Holiday season & divorce: 10 survival skills

betty ming liu Inspiration 14 Comments

It’s been a rocky, post-divorce decade of searching for new holiday traditions. But this morning, I actually woke up feeling HAPPY about Thanksgiving. Is this really me???!

Up until now, I’ve dreaded the seasonal festivities. After all, we’re entering The Worst Time of The Year for a Single Person. For me, this high-stress period officially runs from now until Feb. 14.



New Year’s Eve.

Valentine’s Day.


The early post-divorce years left me freaking. The prospect of my daughter and I celebrating anything as just-the-two-of-us seemed pathetic. Plus, with shared custody, she spent some holidays with her dad. Facing an empty house used to throw me into a panic. Sometimes, I’d run to the homes of understanding friends. Other times, I’d hide out in a punishing attempt to ignore everything.

In recent years, I’ve become more emotionally steady. Practice makes perfect, right? It also helps that my priorities have changed. Fearing the holidays became much too exhausting. Calming down and figuring out how to enjoy myself made more sense.

I’m finally learning to be alone.

Here are 10 ways that I built my self-confidence and continue to nurture myself:

My kitchen is one my favorite places

Joy #1: I gutted and renovated my house. Growing up in Chinatown with my parents was awful. Their constant fighting left me longing for a real, cozy home. So after the divorce, I bought a house. Alone. Not only that, I hired an architect and contractor to do a full-scale renovation based on my design. I feel safe now.

Joy #2:  I learned to trust my own judgement on money matters. I was the kind of wife who let my husband handle the bills. Which meant divorce was paralyzing. But I hired a patient, terrific financial adviser. It took a while to speak my mind and make suggestions. He listens, though. Working together, I survived the recession with assets intact. Phew.

Found this bouquet for $9.99 at Whole Foods

Joy #3: I starting buying flowers for myself. Even though I believe dating is important, meeting guys can be a horror show. Why did they always seem to be either broke, boring, alcoholic or clueless in the romance department? I got tired of waiting for yet another loser to let me down. It was much easier to buy my own flowers.

Joy #4: I fled the PC world and bought a Mac. That was in 2006. My MacBook became my first completely satisfying romance. The Mac is sleek, smart and has a great memory. It has always loved me back. And it was brilliant of me to also purchase the $99 One-to-One membership. It entitled me to a weekly, 50-minute training lesson at my local Apple Store. With help, I quickly discovered my new love’s many delightful features.

Joy #5: Learning to use gadgets was a game changer. When my daughter was little, I bought a videocamera. Reading the instruction manual was confusing. So it sat on a shelf. Regrettably, we have no video of her first steps, her first words or her three-year-old ballet recital. My point-and-shoot camera was scary too. But look at me now! (Btw, those One-to-One lessons also provide help with some electronic toys. The rationale is that even though they’re not Mac products, they’re used for the Mac’s iPhoto and iMovie apps.)

My mouse and my cat, blogging together

Joy #6: Blogging introduced  me to an exciting new community. Two Thanksgivings ago, I launched my blog. The experiment became a lifeline for self-expression. When there was no one else to talk to, I could reach over for my Mac, begin typing, and find you. Never did I imagine that blogging would carry me into more worlds. Facebook.Twitter. LinkedIn. FourSquare. Tumblr. Oh, my goodness.

Joy #8: I found a new career — teaching. After the divorce, I needed flexibility to handle my additional single mom responsibilities. Going back into a newsroom full-time seemed like too much. I started thinking about my childhood dream to be a teacher. Now I’m in college classrooms doing my thing with writers and journalism students. Love it.

Note that the cup handle is positioned to the left. It's set up for a lefty, like me

Joy #9: I’ve become a painter. How did I live without this piece of me?! Last fall, I signed up for Friday painting lessons at the Art Students League. The brush and canvas have me in a totally new emotional zone. Painting helped me to forget about being lonely.

Joy #10: I’ve gotten use to being outside of the box. The first few post-divorce years of sorrow and whining wore me out — until I had to stop being sad. Yes, I still feel guilty that my daughter doesn’t have a nuclear family. But to quote my students, wtf.

Happy Thanksgiving! Meow

So last year, my daughter and I bailed from the idea of a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. Instead we went down to the city and fed the homeless at the Bowery Mission.

Today, we’ll be back in the city for something different. First up, a vegetarian dinner in Chinatown. Then off to Hammerstein Ballroom for a Nicki Minaj concert. I hope to take some pictures of both our meal and the bodacious hip hop diva. Look for them tomorrow on my Facebook page. You can view them by clicking HERE.

P.S. — Now that I’m happy being alone, something totally unexpected…In September, I met a great man. We are officially an item. Yes, he buys me flowers! (But I still get my own, too.) And no, we’re not spending Thanksgiving together. (He’s also a single parent; scheduling was complicated.) Just goes to show that meeting Someone Special doesn’t necessarily solve The Holiday Togetherness Issues. If you want to read more, let me know.  :-)

Comments 14

  1. I loved this post! My mom would too, I’ll have to make her read it. Happy Thanksgiving, and by the way, I’m very jealous that you are going to see Nicki Minaj. Have fun!

