Young married couples have two children and a dog. Larger homes match the upper-middle-class incomes. It’s the land of Priuses, CrossFit bodies, swimming pools and top-notch schools. Stapleton can appear as a Pleasantville-type community, but where in this neighborhood do divorcees fit?
There are a growing number of divorced people in Stapleton—a crack beginning to surface in the picture-perfect image. Going through a divorce in any neighborhood is difficult, but does living in this type of community make it worse?
“In Stapleton you can feel ostracized, almost as though you have some kind of contagious disease other couples might get,” Nathan Vigil says.
Vigil, 39, knows Stapleton from the beginning. He moved to the neighborhood in 2002 and for a long time matched the Stapleton image with two kids and a happy marriage.
He told himself he was never going to be one of the 50 percent of people in the U.S. who get a divorce. I’ll never let that happen, he thought. He couldn’t imagine that life, especially living in Stapleton.
“There is a lot of social pressure to put on the front of the perfect person, from an appearance standpoint,” he says about the neighborhood. Despite resistance, at times he has fallen prey to that pressure.
When his 13-year marriage ended two and a half years ago, the pressure increased. Oh my god, everyone in the neighborhood probably knows. Everyone’s talking about it, he feared.
More than ever, he cared what people thought of him. “I nearly drove myself crazy worrying what people thought, people I didn’t even know.” He wondered if people thought badly of him or assumed there was an affair. Although he considered leaving the neighborhood for a fresh start, he stayed for his two kids.
Richard Rogers, of Rogers Therapy in Cherry Creek, encourages staying in a neighborhood, if possible, rather than leaping into a brand-new life. “Creating a support network is a lifelong endeavor,” he says.
He emphasizes that life post divorce is a process of changing your identity. After grieving the loss of a life pictured with your spouse, you can slowly begin to build a single identity. “Depending on the marriage and the support network, it can take some time moving into a different realm.”
Once Vigil was single, he became hyper aware of how many families and married couples live in the neighborhood.
For a time, he felt like the only single person in Stapleton. It seemed as if every event was couple oriented. Oftentimes, he’d call friends on Friday nights, forgetting they couldn’t get away as easily because of a wife and kids.
While some friends didn’t go beyond, “You’ll get through it fine, buddy,” other friends came over often and let Vigil “jibber jabber and talk in circles for hours.”
Some friendships dropped off entirely, and couples having trouble in their relationships ignored him—divorcees can be very frightening for couples considering divorce, according to Rogers.
Rogers says it’s normal for friendships to change after a divorce because many couples may not know how to socialize with just one person in the split.
“If all your friends are couples and all they are doing is couple-oriented things, then you’ll feel like the third wheel,” Rogers says. “That’s okay as long as you’re working on something for your single life.” Reentering the single world is like changing cultures, he says.
After a couple of months, Vigil transitioned his solitude into soul searching. “You just have to be genuine to yourself and not get sucked into the pressure of the neighborhood. You realize that what’s important are friends and family, not ‘Oh my gosh, half my belongings are gone; half my bank account is gone.’”
These days, he can appreciate the place he’s at in life, far from the nagging fear of what the neighborhood thinks of him.
While Helen Thilly, LCSW, (Alder Grove Wellness Group in Denver) believes staying close to an existing support network is important, moving neighborhoods can be good for some people.
“I don’t know why anybody who didn’t have kids would stay in a small community like Stapleton, unless they were super tied to it. It seems like it would be constant reminders and triggers.”
She says even moving a little bit away can give a fresh perspective.
Thirty-year-old Lowry resident Samantha Welles moved from a couple-oriented community in Northglenn after her divorce.
Before her divorce, her social life consisted of couples’ dinner parties and events. When Welles told the group she and her husband were separating, friends tried to convince them to stay together to keep their network intact.
“It felt like my divorce was very uncomfortable to everybody around me,” she says.
She couldn’t stand to stay in that proximity to couples she knew and moved early in the divorce to live with her parents.
Now remarried and a Lowry resident who is also familiar with Stapleton, Welles cannot imagine having gone through her divorce in a community like Lowry or Stapleton.
“Being in Stapleton or Lowry would make it 100 times worse, being surrounded by the perfect families,” she says.
“It’d be so hard to stay. Neighbors might say they will support you, but once your perfect role has crumbled, they don’t want anything to do with that.”
Lowry resident Ellen Kramer says it’s not just Stapleton or Lowry, but any family-oriented community. Once she and her husband were separating, she felt like she no longer belonged in her neighborhood. “Just being around a lot of families you feel a stigma, you just do.”
During her divorce 10 years ago, she felt like she wore a scarlet letter. Suddenly, some parents didn’t want their kids to play with her kids anymore. “People I had been friends with for a long time were afraid. They didn’t overtly say it, but I knew it was because they were worried their kids would be negatively influenced being around a divorced person.”
Some moms wouldn’t let their teenage daughters over to babysit, and she sensed wives were uncomfortable with her talking to their husbands. “It’s like, please no, please don’t offend us in that way, while I’m just trying to get my life back together.”
With little emotional support from friends or family, Kramer’s divorce felt particularly isolating.
While many choose to move during a divorce for financial and emotional reasons, rediscovering happiness in the same community is possible.
When 39-year-old Jillian Scott decided to get a divorce this past year, she considered leaving but said, “Heck no. This is my support system.”
Scott says she has continued to have a great social life throughout her divorce, which will be finalized this May. She has continued to socialize with other couples. She spends some Saturday nights alone because her girlfriends are unavailable, but she recognizes time with their husbands is important.
Many people have reached out to her, including wives considering leaving their husbands. Many have called to ask about her experience.
Besides a neighbor who ignored her after the divorce, Scott says she did not feel judged and says it’s a matter of perception how you get through it in the neighborhood. While she expresses a more positive experience with divorce in Stapleton, she can still testify to the painful change. “I would not sugar coat divorce. It’s hard; it’s hell.”
She has met single friends through a worship group, and long-distance running became her therapy. “If you go and run and challenge yourself, you feel this momentum of, ‘I’m going to get over this next hurdle, and it’s going to feel great.’”
Names have been changed for privacy.