Judy Steinberg has had a long career in television comedy and variety shows, so she knows how to use humor to deal with life’s setbacks. A few years ago, Steinberg was driving, listening to the car radio, when she heard the girlfriend of her ex-husband, David Steinberg, talking about her new book, “How I Survived My Boyfriend’s Divorce.” At that moment, Judy Steinberg decided to write her own book about how older women can begin new chapters in their lives by getting in shape, updating their wardrobes, and finding fulfilling activities. She was invited on “Today” to talk about her life and her latest book, written with Raechel Donahue, “Fabulous After Fifty and Sexy at 60.” Read an excerpt:
Adjusting to being alone
My husband said he needed more space. So I locked him outside.
— Rosanne Barr
Whether it happens because of death or divorce, it’s a shock to find yourself suddenly single after years of marriage. The things that you took for granted — like him taking out the garbage — are suddenly gone, and you are responsible for twice as much of the minutiae of daily life. Unless you still have children at home, you realize you are now alone. And even with kids around, there are always those long nights.
I can only imagine the pain of being widowed, and my friends who have lost their husbands have spent years absolutely consumed by grief. I know my divorce devastated me, and my life was a mess for nearly five years. Perhaps that makes me sound pathetic, but adjusting to a single life and regaining my self confidence was a tremendous struggle. As they say, you fall in love but you have to crawl out. My personal crawling episode lasted so long I was thinking of creating a line of designer kneepads.
Even if you’re the one who initiated the divorce, it always comes as a shock to be single. And if you’ve been out of the loop for a decade of more, it can be tough to adjust to a new world of dating and solo survival. You need to get back in the game, so suit up like a star, because in this game, love doesn’t mean zero.
Start by taking a merciless inventory of your emotions. If you’re beating yourself up, stop it, because nobody deserves self-inflicted injuries. You’ll get enough bumps and bruises along the way without adding to the pain yourself. Go ahead and have a good cry to send off your past life and then start preparing to have the last laugh. As they say, living well is the best revenge, and it’s up to you to make the life you want.
Have you seen Divorcée Barbie? She has a few wrinkles around the eyes, and she comes with all of Ken’s stuff.
Step One: Forget himIt’s important to make sure you’re over your ex. No matter if the memories are good or bad, they’re sure to sneak into your subconscious as if through a little trapdoor in your head. You have to replace them with something else and not necessarily a man. There are some surefire ways to accelerate the forgive-and-forget process, starting with the forgetting part. The forgiving often takes much longer. You know what they say: There are two sides to every divorce. Yours and the shithead’s.
Wash him out of your hair … and everything else.
First, get rid of anything that smells like him. Those pheromones are strong and they linger for a long time. It’s true! Smell is perhaps the strongest and most persuasive of the senses, because it evokes memories even when you don’t want to remember. Try not to see him for a few months unless you have to for some reason, such as shared child custody. It gets easier when you don’t face him frequently, so obviously you should ditch the photos. You don’t have to tear them up or burn holes in them where his lying, cheating head should be. You may not want to throw them away, so just put them in the basement until you’re ready to be over him.For a single woman, preparing for company means wiping the lipstick off the milk carton.Don’t try to replace him right away. You’ve got plenty of time to be selective. Meanwhile, go and explore the outside world. Outside of your previous relationship, that is. Go out to lunch, visit a museum, go to a street fair, buy shoes (that always works and you know it). Oh, and redecorate your bedroom, with the emphasis on seduction, elegance, romance and your own personal taste. At least you won’t have your husband complaining it’s too feminine. If you don’t have the budget to redecorate, try rearranging the furniture. It’s sometimes enough to change the whole look of a room. Then perhaps add a different bedspread or a new lampshade. Little touches make the difference. Make that room (and the rest of the house) yours and you will be one step closer to a truly independent life.
Step two: Take inventory
Next, make a list of the good things that you already have (your health, your kids, your teeth, his car) and another list of possibilities for your new life (an eyelift, a yoga class, a younger boyfriend). Set your sights high for both lists, but especially for your future. It may sound trite, but the less negativity you project, the more receptive you’ll be to positive happenings. There’s little point in making a new life if it’s going to be just like the old one except without a man or with a different one. This time around, make a vow to show off the nicest, smartest, prettiest version of yourself and, before you know it, the role will fit you like a glove. To some degree, we are who we pretend to be. You don’t have to put on airs or be phony, just shift your imagination into overtime and create a brand-new you. A really cool you.
We women are special creatures. While we may treasure moments of solitude, most of us fear loneliness, and we often associate that feeling with being alone, which is actually totally different. Just as you can be lonely in a crowd, you can also be completely alone without being lonely, and not just because you’re schizophrenic and the voices in your head are keeping you company.
Women living alone represent more than half of one-person households.
In the years since my divorce, I have finally learned to enjoy my own company. In fact, it turns out that I’m one of my favorite people to hang out with. Think about it. Isn’t it great to be with somebody who always wants to do exactly what you want to do? To go where you want to go? You are your own perfect companion, and your own best friend, your buddy, and most trusted confidante. How lucky is that?
Step three: Put on your game face
This little trick of being alone with myself took me a few years to master. At first, I thought I would die from loneliness, especially during those times when my children were staying with their father. As I mention in the chapter called “Shall We Dance?” I sought out new ways to meet people. While that worked wonders for my social life, I did still feel lonely. It wasn’t until I made myself realize that I was a strong, healthy woman with a great future ahead of me that I truly began to rebuild my life. I very much needed to celebrate all that I’ve learned and experienced in my long and full life. I’d had many happy years in my marriage, I was blessed with healthy children, I still had my sense of humor (although that took some doing), and I still looked pretty damned good, all things considered.I went through my phone book and crossed out all the people who had dumped me after the divorce. Then I started to consider contacting some old friends who had not “chosen sides” but whom I had, thoughtlessly, ignored during my extended self-pity party. To my surprise, many of them were genuinely pleased to hear from me and came right out and expressed delight that I had come out of my funk. I made time to go to lunch, to catch up, and to find out what was going on in the outside world that I’d been shutting out. Turns out it’s a very interesting place that’s absolutely rife with opportunity.
Is this thing on?
I even decided to acquire some new skills. I’d been so busy being the perfect wife and hostess that I hadn’t advanced into the world of technology. The only new electronic device I’d mastered was a toy of a more personal nature. So, I had my children teach me how to use the computer and learned the wonderful art of e-mail. I’d always been sort of phobic about electronics, but then I realized that I could keep in touch with so many people and feel so much more creative than I would have if I’d just spend hours chatting on the phone.
I think, therefore I am singleAnd, of course, there was that brief episode of Internet dating, but we’ll save that for the chapter called “The Dating Game.”
Okay, so now you’ve got your game face on, it’s time to get out on the field. You should think about whether you’re looking to get married or just to start dating again (or possibly for the first time). Either way, there’s lots of information in this book to help you out. But reading doesn’t take the place of doing, my dears. As Auntie Mame declared, “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” It’s time for you to start enjoying the repast and even to become a conspicuous consumer.
Excerpted from “Fabulous After Fifty and Sexy at 60,” by Judy Steinberg and Raechel Donahue. Copyright © 2006, Judith Steinberg and Raechel Donahue. All rights reserved. Published by No part of this excerpt can be used without permission of the publisher.