Facebook was the first to remind me, in that innocuous way that it always does – “Here’s your memory from X years ago” accompanied by a picture. Most recently they’ve mainly been cute photos of my kids: my daughter in her first Christmas outfit, or my toddler son slurping ramen noodles, etc. But this time the photo caught me by surprise: three women, reflected in a distressed mirror, looking desperately cool.
More shocking than the dated sunglasses or the iPhone 1.0 capturing the moment was the date. Ten years ago today. TEN YEARS. But the recall was easy: when that photo was snapped, I was with my two closest friends at the time, Bridget and Raquel, and each one of us was in a stage of divorce.
How It Started
Bridget was a prop stylist and makeup artist that I’d met during my time living in the midwest, and she’d recently relocated to Williamsburg in Brooklyn. With eyes a striking shade of blue almost never found in nature and a fringe of perfectly-trimmed bangs, she oozed cool-girl vibes. She only wore black, and she wore it well. Plus she was a certified foodie, could cook like an influencer, and to this day I still think she could have easily become the hipster’s answer to Martha Stewart.
Raquel was a talented photographer with an infectious sense of fun; we’d crossed paths at a mutual friend’s baby shower at a nondescript Italian restaurant in the West Village. She used to live in San Francisco (same!) and now lived in Brooklyn (same!). At the time, I was leading PR efforts for a fashion retail chain and asked her, almost like a cheesy pick-up line, that I “needed to shoot a lookbook soon, could I see your work?“
Within the next 18 months we were a Dream Team. At work we shot multiple lookbooks, e-comm, an athleisure campaign, and spent lots of time together outside of the studio – including weekend getaways to LA, and enjoying a Beef Bourguignon expertly cooked by Bridget in her immaculate railroad apartment with an enviable shared back garden. We were also all getting divorced.
Getting Divorced? Find Your Girl Gang*
I can’t adequately express how important Bridget and Raquel were to me the year I separated from my husband. I can say, however, that without these two women, I don’t think I could have successfully navigated the painful process as well as I did. Any armchair therapist will tell you that having a strong support system is key to getting over a break-up, but there is something particularly valuable about having the members of that support system going through the exact same thing.
Here’s what I learned:
I wasn’t alone. Throughout the entire process I was incredibly private, but you really can’t underestimate the physical and emotional toll of divorce. But whatever I was going through, whatever challenges or difficulties, I was not experiencing it in a silo. The fact that Bridget and Raquel had both already filed for divorce by the time I separated from my husband gave me access to fresh, relevant, first-hand perspectives.
DivorceMag.com has called such friends “divorce warriors” and I LOVE it, because that’s exactly what these two were to me. They had successfully navigated “the rigors of divorce… and [were] in a position to share their wisdom with others.” And damn, did I need that wisdom!
There was never a raised eyebrows, never a moment asking “are you sure you want to do this?” They trusted me, and they trusted my judgement, often more than I was willing to trust my own. They cheered me on when I had successes, they comforted me when I had setbacks (and there were a lot of setbacks!) but most importantly, they never made me feel like I was a burden. Texts were answered quickly, emergency drinks were scheduled, hugs were strong, lingering, and genuine.
I still had value. A lot of women feel a sense of diminished value when they get divorced. I grew up Catholic in a family with zero divorces, so I was already feeling the pressure of a “Scarlet D” stamped across my chest. But my girls reminded me on the daily that I had value as a human being, and that my value came from being a reliable friend, a creative work collaborator, and even someone who will bring you a hot bowl of steaming pho and extra sriracha when you’ve got a sinus infection. I cherished the ability to be continually seen as “Jen” and not “Jen minus husband.” It confirmed my new identity and helped solidify my new view of myself.
You will be OK. Arguably the most important message/benefit of my Girl Gang was the clear and unquestionable understanding that I would survive this, and that life, while different, would be ok. I distinctly remember one boozy Brooklyn brunch, the three of us sitting at the well-worn bar, me in the middle seat, about to demolish some particularly nice-looking eggs benedict, and thinking to myself “Bridget and Raquel have survived, and in fact they are thriving. They are OK. And I will be, too.”
At the time, I needed to see that light at the end of the tunnel, I craved that glimmer of hope that the future wouldn’t be sad, lonely, and filled with cats (no judgement, I’m just not into cats…) What I saw on either side of me were two intelligent, creative, independent women who had recently made the dramatic choice I was considering… and they were ok.
How It’s Going
I’m happy to report that, global pandemic aside, we’re all doing ok! While we all haven’t been in the same state for a while, we’ve all landed safely into new lives/roles/careers. Raquel moved to her midwest home state and remarried; Bridget aso returned to the midwest and reconciled with her husband, and they now have a preternaturally beautiful little girl. I met my current partner, and while we have decided not to marry (he’s also divorced) we’ve become the proud parents of two very cheeky children.
The final lesson? You’re carrying a lot, and it’s easier when you are able to share the burden. Lighten your personal load and find your tribe, your girl gang (or variation of one). Reach out, be vulnerable, and don’t be afraid to share all the hurt and ugliness you may be facing. Because whatever you’re going through, I guarantee you’re not the only one. You are not alone, you have value, and yes, you will be ok.
By Jennifer Bayley
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