fully immersed, and it’s making me both happy and miserable and I adore it. Is that not what love is? It pushes and pulls and keeps you thrilled? It surprises you with silly text messages, drunken nights out and walks home with a grin on your face. It buys you lunch and brings you little gifts and makes you laugh. And it gives you something to look forward to, something to cry about, has in-jokes and little secrets, and makes you think about your love(s) when they are not around.

I’m fucking bursting with it and it makes my chest hurt sometimes. 

It was hard to identify what it was at first. I was so focussed on dating, romantic connections, finding worth through partnership. One night, as I was about to meet a man I connected with on Bumble, I got a call from a friend here – our friendship was still budding, but rapidly so – she was outside my apartment at 10pm, taking a walk, wondering if I were home and wanted a drink. I was near the bar where I was meeting the date and for a second I wondered if I should turn around and go back to her. I chose to honour the date, but I sometimes wonder if my experiences this summer would have gone differently if I had just turned around and met her instead. She didn’t mind, she met me the next day, and yet still it took weeks before I started to realise that that feeling I was starting to get every time we were going to see each other or every time I got a text  from her,was  a kind of friend-love that I had started falling into. 

The romantic dates came and went. Dating is a little nerve-wracking, always anxiety-inducing, often boring, and if you don’t know what you want, can end up in some heartache for either of you. Don’t get me wrong, it was thrilling too and I was fully hooked on it. Hooked enough to make me not see immediately what was happening in the friend-sphere of my life. Dating was special.

 

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Dating can be special…or it can also be trash. Luck of the draw!

But friendship… The shape I’ve taken because of my friendship with her and others, makes me look at myself in the mirror with wonder. Where was once just an uncertain, foggy substance, is now something solid, with skin and even some muscle and bone. I see myself through their eyes, their words, their time spent with me. And it took me so damn long to appreciate it. I would rave about my friends to every new person I met, especially on dates, but I don’t think I quite appreciated how my friendships were wrapping their limbs around me and holding me tight and keeping me from floating into nothing. 

Because, even with the re-established connection I have had with old friends (like one amazing old friend I started talking with online every single day through voice notes and text messages), all this friend stuff was quite new. I had spent my entire adult life in romantic relationships. And much of my teen years, too. Friendships were the additions to the kind of love that ends in marriage, right?

Fuck no.

I realise now that these relationships are my main ones, and I want it to stay that way. Romantic ones will have to fit somewhere in with them. Oh, now I totally understand the Golden Girls. 

Picture this:

TJ, a little bruised from a relatively gentle but still life-altering divorce, looks around wildly for something to make her whole again. Kid? No, can’t put that much pressure on the little guy (though he finally admitted to me being his best friend and not that little twerp from school). Work? Perhaps, but while I enjoy it, it’s not enough to hold on to. Family? Absolutely great to have them, but the boundaries must be set if sanity is to prevail. 

And there in the distance, I see the people who make my heart beat faster, make me want to cancel all other plans, make me write whole blog posts about them. People I bundle myself up in warm clothing to trudge over to in the snow whenever they ask, just so I can do nothing but sit and talk or watch them make art or laugh at videos of them on YouTube. People whose talents I admire and want to brag about (and this I do) to everyone I meet. People who make me feel like I’m fourteen again (but without the angst and obsession with Trent Reznor. No, who am I kidding?I Trent will always have my heart). People who make me feel like I’m the funniest, most lovable, most beautiful person they know. 

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Warm times on cold nights.

And, hopefully, I do the same for them. Sometimes my one friend will look at me with a strange, concentrated squint and pause in the middle of a random sentence, and just when I think she’s seen something in my nose or something and I become self-conscious she says:

“My god, why do you look so beautiful today?” Then she shakes her head, almost disappointed with me for not somehow spending the last forty minutes thinking about myself in the same flattering way she just did.

When I go home after seeing her I’m always a little lighter on my feet, I feel like I’m fucking powerful and totally going to charm the heck out of the next person I meet.

And so, I find that, despite the occasional Tinder swipe frenzy when I’m feeling restless or in need of someone to flirt with (because of that no-eye-contact thing thing I mentioned earlier, flirting is not something that occurs regularly in Norway), I find myself choosing to date less frequently because so much of my heart is already occupied. I have a big heart, so there is certainly space for romantic love too, but it will have to coexist with this intense love I now have for my friends. This includes the ones I have back in Cape Town, who send their tendrils of affection from far and remind me that I am loved across continents. Lucky fucker, I am. 

