We forget that divorce is a family-affair. It’s between you and your immediate family. You don’t divorce your neighborhood. So stand your ground, hold your head high and step off the porch. You can do this.
IT’S YOUR STREET TOO – LOOK THEM IN THE EYE
Granted, many of the initial contacts in your neighborhood may have been initiated by your spouse, or your children. They may have provided the buffer, or they may have provided the reason you got to know the guy two doors down, but now it’s up to you to carry your part of the load to keep that friendship going. You’ll have to leave your comfort zone. That doesn’t mean you need to knock on his door and share your story. Your business is your business.
Get out there. When your neighbor is working outside, raking leaves, washing his car or changing the oil, walk on over. Starting a conversation is much easier to do when something else is happening at the same time. Gives us something to do with our hands and look at while we talk. The first time you get outside the house, just talk about general stuff; weather for the upcoming weekend, local sports teams, rush hour traffic. Establish a sense of normalcy. It will make everyone feel more comfortable, and your next conversation will be that much easier.
THE AWKWARD QUESTION
“So, I heard about you and Karen…”
An open statement, not really a question, just a little bit of fishing. It’s your turn to set the tone.
“If you don’t mind, we’re keeping that between ourselves. No harm, no foul. I just want to maintain ties here in the neighborhood. There’s a lot of good people here.”
And that tells your neighbor it’s okay that he sort of asked, but he also knows that conversation is finished. Short and sweet, you also convey that he’s a good guy, you’re a good guy, and we can still be friends. Done.
DEFY THE STEREOTYPE
We can’t help it. In the back our heads we have this picture of a swinging, totally uninhibited divorced person, planted by countless sitcoms over decades. You are not the crazy divorced dude on TV. Your circumstances have changed, but your values and manhood are most still intact, even if you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut.
There’s more to you than meets the eye, talents and interests that the local folks have never seen. An interest in photography, places you’ve traveled, where you grew up, childhood experiences, your work, volunteerism. Your entire life is not defined by your marriage.
Haul out the parts of you that haven’t seen the light of day recently and jump into the conversation. If that seems too hard to do standing in the neighbor’s driveway, start slowly. Ask them questions. Most people are more than happy to talk about themselves, and in the end, they view you as a fascinating conversationalist. It’s a win-win, and no one is swinging from a chandelier.
STAND YOUR GROUND WITH THE OLD GANG
Yes. Most friends can deal with both of you. We’re not talking conjoined twins here. Naturally, your ex’s best friend is probably not going to be in your corner, but then again, yours won’t be rooting for her either. That leaves everyone else.
Some divorced couples choose to lay their thoughts out in the beginning, writing letters to all their friends, stating the game rules from here on out. And that can work really well for some, but it may not be a palatable option for you, even if your ex goes down that road. No one expects you to go the touchy-feely route.
Rely on your past history. If you had friends during your marriage that you personally connected with, and were genuinely glad to see, cultivate those. If, on the other hand, there’s a “friend” that you only put up with for your wife’s sake, or annoys the crap out of you, take a pass. You aren’t obligated to do everything you did before, that’s the cool thing about life after divorce.
SOCCER DAD? SCOUT DAD? DAMN STRAIGHT.
Absolutely. Your children are your treasures. You can’t let a divorce push you out of the picture. Believe it or not, all those soccer moms and scout leaders will silently award you bonus points for showing up, offering to help and just being interested in what your kids are doing.
Regardless of the sport or hobby your kids are in, volunteers are always in short supply. Get on an email list, choose something that appeals and arrive with the goods in tow. Not only will you garner goodwill with the organizers, you’ll be strengthening those oh-so-important ties with your kids.
Parenting is in the details and those countless car rides back and forth from practice are the perfect opportunity for short conversations that matter to your kids. Remember that having something to do with your hands? Works here too.
A FUNNY THING HAPPENED AT THE GROCERY STORE
It’s the perfect brief opportunity to connect with folks in your community. Smile, say hello, ask about the kids, the job, the upcoming holiday, and you’re done. Talk about a perfect venue! These small conversations are enough to connect, and there’s a ripple effect as well. That encounter will be shared several times over, and while there might be some speculation, the end result that’s shared is that you’re a decent guy, you engaged in conversation and you’re still part of the community. And they’ll spread the word about you. A good word.
BLOCK PARTIES, SCHOOL PLAYS AND SPORTING EVENTS
Most of the time, your new single status will have you going to community events on your own. But what about the block party? Everyone goes, the street is blocked off, it’s a must-do. Or, the school play where your daughter debuts as a singing daisy, or the soccer game where your son plays varsity? What then?
In the case of school plays and sporting events, it’s a no-brainer. They’re your children too, and they deserve to have Dad show up and cheer them on. Same is true for Mom. You don’t have to like each other, but you both played a role in bringing these children into the world. You don’t have to be best friends, let’s face it, you wouldn’t be here if you were, but civil is doable and expected. You can both do that for the kids.
Conversations will continue to occur as before, between you and whoever you choose to talk to at the event. Do your own thing, but be there for your kids. Stand your ground, you deserve to be there too.
Block parties are different, obviously you don’t have to go. But why not? The street is blocked off, there’s plenty of room, plenty of tables, take your pick. An annual block party is a neighborhood’s way of coming together to celebrate the sense of community in your little corner of the world. And, even though you may no longer be part of a couple, you are still an intrinsic part of the community.
If your ex attends, no worries, there’s plenty of room for everybody. When you hold your head high and deposit your potluck offering on the food table, you are reinforcing your position. And people will respond in kind. Most people want to do the right thing, and you’ll find that they take their cues from your behavior. So bake a cake, whip up some of your killer bar-b-que, grab chips and dip from the market, or drag your grill down to the party and start roasting hotdogs. It’s your party, too.
YOU’RE DIVORCED – NOT CONTAGIOUS
Your normal is a lot different now than what it used to be, but that doesn’t mean that you have to leave every part of your old life behind. Stand your ground. Your neighbors, next door or three streets away, are part of your crew. If you have children, that’s doubly true. Don’t give up your turf simply because you and your wife are individuals now. It’s more work, but most things worth having are. Open the door and head outside. It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. Your neighborhood.
Are you still in your old stomping grounds? Tell us what changed after your divorce in the comments below.
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