Concerning Couches and Context
My name is on a plaque hanging on the wall in a bar somewhere in Pennsylvania.
When I first started going through separation, and eventually the grueling divorce process, my tendency was to isolate. I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Didn’t want to see anyone. Didn’t want to get up or get dressed or work or do anything. Everything I knew and loved was being taken from me and, BY GOLLY, someone needed to feel miserable about it! My soon to be ex clearly didn’t take misery seriously enough, so I decided I needed to be miserable enough for the both of us.
Besides, I read plenty about divorce and knew lots of people isolate, so I figured I would steer into the skid. One of the reasons people isolate is because internally, they are losing their context. Everything about their identity, how they define themselves, had been in the context of being part of a “Mr. and Mrs.” and now that context is gone. You are now “Mr. and nobody”, aka “Mr. Nobody”, just you, watching infomercials at 3 a.m. in your underwear, eating the last chip dust out of the bag, and looking around to see if a whole chip might have fallen on the couch. A couch-bound amorphous blob of isolated contextless chip-eating misery.
Another reason people isolate is because they have also lost their external context. Your friends, your family, the people you know, don’t know how to deal with you as a single person. They choose sides, or they withdraw to keep from choosing sides, or they talk more about the weather and look at their phones instead of looking at you. They seem to always have something else to do other than sit on the couch with you. The nerve! You would think that people would be lining up to sit with you while you look at your wedding album and sob—but NO! So you decide to show them that you are an island, and deny them the pleasure of your company by isolating.
So isolation is an easy thing to do and, as I said, that was the route I was taking. While that was going on, my job started demanding that I travel every other week to corporate HQ. And every other week I found myself in a hotel suite with a couch, in a town where I hardly knew anyone, and there was little to do, and all the chips I cared to eat. An isolationist’s paradise.
A couple of things happened that changed that pathetic scenario. First, and thankfully, through a series of maneuvers, my good friend from my office back home and I synced our travel schedules and began to travel together. So he and I would go to the best local bar (something just above a dive) near HQ in the evenings when we traveled and would eat, drink, and keep to ourselves; an introvert and a divorcing isolationist sitting in a corner in a place where we knew no one. The Anti-Cheers, but at least it wasn’t the couch. But, second, a waitress and a bartender at that place sort of adopted us. They would remember our drinks, ask us how things were back home, and talk with us in general like we were humans that they actually enjoyed being around. When we walked in, they would call us by name (except they would call me “Tex”, but hey, I was their “Tex”). These folks had no idea of me in any other context, and treated me like I was at least a little OK just being me. Felt kind of good.
Over the months, their friends became our friends. Our two top table in the corner, migrated to a six top in the big middle of the place with standing room only. I conversed with folks that I would have never met otherwise. I remember one night at our table we had an English professor, a geologist, and a bluegrass musician join us. We were all telling stories about our jobs, asking each other real questions, talking about life, and laughing. The reason I remember that is because it was the first day I felt alive since I separated from my wife a couple of years earlier. It was the opposite of isolating. It was connecting. It was finding a new context.
Oh yeah, the plaque on the wall. The bar ran a promotion, the “Shot Tour”, to drum up business and sell their worst liquor, I guess. There were 75 shots on the tour, some heinous, some acceptable, with clever names like “Rusty Nail”, “Bong Water”, and “Jamaican Freak”. The rules were that you could ONLY have five shots on any given night (so no one left shnockered) and the bartender would initial your shots card as you worked through them. They were divided into 3 groups of 25, and after you finished a group you got a prize. If you finished all 75, you got your name on the plaque on the wall. Through discipline, hard work, and dedication, my friend and I finished 3rd and 4th behind the two town drunks, and got our names on the plaque, quite the feat for two out-of-towners. And somewhere between the “Duck Fart”, the “Four Horsemen”, the “Dirty Girl Scout” and the “Irish Car Bomb”, we made friends and realized that being an island is not much of a way to live.
“Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name…”
If you know someone who is going through a breakup, help them get out more and connect and find context. It doesn’t have to be a bar or a “Shot Tour”—it can be some group about books, dance, athletics, food, stamp collecting, politics, church, extreme nude quilting—anything where people are getting together and living life. If you are going through it, isolating yourself is a terrible mistake. Do your couch a favor and move on.
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Facebook Twitter Google+ Like 20 Like Old Marley in A Christmas Carol, do you walk around shaking the chains of your old marriage? Parts of me have been rattling for years.