If you’re in the midst of a divorce or newly single then a wedding might be the last event you want to attend but divorce coach Elise Pettus says go. There are ways to survive and enjoy wedding season after divorce.
Is there a time when you should say no to an invite?
Can you go solo, even if you and your spouse have not yet gone public with your divorce?
If you don’t want to go solo, who else can you take as a plus one?
How do your handle those awkward questions from extended family?
In this Conversation, I’m chatting with Elise Pettus, founder of Untied.net, an online magazine and real-life community based in New York for women going through divorce. Pettus has answers for all these questions and many more. Listen in below or keep reading …
Should You Say No?
You do always have the option of declining a wedding invitation and clearly, if you are in that emotional place where you can’t keep the tears out of any conversation, then may be it would best for you to stay home.
“It’s worth protecting yourself at whatever cost,” said Pettus. “I think that people are compassionate and understanding about real life crises as there are so many that strike all of us.”
If the invitation is from your STBX’s family, you might decide not to go because it would be too uncomfortable for both you and them. But realize that in sending you the invitation they are also sending a message.
“It may be that they invited you knowing that you might not come but because they really want you to know that they love you,” said Pettus.
As much as your gut is telling you not to go , skipping the event may not be the best option. As a newly-single or soon-to-be-single person, this next phase involves a lot of firsts and stepping out of your comfort zone. Going to the wedding and not the reception may also be an option however Pettus would advise against this. Be brave and go to the reception.
“Being in that early stage is really challenging but I don’t think it is a reason to skip it,” said Pettus. “There’s value in going out into the world and practicing as it were. You’re taking back your selfhood.”
Don’t Take A Date You Don’t Know
You might also consider going to the event and finding a date to go with you. You might be thinking that someone, just anyone would be better than going alone. Pettus advises against this. This is speaking to your discomfort of being solo and taking someone who you don’t know very well could just turn into a disaster and no fun.
“It obviously will invite more scrutiny and also you don’t want to be stuck with somebody you don’t really want to speak to and have to take care of all night long,” said Pettus.
So if you’re going to go to the wedding and you’re not going to take a date, you’ll be going solo and going solo to events after years of marriage may feel very strange but you can do it.
“When you divorce, there’s no question that you’re exercising muscles that you haven’t in a long while,” said Pettus. “Pat yourself on the back. Those are muscles you’re going to want to strengthen.”
Pettus suggests that you start strengthening those new muscles by gong to other less-demanding events such as activities at your child’s school.
What also helps with going solo is having a community of friends to support you while you’re going through divorce. That support will give you the confidence to go explore situations alone. Ending your marriage means having to make new connections and going to events solo is a way to jumpstart building or reworking your new network.
What About The STBX?
If you’re in the early stages of divorce and your breakup isn’t public knowledge, you’ll have to decide whether to attend the event together or just one of you go. When Pettus’s own marriage was ending she says she was too fearful to go to the first wedding alone so she made her STBX come with her and that was a mistake.
“It was miserable because my sister and brother knew what the reality was but the rest of my family didn’t,” said Pettus. “I didn’t feel I could dump the news on them at a wedding. That seemed like an unfair thing to do. It made it very stressful because I felt like we were putting on a really anemic show of happy coupledom. You could just feel the tension.”
If you do go with your STBX, you’ll want to consider transportation options so you can leave when you want, even on your own if necessary.
“You’re transitioning to separation so you’re going to protect your safety and your dignity,” said Pettus. “You want to be able to be your own agent.”
Leave When You’re Ready
One of the advantages of going solo is that you can leave when you’ve had enough. You don’t have to stay until the last dance. That does mean planning ahead and making sure you have transportation home.
Pettus recalls that first wedding when her marriage was ending. Having made her STBX go with her, he left early and she stayed. She struck up a conversation with a cousin she hadn’t seen in years who was having her own marital struggles. Her spouse was seriously ill and she was feeling isolated.
“We ended up leaving the wedding and going to a friend’s dance party and dancing all night,” said Pettus. “it was such a fun and freeing feeling just finally to be able to talk about what was really going on.”
Be Prepared To Talk Divorce
If you’re solo at an event and people know you as married, it’s inevitable that you’ll be asked about your spouse. If your divorce isn’t public knowledge yet, you can stick with the excuse that your spouse couldn’t make it. You certainly don’t want your children finding out through an inadvertent remark from one of their cousins.
Otherwise, Pettus suggests coming up with a line that is truthful but not oversharing and that you practice it. A response saying that it has been very painful and that you don’t want to talk about it might be taken a shutdown. Rather something like, ‘Jed and I are splitting up. It’s been a hard year but I think we both feel relieved to have clarity and to have some freedom to move forward’ creates an opening for more dialogue.
Some people are going to respond well to that and maybe engage in a meaningful conversation. For others, that will be a conversation-killer.
“You bring it up with people who don’t really know you and they’re married and they immediately drop their voice and look at you with this look of gravity like you’ve just contracted leprosy and they’ll say,’I’m so sorry,'” said Pettus.
That’s going to happen but not everybody is like that.
“The coolest people at these gatherings will find a way to connect with you,” said Pettus. “Suddenly you find yourself in a conversation about something that’s real and that matters and it’s not just about where you went to school or what a nice bag. I feel that you’re being there alone, you’re being willing to be open and frank about what’s happening is an invitation to people to have real conversation about real stuff.”
There’s another benefit to talking about your divorce. Pettus says it gives you the opportunity to explore the narrative of what happened. This is what occurs in therapy and in support groups. Sharing what happened to you with others gives them the chance to chime in with their perspective and that can make a big difference to how you see your own situation.
Pettus shares a story of a woman in one of her workshops whose husband had left her for a much younger woman and all the woman could see at first was that she had been abandoned for a younger, more attractive model. Then through the afternoon and discussions her view shifted. She started to see she was a successful screenwriter and producer, she was making the money while he was struggling. She was supporting him, paying for photography lessons and trying to help him launch his career. She started to see that their split was really about his own feelings of self-worth and insecurity.
“It’s about exploring your own narrative in a safe way,” said Pettus. “It allows you to be both honest but also to see a narrative that helps you feel stronger, that comes from a position of strength and perspective.”
My guest for this Conversation was Elise Pettus, founder of Untied.net, an online magazine and real-life community based in New York for women going through divorce.