After less than a year of marriage, Sally Jones (name changed) joined the ranks of a vastly silent group on campus—divorced BYU students.
“Once you label yourself as divorced, sometimes I’m afraid that’s all that people can see,” Jones said. “Divorce is just something that happened to me, it’s not who I am. When I would speak with people, the divorce would be at the front of my mind and I would wonder if somehow they knew, as if I looked different because of the divorce.”
When these students rejoin their single peers, some adjustment is usually necessary to make the transition from having a spouse to being a single student again. Divorced students must learn to readjust to young single adult life, including dating and hanging out with singles again.
After Mark Johnson’s (name changed) divorce, it took a while before he felt like he could again relate with his single peers.
“It took a little while before I started attending the singles ward,” Johnson said. “In the Church, there is such a stigma attached to (divorce), and it was easier to talk to people who didn’t already know.”
It can also often be difficult for divorced students to overcome their own self-consciousness in order to fully engage with their single peers again.
Mary Smith (name changed) faced this problem when she was becoming integrated into single life again.
“It’s hard to feel confident in yourself and start attending activities again,” Smith said. “It’s completely different when you’re married because you always have someone with you, but it took me a while to feel confident enough to participate again and start attending things alone.”
Divorced students can be faced with a myriad of reactions in their YSA wards.
Professor Mark Ogletree, a practicing marriage and family therapist and professor in the BYU Department of Religion, says that the majority of reactions he has seen in BYU wards toward these students has been positive.
“Most every divorced student I have seen has been met with open arms by the students around them,” Ogletree said. “The vast majority have been very accepting and gracious.”
However, Garrett Barfoot said that after his divorce others in his YSA wards often jumped to incorrect conclusions.
“People’s reaction is often to instantly assume that you did something wrong or failed in some way,” Barfood said. “I mean, (being divorced) is the last thing that you want to have to tell somebody.”
A major part of the single life that takes adjustment for divorced students is dating.
Ogletree says that a divorced student’s experience dating greatly depends on their personality.
“Dating after divorce usually goes one of two ways,” Ogletree said. “Either the person is very cautious and takes a while to get back to dating, or they are very eager because they already believe they know what they want. Although, as always, it is completely driven by personality, circumstances and family support.”
Jones was one of the former types of divorcees. Although it took her a long time to begin dating, she was eventually able to find happiness in her dating life after her divorce.
“Dating was hard at first, but you get used to it and then there comes a day when it becomes the norm,” Jones said.
Jones said that while dating was personally difficult for her in the months following her divorce, the men that she dated in her singles wards were understanding of her situation. She is now happily engaged.
Johnson found greater confidence in dating after his divorce than he did before his marriage.
“I liked dating better,” Johnson said. “I know a lot more about what I want in a person. Once I tell someone I’m dating about the divorce, it might be weird for a minute or two, but then it’s fine.”
Despite periods of adjustment, most of these students have been able to find peace with their situation and have found that they have grown in unexpected ways.
Jones says she is a better person now because of what she has been through.
“I think the important thing is that I made a decision to stay positive, to trust in the Lord and to keep moving forward,” Jones said. “I wish it hadn’t happened, that I hadn’t had to endure all the pain, but at the same time, I am a completely different person because of the divorce. I’m a better person. And I may not have met my wonderful fiancé if I hadn’t gone through the divorce. Who knows what would have happened? I’m just grateful Heavenly Father has a plan. A perfect plan.”