Question: This spring, I will be getting divorced. Because everyone is in such good spirits, I feel like I have to pretend that I’m OK, but I’m devastated. When people ask how I am, I never know how much to share.
When you’re in crisis, a simple “How are you?” can feel like the prelude to a hug or a punch in the gut, depending on who’s asking and when/where the question is being asked. From a trusted friend, it can feel like a much-welcomed invitation to unburden your heart. But from a colleague or acquaintance, it can serve as a reminder that you’re not OK as you find yourself fighting back emotions.
Sometimes, keeping up appearances is necessary and unavoidable, particularly in professional situations. But pretending can also be exhausting, especially when your emotional resources are already taxed. It also perpetuates the idea that it’s somehow shameful to be sad, even though your feelings are completely understandable.
I’m a big fan of authenticity. Not only will being honest help you feel better, but it also encourages others to be open, creating opportunities for deeper connections. That doesn’t mean you need to share the play-by-play of your unraveling marriage with a nosy neighbor or gossipy relative. Rather, express your truth while using discretion about what you share and with whom. Here are some things to consider:
1. Surround yourself with friends and family with whom you can be real. While socializing may be a beneficial distraction, for your own emotional wellbeing, you need to be able to share your truth so you don’t bottle up emotions or feel isolated. That way, when anyone asks how you are, you can answer honestly.
2. You have a right to your privacy. While people may be curious, they don’t need to know everything that’s happening in your life. In a professional environment, consider what and how much you feel comfortable sharing. Perhaps you have one or two people whom you trust to keep your confidences. For everyone else who asks how you are (presuming they know about the divorce), you might simply reply, “I’m sad but hanging in there. Thanks for asking.” You can even add that “divorce sucks” (in your own words) if you feel the need to say more.
3. Remember that you’re not alone: Fifty percent of all marriages end in divorce. Consider joining a support group for divorcees. That way, you can share openly, learn from others and make new single friends.
Finally, it’s worth noting that even though the world looks rosy in springtime, don’t presume that everyone is frolicking in the tulips. Studies show that we tend to overestimate other people’s happiness and that such assumptions make us feel needlessly deprived or inadequate. Life is sometimes hard. As Dr. M. Scott Peck wrote in “The Road Less Traveled”: “Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.
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