By Bunmi Sofola
FINDING yourself suddenly without a partner after years of being part of a couple could be soul-wrenching. You decide to launch yourself back into society, and what do you find? Some 12 years ago, Yetunde was riding on the crest of happiness. According to her: “Friends and family were amazed when, in my early 40s, I announced that I was to marry a divorcee I met six months before.
He reasoned that if we went out together for three or four years we would find all the reasons not to get married. What’s more, neither of us was that young, and if we wanted to try for more children, we were better off getting on with it. So, we did.
“From the day we tied the knots, I seemed to be living a charmed life—successful husband, desirable residence and a thriving business of my own, I blissfully filled my time between my business and school runs.
This lifestyle consumed me for a decade—and then it came crashing down as suddenly as it had begun when, weeks after our 10th wedding anniversary, my husband announced he was moving to one of his houses—with a 30-year-old who was expecting his second child!
“Apart from being so devastated, I felt humiliated. But, I never bargained for suddenly being friendless—I no longer received air kisses—instead I got distant waves from other wives who no longer invited me to their fancy parties because they either couldn’t abide an odd number round the table or they would rather invite my ex and his new wife. During my marriage, I’d enjoyed a wide social circle.
We’d all drink together, dine together and attend functions together. Some acquaintances even became regular holiday companions. And, when you rent service flats together, shop together and let your hair down with them on a regular basis, it’s normal to regard them as friends. But it took the death of my marriage to teach me an unpalatable truth: that you’re only acceptable to others for as long as you are just ‘like them.’
“Now as a middle-aged, divorced, single mother-of-four, I am the classic social outcast. Once I was a regular at an endless streams of drinks, dinner parties and open-house dos, suddenly barely a soul dreams of inviting me now I’m the odd one out. I have become ‘that poor bitch whose husband left her for someone younger.’
“At a recent 40th birthday party, couples partner-swapped on the dance floor all-night while I sat alone, nursing a bottle of wine, not knowing where to look. At my age, I could hardly dance alone, the wives’ suspicious looks wouldn’t let me. It seems divorced women are perceived as a threat, even by their friends. It’s as if we metamorphosed into sex-starved man-eaters for whom anyone’s husband will do.
“My suspicions were confirmed a few months ago when friends organised a surprise birthday for me. While we had a fabulous time, it saddened me that only women were invited. I had once socialised, holidayed and got on famously with their husbands for years. Now, because I no longer had one of my own, I was disqualified from socialising with theirs.
“Ironically, it is very different for men. My friend Charles, a widowed father of two is invariably inundated with invitations. My mother believes that women are expected to, can, and generally just get on with enforced single life, while the average abandoned male tends to fail at moving on.
Which must be why wives experience waves of sympathy for a ‘useless single dad’ and are driven to envelope, include and nurture him. He brings out their maternal instinct like a weepy, lonesome child does!”
According to a psychiatrist, Dr. Cosmo Hailstorm: “The tendency for women to ostracise their friends when they become middle-aged divorcees is a strange phenomenon. The superficial answer is that you become a danger. They worry that you might be after their husbands. But there is more to it than that.
“Once you are no longer in a couple, it gets complicated for people to include you. While they probably do want to invite you, they may think better of it because they’re embarrassed or don’t know what to talk about.
“Additionally, we tend not to build many, if any, new relationship in middle age. We make our friends at school, university, in our early jobs and then we get married, have children, and befriend parents of our children’s school friends.
“It’s unusual to meet new people outside that framework. When you divorce you lose half your friends because you lose your husband’s friends. This is noticeable as you aren’t making new acquaintances to fill the gaps they leave behind.”