This fictional piece written by Jen explores a divorced man in his 40s coping with an empty nest and learning to find meaning and create structure in this new chapter of his life. He also wonders how to create peaceful co-parenting conversations with his ex-wife for the sake of future peaceful family gatherings and scheduling holidays with their twenty-something kids.
Owen had the blank slate of a Saturday laid out before him. He’d slept until eleven, but still had plenty of time left. Sometimes he had to give in to his sloth, to go back into dreams: to his daughter-in-law’s new beach house on the water, the bikini his wife had worn that Summer, a very 1970s tan crochet number. He was dreading the family barbecue next month. This was going to be the first time he’d seen his ex-wife Paige since the divorce. He winced when he recalled that last time they’d spoken on the phone. He’d hung up on her, he wasn’t proud of that. He wanted peace for everyone’s sake, and even though the kids were out of college now, he felt the onus was still on him to set a good example for navigating conflict and showing the kids that they came first, before petty, ugly fights.
Weekends without structure were something he hadn’t quite gotten used to. Now he can sleep as late as he wants, with no one nudging him to do the dishes from last night. He’d always said there were two kinds of people, Camp A: dishes must be done right away; and Camp B: do them the next day or whenever your energy resurfaces. He was in camp B but wished he was in camp A.
So now he had to decide what was worth doing. The kids were moving on and starting the next chapter of their lives. The youngest had gotten engaged, then bought a house and adopted a dog, though all was in reverse because the wedding had been pushed back by the Pandemic.
So here he was on a blisteringly cold New England day alone, aside from his devoted and beloved cat, Ginger. Ginger was a redhead named after his Grandmother’s dog. Still in Pandemic at this point, with no movie theaters open yet, he wondered if he should swing by the trendy plant store to get his succulents repotted by some inked up twenty-something. Funny the things people waited in line for these days! When he saw them waiting in line in the cold for plants and books, he thought all was not lost in the world then – there were some remnants of goodness among the remainders.
He’d forgotten to register for the NYC fiction contest. All his writing buddies had badgered him to, but he’d missed the deadline, darn it! Oh well, he’d have to keep his eyes peeled for the next contest. Writing was something he’d taken up to aid his loneliness, but now it was more than a Band-Aid, it was healing him. That was a surprise. Hopefully he had some good surprises ahead of him. He figured he was a cautious optimist.
Now he had to decide what was worth braving the cold for. Oh, how he missed his cafés! Luckily, he liked his own company, but where was the limit? Introversion was one thing, but he didn’t want that to grow into something unhealthy – isolation. He’d had enough of that. Something was gnawing at him, a sense that he needed more support on this next chapter of his life.
One of his four boys had had Covid, and he hoped it wouldn’t be too bad or long lasting. He couldn’t bear to be without his sense of smell! Deeply sentimental, he’d kept the bottle of Eau de Lavande he and Paige had picked up in Provence. It was their last trip before Paige got pregnant. “You really want that?” she’d said, almost accusing his sense of masculinity for his sentimentality about scent. “Yes, Paige, I do,” he’d said evenly, steeling himself for yet another fight. “Ok! You do you!” Paige shook her head, then turned on her heels. And that’s when he decided to turn the page on Paige.
He shut down his heart that day, even though they waited until their youngest turned eighteen to get divorced. Wow. Eighteen years of not being witnessed, what a waste! Well, not totally a waste. He had the kids, and he’d learned a lot. Sure, he wished they could have “Consciously Uncoupled” like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, but they hadn’t gotten support until it was too late. He knew he needed some guidance, empathy, and support. After all those years of bending to her will and sacrificing himself, he needed to discover his needs. Don’t get it twisted, he wasn’t selfish. He wanted balance between his own needs and minimizing conflict with Paige going forward for the sake of the kids, and really for the sake of all of their peace of mind. His next life chapter was still unwritten, and he wanted it to be time well spent.
If Owen contacted me, I’d strongly suggest we start with The Empathy Experience. In these sessions, he would receive empathy from me and feel deeply heard and seen, thereby calming down his nervous system, moving him from a reactive state into a “rest and digest” state. From this place, he could think more clearly about his situation and reflect on his feelings and needs, to respond rather than react. I would recommend skills of compassionate communication, and we’d practice how he might do this with Paige re: arranging future family gatherings and minimizing conflict. I’d talk with him about discerning between sacrifice and compromise in future conflict resolution conversations.
Please note, the client is always at choice and the process only works when there is an openness to learning. Reach out if you want to learn how to be more attuned to your needs and others’ and how to optimize having peaceful conversations and outcomes, moving you from conflict to connection.