As much as we’d love for them to last, marriages sometimes come with an expiration date. After that comes a court date. And then, after a few months (or years), comes a date of an entirely different sort: the first post-divorce date. Seattle writer Theo Pauline Nestor had been married for nearly 12 years when she suddenly found herself entering unfamiliar single territory. Not surprisingly, she responded by putting pen to paper, creating her compelling memoir, How to Sleep Alone in a King-Size Bed. We talked to Theo about how she made the journey from devoted wife to dazed divorcee to happy, independent singleton. Here’s what she had to say.
Q: What hit you the hardest after you and your husband split up?
A: The silence. When I was married, I would call my husband after I left somewhere and say "We just finished lunch and we’re headed to the zoo" or whatever. In the first weeks after our split, I’d take out my cell phone and then realize that no one was waiting to find out what I was doing. I felt like I was rattling around in the world without a tether.
Q: Did you eventually come to appreciate your single status?
A: I had glimmers of "Wow, I can do whatever I want now," but the reality of having two young children usually tempered that pretty quickly. I don’t want to scare anyone who has just started going through this, but it probably took me about two years before I felt a steady optimism about the future. It might take less time or more for others, depending on the length and intensity of the marriage and other factors in your life.
Q: When did you start dating again?
A: I ended up dating my college-era sweetheart seven months after my husband and I split up, but it wasn’t really dating per se, because we knew each other and had already been romantically involved. Real dating — the little I did of it — came three years after my divorce, when my boyfriend and I split up.
Q: What was the best and worst advice you got from your friends and family?
A: My life coach probably helped me avert a disaster during the initial days of the divorce by telling me not to make any big changes for six months and to take time to grieve. My sister also convinced me to go on a vacation with her and she’s not a person one says no to. (She’s a psychologist and a trained hostage negotiator.) We went to Mexico, ate a lot of guacamole, drank tequila and talked for hours. And I came home hopeful. As for bad advice, I have to say I’m not a big fan of being told to remember "This, too, shall pass." Yes, of course it will pass, but that’s not a huge solace when you’ll be dealing with your ex until you’re old enough to withdraw from your 401(k) without penalty.
Q: Some people take classes after a breakup; others climb into a bottle. What helped you get through the first six months?
A: Friends, exercise, therapy, work and reading. I also found that when I was writing about the divorce, I felt like I had more control over it, and I don’t think that’s just because I’m a writer. I think pouring thoughts out on paper during the divorce process is a very helpful way to deal with the fear. Even if you’re not normally a journal keeper, this might be a good time to use one.
Q: What advice would you give someone who’s fresh out of a long-term relationship?
A: Treat yourself like you would treat a child who just went through something horrible. Don’t beat yourself up for what you should have done differently. Put yourself to bed early if you’re tired. Call friends if you’re lonely. Buy yourself new music once in a while, even if you’re broke. To be single successfully, you really need to be actively on your own side, to be constantly on the lookout for your own best interests.
Q: So where are you now in terms of life, love and being a mom?
A: I really love where I am now, even if it isn’t always easy. I’m dating a great guy I met online —as a stay-at-home writer and a mom, I knew I’d never meet anyone unless I extended myself. I’m having fun with my two daughters, and I’m working on a new book about a single mom who refuses to settle for less than everything she wants. (OK, it’s about me!)