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Suddenly Single and Socially Stranded

Suddenly single and socially stranded, alone at 50, alone in middle age
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BY NINA MALKIN

When Gilda Bloom lost her husband to a sudden heart attack, friends did the right thing—initially. The funeral was well attended and condolence cards flooded in. People who lived nearby brought food to the house. Yet once Gilda began to recover from the shock and emerge from the details of dealing with a spouse’s death, she found herself feeling oddly abandoned. “I’d get in touch by phone and email, but no one would confirm a plan to get together,” she says. “At first I told myself they were just busy. It hurt terribly to think they didn’t want to see me—these were people we’d felt close to for years.”

“We” being the operative word—and, sadly, Gilda isn’t alone in feeling alone. “It’s not uncommon to feel socially stranded as a newly single person if, when part of a couple, your friendships were largely with other couples,” says psychotherapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., (www.tinatessina.com), author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty.

Your current solo status, whether due to widowhood or divorce, can make the coupled-up uncomfortable. They pull away because they feel frightened and vulnerable, as if forced to face the fragility of their own bond. Similarly, they may sense you as a threat, an attractive third wheel who might threaten their relationship. They may simply worry about saying the wrong thing and causing you further pain. Finally, they may see you as a downer, just no fun anymore.

Yes, well, maybe you’re not. “You’re still going through a process, which is why you reached out to friends—to help you heal,” says Tessina. You need support, you need diversion, you need to have fun to be fun again. And you’ll get what you need, but you’ve got to be proactive. Begin by doing something that intrigues you—take a class, join a club, start volunteering for a cause you care about—and you’ll be thrown in with people who share that interest. Force yourself to talk to at least one new person at every event. Be the one to suggest coffee afterwards, or an exchange of contact info.

Soon enough, your mood will improve and you might even forget your former couples’ clique. If, however, there’s someone you especially miss, get in touch and be specific. Invite him or her to a museum exhibit featuring an artist whose work you both appreciate, or to hit a day spa you’ve heard great things about. If you get turned down, don’t despair. Old friends may come around eventually.

That’s what happened to Gilda—although she’s the one who came around. “I was telling my daughter about these people disappearing, and she said, ‘What about Janine?’” As it turns out, Gilda’s the one who let that relationship lapse years ago, after Janine’s divorce. Not only did the two women pick up where they left off, Janine introduced Gilda to a whole new circle. After all, that’s what friends are for.

An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an ardent animal rescuer, and the author of An Unlikely Cat Lady: Feral Adventures in the Backyard Jungle. 

 

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