  2. Post

    thank you, danielle! and a happy t-day to you too. i really hope your mom likes this post. wish there was stuff for me to read when i was going through my divorce. but there weren’t any blogs then. besides, i barely knew how to work my email at that point in 2000…so i wouldn’t have known what a blog was anyway. as for nicki minaj, can’t believe i’m dragging my flat, 54-year-old butt to see her. will report back on that tomorrow. on facebook!

  3. That is SO awesome to hear that you finally took your life into your own hands and started to LIVE! Sometimes that takes us a while, ALWAYS it is easier said than done, but it takes a certain strength and courage to accomplish. I am proud of you altogether, and look – you still found love! Sweet icing on a nourishing cake…just as it should be. Keep up the good work, Betty – I salute you! :-D

  4. Post

    thanks, sparkle. :)

    and for those of you who don’t know what mj is talking about, she’s throwing around journalism talk. the “lead” refers to the opening lines of a story. it leads you into the piece in a way conveys the article’s overall theme.

    so as sparkle mentioned, i’ve found new love — THAT’S THE LEAD, PEOPLE!! new man in my life! i decided to bury it at the end of this post because well, because. :)

  5. Betty – you have me at #4. Getting a Mac has changed my life! Glad to see you reinvented your world for the better post-divorce. Keep up the great writing and enjoy your new guy.

  6. One way to go, Betty. Every one of the your top ten are great things you’ve done. Bravo! But as a long time single woman — both in the twelve after-school years before I got married and the many, many since — I find it remarkable that (other than THE Guy – wonderful!) you don’t mention friends as a source of comfort and affirmation.

    When I left home & found myself alone — my college friends having scattered to the four corners — I decided my friends would be my family and proceeded to become a hostess, inviting people I met to large sit-down dinners. Gradually these dinners developed into a real thing which also got me invited to other people’s events and extendied my society far beyond any chance contacts I’d have been able to make other ways. My Christmas dinners were legend, with giant turkeys and a pudding so drunken with my infusions of brandy it almost went up in smoke when lit.

    After my divorce, it was harder. As most women find, when you divorce your married friends really don’t find you nearly as necessary as you seemed to be when you were one of a pair. I had thought I’d entertain and re-establish myself the way I had done before, but between the trauma of just getting divorced and reorganizing myself economically and emotionally, that turned out to be impossible. Only a handful of friends remained, mainly women and one couple, but they were my mainstays,and with a few deletions and additions over the years, they have been my posse. At Christmas, and times like that, my table rocks with my kids and those of my friends that don’t have other obligations.

    The fact is that more and more studies indicate that we are biologically set up for human contact and suffer losses when we don’t have it. That’s why solitary confinement is a cruel punishment. That’s why we find that our social-site-adept teenagers and college students are increasingly bullying each other or opting for suicide — when you really need someone, there’s no one really there. That totally honest face we present on the internet is never confronted with the subtle expression on the face of a friend that tells us truly how we are communicating, how we are connecting, how much we are in another heart. And that, in the end, is where we need to be — in the hearts of a personal, physical, available posse — however few — of our own. ingrid

  7. Post

    ann, there’s not enough that we can say about our macs! and lil, i’m learning serenity in the face of serendipity. thank you both!

    thanks too to ingrid, for sharing the importance of friends. i also totally relate to the divorce fallout. while my best buds circled the wagons around me, some married female acquaintances were cruel; don’t even get me started…

    p.s. — you’re so right that we need real people in real ways. but the online world can be fun. it has led me to a few new, genuine friends. plus, twitter and facebook are nice ways to stay in touch with folks. :)

  8. Thanks, Betty! Because of you and with your help, I bought my FIRST MacBook in 2009. I really love it especially in editing my photos.

    The downside is now I have started a new job and they use PC. I am still wandering about how to use a lot of tabs or windows efficently in term of comparing data in front of the computer without printing in the fast paced working environment.

    I really love Mac instead of PC! :(

    1. Post

      you’re welcome, shirley. maybe you’ll be one of those special people who is comfortable with both the mac and pc world. i once had a trainer who liked traveling between both worlds. it would make me crazy, though.

  9. Post

    a word about the apple store one-to-one program…

    my annual membership just expired. thankfully, i am able to renew for another year. here’s what i accomplished over the past 12 months with one-to-one:

    the deal is that for $99, you can meet a trainer once-a-week, 50-minute private lesson. if i actually went every week, that works out to an unbelievably cheap $1.90 per lesson.

    it turns out that i went a total of 27 times. that works out to $3.67 per lesson. i also paid $3 each time to park at the westchester, the big mall where my apple store is located.

    even though i didn’t go every week, you still can’t beat the value from this membership. for $6.67 per lesson, i accomplished so much in this annual cycle:

    — the trainers helped me to choose a new, mid-quality digital camera and have been teaching me how to use the various settings.
    — they also helped me choose a new camcorder. i’ve learned how to use it, edit video on my MacBook’s iMovie feature and post to my new youtube account.
    — i’ve also begun using GarargeBand to add original music to my videos.
    — some of the trainers know PhotoShop and have tutored me here and there with some of the basic, finer points of this editing tool.
    — i bought an iPad this year too. with help, this wonderful mini-computer is now integrated with my laptop, iPod…everything’s syncing together to create a more mobile me. :)

  10. Pingback: Just broke up with my bf of 14 months. Sad yet illuminating. Well, at least I now have a better idea of what I want in a relationship.

  11. Pingback: 3 Tips for surviving the holidays as a single person | betty ming liu

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *