Few occasions are more emotionally polarizing than Valentine's Day. While some relish the day, many more dread the fact that this day targets them as the lonely one, the third wheel, the girl who orders takeout for herself. I remember being a divorced single mom on Valentine's Day all too well. Well-meaning friends and family tried to make me feel better, but some of them actually made the situation worse.
If you are one of those well-meaning friends or family members, reach out to us divorced people — but avoid these four phrases.
1. "At least you have kids."
According to recent statistics, there are nearly 13.6 million single parents raising over 21 million children in the U.S. today. While many of these courageous and uniquely resourceful individuals make the job of parenting look surprisingly easy, as any parent knows, it isn't. Yes, we have our children, and for that we are grateful. But amid the constant sacrifice of time, personal goals, limited resources and support, one evening of not playing the role of primary caregiver would be a welcome change.
When you say, "at least you have kids," sometimes we hear, "Can't you be grateful for what you've got? You botched your marriage, so you better appreciate what you have before it's gone too." Don't make us feel guilty for wanting kids and romantic love at the same time.
Something better to say: "I'm so sorry you're going through this. How can I help?"
2. "It's not a big deal."
Please. According to statisticbrain.com, 41,250,000 people tried an online dating service last year. Is love a big deal? Yes, it is. Love is a big deal. It's the biggest deal. We know it and want it, too.
"Marriage itself brings happiness, because support and companionship are such important elements to a happy life," wrote Gretchen Rubin in her book, Happier at Home. "To be happy, we need more than casual acquaintances; we need intimate relationships of mutual understanding, love, and support."
That may explain why Americans spend over one billion dollars on dating services each year.
When you say, "It's not a big deal," sometimes we hear, "I don't want to make you feel badly that you don't have a Valentine, so I'm going to shut you out of my inner circle."
3. "Oh, I would have told you, but I didn't want to hurt your feelings."
We're divorced. It's not like we have grown a tail or a third eye. We're just single. No, our lives didn't turn out the way we originally planned. But what you may not know is that we are experiencing a new kind of happy. We are focusing on our kids or ourselves, and we are discovering talents and strengths that would have remained untapped if not for our circumstances.
Our lives might not be perfect, but we have plenty of room in our hearts to celebrate your happiness. We want to be included, and we want to feel a connection with our friends. We love to hear of the good things that happen to good people. It gives us hope that good things lie in store for us someday, too.
When you say, "I would have told you, but I didn't want to hurt your feelings," we hear, "You aren't one of my close friends with whom I share things, anymore."
Something better to say: "Guess what happened today!"
4. "My husband is so annoying."
Remember, this is the same man you couldn't stop thinking about when you first met him.
"One of the great joys of falling in love," wrote Gretchen Rubin in her book, The Happiness Project, "is the feeling that the most extraordinary person in the entire world has chosen YOU." She continues, "Over time, however, spouses start to take each other for granted. [My husband] Jamie is my fate. He's my soul mate. He pervades my whole existence. So, of course, I often ignore him."
Life has taught those of us who have been divorced not to take the quality of companionship for granted. Whatever the circumstances may be, we would, undoubtedly, have done things differently if we could have. Whether ending the marriage was the brave and honest thing to do, or whether we fell victim to someone who ended it for us, we are grieving the loss of a relationship we once believed would last forever.
When you say, "My husband is so annoying," sometimes we hear, "My marriage isn't valuable to me, because I let all of these little things get in the way." We know how important relationships are, and we don't want you to lose them.
Something better to say: "I'm struggling with something. Can you help me figure this out?"
Remember, you have the power to be a positive support for your divorced friend. Make sure to show selflessness and sensitivity, and don't minimize her problems, shut her out of your inner circle, or take your own romantic relationship for granted. You'll both appreciate it. Yes, she lacks a romantic connection, but she has you to remind her that she is still valued and appreciated.
Dr. Amy Osmond Cook received her Ph.D. from the University of Utah in Communication. She is Dir. of Provider Relations at North American Health Care and taught writing, communication, and marketing classes at ASU, BYU, and Univ of Utah.