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Monday
Aug062012

Friendship Fallout: The Post-Divorce Apocalypse

Having been divorced more than once, I have noticed a sad and unfortunate by-product: Losing friends. My ex-husband and I had many mutual friends that we met through some parent networking groups; we hosted play dates and attended children’s birthday parties together. Our shared participation was essential for my adjustment to motherhood. The collateral damage I did not anticipate after the divorce was losing some of these friends.

Research has shown that the social network of mothers tends to change dramatically after divorce, with some women losing almost 40% of their friends,1 particularly if the friendships were formed during marriage.2 Divorcees often experience social isolation because common friends become divided due to loyalty conflicts between spouses.3

I have been thinking about this a lot recently because I am considering unfriending someone on Facebook. Bear in mind, I am not one of those people that haphazardly unfriends people based on my mood or because I disagree with their political beliefs. After my divorce, my “friend” no longer extended play dates and pot-luck dinner invitations. Birthday party invitations were met with a simple “No” on the RSVPs and without even the hint of an apologetic explanation like, “sorry we can’t make it!” She cancelled plans that I tried to make with her with lame, last-minute excuses and no offers to reschedule.

My Fair Weather Friend is apparently fine being friends on Facebook, but not in real-life. Why? It’s not a matter of split loyalties, like when friends chose Cheryl on Curb your Enthusiasm after she and Larry broke up. She and her husband do not communicate with my ex anymore. Other research has demonstrated that divorced women decrease their closeness with friends acquired during marriage over time,1 but it remains unclear why this happens. In my case it wasn’t due to lack of time or effort on my part because I have made plenty of attempts to communicate and maintain the friendship. Maybe she felt like we didn’t have much in common anymore? Similarity is an important predictor for attraction, both for romantic partners and friendships.4 But this didn’t make sense either; the basis of our friendship was always about our kids; after the divorce, I still had kids as did she.  

One survey of young adults found that others viewed women who had been divorced multiple times as being more immoral and deviant than married women.5 This left me with the unhappy conclusion that she is likely stigmatizing me due to my being divorced. What confirmed my hypothesis was that she posted some photographs on Facebook. These photographs depicted a baby shower that she threw recently for a mutual friend (who I am close with). I had not been invited, but all of the married women from our old social network appeared in the photos. I felt very sad about being excluded.

Now, I have been prepared to deal with stereotypes that my dating partners might have about me due to my marital track record. But I was not prepared for the social ostracism imposed by my Fair Weather Friend. I believe it is time to break up with her too.

All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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1Albeck, S., & Kaydar, D. (2002). Divorced mothers. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 36, 111-138.

2Rands, M. (1988). Changes in social networks following marital separation and Divorce. In R. M. Milardo (Ed.) Families and Social Networks. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

3Broese van Groenou, M. I. (1991). Gescheiden netwerken: De relaties met vrienden en verwanten na echtscheiding [Separated networks: The relationships with friends and kin after divorce]. Amsterdam: Thela.

4Byrne, D. (1971). The Attraction Paradigm. New York, NY: Academic Press.

5Hoffman, C. D., & Willers, M. D. (1996). The effects of multiple divorces on person perception. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 25, 87-93.

Dr. Jennifer Harman - Adventures in Dating... | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr.  Harman's research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.

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