I was talking today about this love, and the person I chatted to said that he finds it tough to make friends in his thirties, but then realised that he had, in fact, made a few new friends, but didn’t frame their interaction the way I did. So it made me think: perhaps I am far more open to love than I realised. I have told many people that I am closed to the prospect of love so soon after divorce, but it seems I was talking nonsense. I had now come to define my interactions with friends as something loving, and as soon as I applied that language to it, I realised how big they were, these friendships I had, and how similar the feelings were to the love I had in marriage or relationships. Only without the intense institutional commitment or sexual element. And even where sexual elements have existed – friends I made after being partnered up with them – the intense friend-love can exist without the need to turn it into the predictable romance story. Hey, I’m no hippie (but I don’t judge) and I don’t know if I’d cope with polyamory (it’s not for the lazy), I’m just saying that I want to celebrate this falling in love with people without really needing to put a little mould over it and say, “Aha! Now that’s your shape, spend your eternity in this tin mould, there is no other way to love!” 

All this love has saved me. A few months ago things got quite dark. I have spent many years struggling with severe bouts of unpredictable depression and two decades with an eating disorder that has taken up so much of my mental and physical energy. My sense of worth is often externally defined and the divorce, change of career, change of country and the new way I have to parent took its toll. Dating was distracting me from dealing with all of this, and it confused me so much, because I felt like I wasn’t a fully-formed person yet. I was still half of a marriage, missed family time with my ex-husband and child together, and wasn’t ready to let go of all the plans and dreams we had for our shared future. Childhood memories were becoming more bothersome and overwhelming and being in sort of suspended animation here in Norway was preventing me from dealing with these feelings about my past. So I had nothing to hold on to. No religion, no marriage, just my little child who honestly could do without that pressure of my neediness.

But then, *ping* a text message: “Girl, when are you coming home to Oslo? I miss you!”, another: “Morning, lovely lady, what did you get up to today?”, another: “I saw this macabre thing that reminded me of you”. One of my favourites: “I drew this picture of us, do you think I’m nuts?”.

Love. So much fucking love. If Donald Trump were talking about it, he’d say: “I’ve got the best love. I have all the love. It’s the most amazing love you’ll ever hear about. It’s so great you can’t even measure it, actually. Look at how big my hands are.”

And now here I sit, with all these people in my heart, and the dark Oslo winter has become more of a blanket than a frightening abyss. I’ve wrapped it tight around myself, rejoicing in its cosiness, in the way it lets us huddle close together and share moments of love and affection. 

It’s true that I am lucky to have a social personality that allows me to make friends relatively easily. It comes from a naive optimism that has seen me having to endure far too many boring conversations or acquire the odd starved-for-affection stalker now and then. But mostly it has seen me open my eyes wide and gasp at the wonderful peculiarities people have, and take risks texting new people I find fascinating to invite them for coffee. It’s made me OK with enduring rejection because the risk of not having the opportunity to find love or social comfort is too great if I don’t put myself out there. I did it today! I texted a woman I met at a party yesterday who seemed mad and tough and ate everybody’s food when they weren’t looking. I was nervous that she thought I was a bit silly because she was so tough, but hell, if she told me to fuck off, it was better than not giving it a shot. And she texted back! So we’ll hang next week and I will see if she really is as great as she seemed last night or less interesting and not someone I can fall in friend-love with. Or perhaps I will fall in intense friend-love for three weeks and then we drift apart. Or she will tell me to fuck off in three months. I don’t know, I don’t care. 

Having discovered that I do have capacity for love in abundance has also made me realise that perhaps I will be open to romantic love again. I felt mini-flutterings of something like it a few times in the past year, but I was always so cynical and unhappy and looking to find myself and protect my newfound independence. It is also so easily confused with infatuation or sexual compatibility. Now, with my beautiful friends, I find myself having taken solid form and realise how very wonderful my solo life is, but that it also needn’t be entirely solo all the time if the right nutjob comes along. This love has made me like myself better, not just from the external validation, but made me so at peace that I had time to glance over at who I was, give myself a little wink and say: “You’re not so bad, girl.” 

I think we celebrate friend-love too little. We joke about them being bromances or crazy BFF situations and then prioritise the partnering-up type of romantic love and tell endless stories about them and host events in their honour. OMG new business idea: Best friend weddings.  Hahah. No, that’s bound to cause BFF conflict. 

But what a good party.

Anyway, right now, my friends and this love is magic. 

Completely dangerous and wonderfully healing witchcraft that takes me into each new day. 

Now I’m off to book a probably ill-advised ferry ride to Copenhagen for New Years Eve with some of these weirdos. Four strong personalities in one tiny ferry cabin.

I didn’t say love was smooth sailing (ohhhhh, issa pun right there and I’m not sorry. I’m not sorry).

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The location where we planned that fateful NYE trip (it hasn’t happened yet but I predict it will be fateful).

My song for this month and my mood in general (I listen to while walking or jogging) is Hold Tight London (Chemical Brothers).

2 Comments

  1. I’m so happy that you’re happy. And that Norway makes you happy.
    “I think we celebrate friend-love too little.” Has a truer statement ever been made? Friends are the family we get to choose!
    I love you lots my friend.

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