The Divorced Guy’s Survival Guide

How do guys really cope once their marriage ends? Here, one man fesses up about what he learned, how he moved on, and why he loves life today.

By Michael Burke

rom the moment I picked up the pen to sign on the dotted line, all I could think was, I can’t believe I am now officially The Divorced Guy. I was 30 years old and had been married for 4 years... now what? I mean, who wants to be The Divorced Guy? And what exactly will that mean for me? Making my way through the pile of legal papers, I couldn’t help but wonder: How undateable am I now? Will girls in
I can’t believe I am now officially The Divorced Guy.
their inner circle refer to me as The Divorced Guy? Will I have a 2nd marriage, a 3rd marriage? Or am I just better off joining the Single Forever Club? Yes, the finality of it all really got me going—and my mind full of questions.

For the previous few months, I had been going through the motions as a single guy. On Friday and Saturday nights, I would dutifully pack myself into crowded bars to compete with post-college dudes over the handful of cute girls drinking Cosmos in the corner. And frankly, I found out quickly that it wasn’t much fun. Still, I wasn’t quite sure yet what I was supposed to do. Even less exciting was accepting the invitations to be the 3rd, 5th or 7th wheel at my friends’ dinner parties. “Oh, wow, are these napkin holders from Pottery Barn?” I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. I wasn’t the single guy; I wasn’t the married guy. Where did I belong? My life was completely different than before and frankly, I didn’t know what to do about it.

However, I did know that my life was not over. And, it was up to me, and no one else, to make sure that the years to follow would find me happier than ever. So, I developed a tactical plan that I knew would at least keep me from spiraling downward. My day-to-day strategy was simply to keep busy and be productive. Going to the gym, running in the park, hanging out with my friends, logging extra hours at work and of course, dating. These were the necessary activities to stop me from watching SportsCenter or Seinfeld reruns for 10 hours a day.

And you know what? My plan worked. I was feeling good. Beyond this, I also developed some bigger ideas, thoughts and themes that I made sure I stuck with. Here is a quick list of what I lived by to get me through the tough times and what helped me find a place in my new world:

I’m NOT The Divorced Guy.
I’m the guy who used to be married. This is a big difference mentally and from a communications standpoint. It just comes across a lot smoother that the “D” word. I began to think of myself that way and didn’t feel so much like an odd man out.

I can do whatever I want.
No married guy can say that. This is a freedom that needs to be taken advantage of, so I did. I made my bed once a week, had pizza for dinner as often as I wanted, and took weekend trips that never would have been previously approved. I even threw my own “Mitch-A-Palooza” type of party like in Old School. Snoop wouldn’t come, but my buddy pulled his best Will Ferrell impersonation by streaking down the street.

There is a world out there for me.
I didn’t need to go back to college antics or regress in any way to get my life back. There are plenty of guys like me out there (and, more importantly, plenty of women, too) who are way beyond clubbing and playing drinking
There are people who stay married despite being utterly miserable.
games and actually want a decent conversation. All I have to do is continue doing what I enjoy doing, and I’ll find them.

I don’t have to marry every girl I date.
During my first few dates, I would sit across the table and think about what the girl would be like as a wife. That’s insane. Dating needed to be fun and over-thinking would definitely send each one down the wrong path. I had to recognize that what I had learned from my past would eventually let me know who my next (and lifelong) wife would be.

There’s no need for regrets.
Yes, getting divorced sucked. But the entire marriage didn’t; it just wasn’t right. There are people who stay married despite being utterly miserable. Basically, there are worse scenarios than having a marriage that didn’t work out.

I’ve learned a ton.
I spent many years in a relationship, worked hard at it, and then made the decision it wasn’t how the rest of my life needs to be. This was a journey for me, and along the way I did a lot of thinking. How could I not? I needed to figure out why I wasn’t happy and start answering questions. Was it where I lived? Was it who I was with? What can I do to change things? Can I explain this to my friends and family? Am I making a mistake? Consequentially, I gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about who I am and what I need for a lasting relationship.

So, despite all my uncertainties on that signing day, over time and with some effort I became: the guy who liked to hang out with his buddies, go to the gym, do well at work, have fun on dates, live without regrets, understand what’s important and… the guy who enjoys what the world has to offer. And for me (and for most women, I hope), that’s enough.

Michael Burke is the co-author of Die Happy: 499 Things Every Guy’s Gotta Do While He Still Can.
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