Once in a while, when I was divorced I would compare myself with someone who was widowed. When her husband died, they came with casseroles to console here. They came to pay condolence calls. They worried about her. Was she going to be all right without him? Could she support herself with the big wage earner gone?

The widow does not care for the comparison. When a husband dies, she recalls all the good memories, the fun family reunions, the memorable cruise they took, the backyard barbeques with friends. She looks fondly at the pictures of her dearly departed spouse and thinks of the love they shared. Not all widows feel desolate and despair because not all marriages are wonderful, as the divorced woman knows.

When she is divorced, especially when she initiates the divorce, no one brings her casseroles. There are no condolence calls. Instead, friends usually disappear into the woodwork, or are divided. Most of the time, they feel uncomfortable not knowing who to support, and so withdraw at the very time the divorced woman needs a friend. I remember thinking, I’ll know who my real friends are now. They’ll stick by me. However, most of my friendships were my husband’s friends and their wives. Guess in which direction they fled when we divorced? I had to start from scratch developing new friendships. It’s not easy finding a new friend who is single and compatible. As a divorced woman, I needed and appreciated all the friends I could have.

When you divorce, you remember the worst of times, and focus more on them, rather than the best of times. You remember what you lost when the marriage ended, and how your life changed. The divorced woman certainly doesn’t keep pictures of her ex prominently displayed on the shelf. Did you cut him out of the family photo? Do you only display pictures of the kids now?

Another difference between a widow and a divorced woman, is that the divorced woman doesn’t want to hear his name, see him or learn about the new woman in his life…or how she was in his life long before he divorced her. I remember when my daughter got married and we both were at the wedding. We didn’t walk down the aisle together. He escorted grandma. My brother escorted me. I was keenly aware, as were the guests, of this arrangement. But we stood together at one side of the altar. I remember how he smiled at his girlfriend, who was seated in the second row, while he was standing next to me. Yes, I still remember it, all these years later. And I remember how he danced with his girlfriend at the reception. If that wasn’t enough, they were hosts at the hospitality suite. It all hurt. And I had to cope with it.

The widow’s husband is gone. He does not come back to haunt her (except in horror movies.) The ex is always there. You may be divorced, but he’s still there. When holiday time rolls around, one gets the kids at Thanksgiving and the other at Christmas. Someone in his family gets married. He’s invited. The kids are invited. You are not. You have to deal with it. Whatever the arrangement, there is always a sense of loss, and deal with it, you must. The marriage is over. A new kind of relationship begins.

The widow does not have a choice. Her husband died. He’s gone. Forever. The divorced woman does not have a choice. He’s still there. You can enter a new relationship with another man, but he’s still there.

I began to thrive and develop my independence and self-worth after the divorce. My ex-mother-in-law began to thrive after my ex-father-in-law died. She finally developed her self-worth. We both thrived although under different circumstances.

The question is not whether it is better to have loved and lost, but what you perceive as having lost. You are divorced. Start creating new memories, happy ones. Work on your independence and self-worth. Create a new and better person. Start now.

Marilyn Frazer

Author of The Relationship Trap