Like many women from a South Asian background, I grew up following a timeline. I went to university and then entered into an arranged marriage aged 23. I always knew it was the wrong person – I just didn’t have the courage to step away from the path that had been set for me.
Four years later, I finally admitted how unhappy I was and filed for divorce. Getting divorced is something that still carries a stigma in society, particularly in Indian culture. It’s expected you’ll stay in your marriage no matter how you feel, because anything else is considered “failure” – a label you’ll carry with you forever. I’ve received judgement from family and friends, and even had people ghost me on dates after they’ve found out I’m divorced.
But here’s the truth. Nearly a decade on, I can see that my divorce is the best thing that’s ever happened to me. Why? It’s given me huge insight on the ability to set boundaries, and prioritise what really matters to me as an individual.
I’ve been the happiest I’ve ever been since I made the decision to end a relationship that wasn’t working and pursue what I want to do – versus what is expected of me. It’s been a huge wake-up call; one that I openly talk about on my Instagram account where I share advice on the realities of being single in my 30s and life post-divorce.
I started making videos over lockdown with the message that divorce is not the huge, world-ending event we imagine it to be. There are so many ways to show up in life, and being single in your 20s or 30s – or at any age – can be hugely liberating. Here are just some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way:
Nothing beats the unconditional love of friends
When you go through a life-changing event like a divorce, you need people to lean on. And luckily, I have an amazing group of friends – many of whom I’ve known over half my life – who got me through those wobbly weeks and months following my split.
I was not in a good headspace at the time and every day, my friends would message me, checking in and offering to go for a walk or lunch. If I needed to speak to someone at 2am, they were there. It was honestly incredible.
One friend researched and wrote down every single step I needed to take in order to see a therapist. I just didn’t have the capacity to help myself at the time, so they did it for me. When I moved out of our shared home, it was so emotional. My friends turned up on my doorstep of my new rental property with bags full of wine, milk, tea and chocolate; all the essentials. Throughout my journey, they created a safe space for me to ask for the support I needed.
Every day my friends would message me, checking in
I know so many people who fall off the friendship radar after they get married or have kids. But your friends are the ones that will always be there. They provide this kind of unconditional love that is actually quite rare to come by. Regardless of whether I’m in a relationship or not, my friends will always be my priority.
There are loads of different ways to meet people and find your tribe in life, too. My core friendship group is from university but over the years, I’ve also made friends at work (I work in management consultancy in the City of London) and via solo travel.
Above all, good friendship is a two-way street. You have to keep making the effort, and communication is everything.
Solo travel transformed my self-esteem
I planned my first solo trip just after my divorce. I travelled to New York City alone, followed by a longer three-week trip to Singapore and Australia. I solo travel a lot now but the idea was daunting to begin with because I’m quite an introvert.
I was scared to go to a completely new country and meet people. On top of that, I had low self-esteem because of my divorce. I questioned whether I was likeable, or would be able to hold a conversation with someone I’d just met.
However, solo travel quickly turned out to be the most freeing thing I’d ever done. I couldn’t believe the liberation I felt being able to do whatever I wanted, when I wanted to do it. I had gone from being stuck in this maze of legal paperwork to being out in the world, with a rich new perspective on life.
It’s so easy to exist in a bubble but solo travel reverses that tendency
It’s so easy to exist in a bubble but when you travel, you meet people from wildly different backgrounds. When I first travelled the world post-divorce, I realised that there are so many people out there pursuing their own version of happiness. And often, that happiness has nothing to do with traditional markers of “success” such as marriage, a house or babies. It changed everything for me and I came back a different person.
Over years of solo travel, I’ve also learnt how to remove that pressure of meeting people, too. When I’m travelling alone, I’m always starting conversations with strangers. Often, I do end up having a great time and making friends. But I also now realise that, if someone is not open to talking, it’s not necessarily because I’m lacking something. I’ve learnt to take things less personally.
There’s no such thing as a timeline in life
There are so many successes we should be acknowledging in life; things like sustaining healthy friendships, or achieving growth in a given career. But all these nuances get overlooked in favour of a very traditional narrative that idolises marriage, children and a house. There’s nothing wrong with these goals but the sum total of your identity is so much more than that. And that’s why we have to stop obsessing over timelines.
Up until the point that I got divorced, I was terrified of change. I felt like it was the end of the world if my life didn’t pan out in the way that I (and society more generally) expected. It’s why I succumbed to the pressure of getting married to begin with. But now I know that that change can also be amazing. I never expected to be single in my 30s, yet the uncertainty of that experience has led to some of the happiest years I’ve ever had.
I never expected to be single in my 30s, yet these have been my happiest years
There is no such thing as running to schedule in life. You don’t have to have your career figured out by a certain age. You can be newly single at any point, and relish the freedom of that transition. And things like learning to say no, or building the confidence to travel, are just as important as other, more conventional markers of happiness and success.
So, don’t wish time away waiting for the next thing to happen – or for your 30s or 40s to unfold in the way that you expect. Because you won’t get these years again. Instead, the trick is to be present and enjoy the days that you have.
Jigna Patel is a London-based management consultant, solo traveller and founder of the Jigna_madeup Instagram account, where she shares advice on personal fulfilment and life post-divorce.
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