You watched your friend’s life fall apart. You watched her plans for the future shatter, her hopes and dreams derailed. Her heart broken. You cried together, prayed together. You yelled and cursed and ex-bashed together. You were by her side for all of it, from the blistering pain to the drunken karaoke. And now, she’s dating. What!? Already? Is she ready for this? You’re afraid she’s going to get hurt, and you want to protect her from that. Like any good friend would do.
And you should still be there for her; she does still need your support in this new life, in her “new normal.” But, there are a few things you should be careful to avoid in the process. There are some things that can be said with the best of intentions, but just don’t have the impact you think they will.
So here’s what NOT to say to your recently divorced friend who is now dating:
“It’s too soon.” First of all, what timeline are you judging this by? The final stamp of the judge’s approval on the divorce papers? The beginning of the physical separation, when someone actually moved out? Or the date from which the relationship emotionally ended? Marriages end emotionally months, and sometimes even years, before those papers are signed. Chances are, the emotional connection faded long before anyone was even aware the relationship was struggling. And healing can also begin long before others realize. We do not all wait for the papers to be signed to start taking steps toward healing. I know I didn’t.
“Remember, he’s a rebound.” Okay, we’ve all been talking about rebounds since we were in seventh grade. But let’s get a few things straight. Rebounds are not bad. A lot can be found in the first relationship post-divorce. This is the first chance someone has to learn how to love again and to allow themselves to be loved again. To realize they’re capable of the first and worthy of the second. It’s a monumental milestone. It’s a crucial step. And it is also not guaranteed to end in failure. It could result in a lifelong romantic relationship. It could result in a lifelong friendship. Or, maybe it only results in memories– good, happy, laughter-filled memories that were well-deserved and a long time coming. And as far as dealing with the risk of pain? Well, your friend already survived at least one heartbreak. And she’s probably stronger for it.
“Just don’t marry him.” This one is actually kind of insulting. It implies that you don’t think your friend learned anything from her first marriage. That she hasn’t taken time to reevaluate what she does and doesn’t want in a future spouse. That she didn’t feel the consequences of marrying too soon or too young the first time. That she just breezed right over all those lessons. It also sounds like you don’t think she believes she can be on her own. Yes, the element of vulnerability after experiencing the hurt of a failed marriage is real. But do not think that it overrides the wisdom that was gained through that experience. And also remember that a boyfriend is just that: A boyfriend. Unless rings are being purchased or venues are being booked, it’s pretty safe to say that no one is planning a wedding. Your friend might not even be ready to think about the future. Maybe she can’t picture herself engaged or married to someone right now, or even again. But you know what? That’s okay. Because she might just be perfectly happy where she is right now.
Silence. This is the worst thing you could do. Divorce is often accompanied by intense feelings of rejection. And your silence? The absolute nothing that comes in response to an excited text? Or your uneasy sigh and subtle change of topic? Those responses have the familiar sting of rejection. And it is not changing your friend’s feelings about her dating relationship– it’s changing your relationship with her. Even if you don’t agree with this choice, even if you’re worried, protective, and just trying being a good friend, you have to say something. There are plenty of responses that can let a friend know you care about her and want to show interest in her life, but that don’t commit you to fully encouraging this choice that you may not feel comfortable with. How about finding something to say like, “I know this is a big deal for you. Tell me about him.” Or, “I’m a little nervous for you still, but I’d like to meet him.” Or even just something as simple as, “It’s good to see you smile.” These things don’t imply total support for the new relationship, but they show interest in and support for your friend.
If she turned to you in her heartbreak before, it’s very likely she wishes she could also share this awesome adventure with you now. Let her. Engage in this with her. If you’re able, find ways to celebrate this with her. If you’re too uncertain to celebrate it, talk with her about it. You might be surprised to find a little more knowledge makes you feel more at ease in your protectiveness. And don’t forget: It’s conversations with those closest to us that often help us reflect and process, learning more about ourselves and how or why we feel the way we do.
So be there. Love her. Support her. Be honest with her. But for her sake, please do it without using the phrases above!