This leads to: have somuch compassion for yourself. You are an imperfect being going through a very difficult process that still has a lot of stigma attached. As cliché as it is, the biggest lesson that came from losing my marriage was that I had to learn how to love and accept myself. There is no more valuable thing to learn in this lifetime, because only then can you be there for and support others. This was not an easy habit for me to pick up. I read, listened, meditated, got counseling… and continue to do so. It’s a commitment but it is SO worth it!
As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce Or Breakup”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Natalie Karneef.
Natalie is the host and creator of A Single Thing, a memoir and storytelling podcast about being single in our couplehood-obsessed culture. She’s a writer and lives in Ontario, Canada. You can find her at nataliekarneef.com.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was a TV and radio journalist at the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). That’s where I fell in love with the medium of radio storytelling. 4 years after getting married, I separated from my husband and left my whole life behind to travel for 3 years and learn how to be alone. It was a lot harder than I thought! I discovered that I was addicted to love the way many people are addicted to substances or alcohol. Through my recovery process, I also began to see how our society glorifies couplehood and marriage, and how much shame there still is being single. And yet, being alone is such an important space to get to know ourselves and learn to love ourselves. So I decided to start a storytelling podcast, sharing my and other people’s experiences on being single.
Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?
My parents had a terrible marriage and a worse divorce. Growing up, I believed there was no greater success in life than being happily married. Divorce felt like a huge failure — so when it happened to me, I dug deep, looking into why I (and so many others) hold this view. Listening to other people’s stories for this podcast, and on my own journey, I saw all the gifts and growth we get from being alone. It’s really valuable space, even if it’s temporary. It’s sad that we are taught to view it as “less than” or just something to struggle through before we meet a significant other.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?
I attended WerkIt, a conference for women in podcasting, in New York City. I signed up for the mentorship program, and they paired me with, they said, “a real boss lady”. I thought it was going to be a total flop. I’m not a boss lady!
Then they tell me they’re matching me with Grace Bonney, who created DesignSponge, Good Company magazine and the book In the Company of Women. I was terrified. My life is the opposite of Design Sponge. I was sure she was going to roll up in a limo and be so intimidating. But she was the kindest, sweetest, most generous person, and gave me the best advice I got out of that whole conference, which was that in this time of media overload, your best publicity happens through word of mouth within your own “people”. She was totally right. A couple of months later, my podcast got featured in the book The Unexpected Joy of Being Single by Catherine Gray, and my listenership grew dramatically.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve done the classic “do a whole interview with someone and realize it didn’t get recorded”. It was less funny and more mortifying, but fortunately, it was with a very understanding person. I bought them dinner and we did the story again, and it was actually better the second time. But I always quadruple check now that all my equipment is working properly!
If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- Understand that there is going to be pain. There are no shortcuts through pain, even though our society tries to convince us otherwise. The only way out is through… but with so much kindness and compassion for yourself. I made the mistake of trying to bypass the pain and jump into another relationship. I learned a lot from that mistake.
- This leads to: have so much compassion for yourself. You are an imperfect being going through a very difficult process that still has a lot of stigma attached. As cliché as it is, the biggest lesson that came from losing my marriage was that I had to learn how to love and accept myself. There is no more valuable thing to learn in this lifetime, because only then can you be there for and support others. This was not an easy habit for me to pick up. I read, listened, meditated, got counseling… and continue to do so. It’s a commitment but it is SO worth it!
- Don’t do it alone. Because you’re not! So many people are going through what you’re going through. Make sure you have people you can talk to and have real conversations with, not ones you have to pretend everything is okay. I (and some of the guests on the show) found these friends through spiritual community and through 12-step programs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that having a circle of support saved my life.
- Examine your own belief systems. Write them down. What stories have you been (possibly unconsciously) telling yourself? One great guest on A Single Thing talks about when she realized she had spent 20 years telling herself she was unlucky in love. That realization changed everything for her.
- From the great and illustrious Fleabag: It’ll pass. You won’t feel this way forever — even when it feels like you will.
What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?
People see divorce as a failure — an indication that they made a mistake, rather than a symptom that they are a human being who grows, evolves and changes, and who tried their best. They see it as a punishment rather than a pathway to much bigger happiness, which it can be, given the opportunity. People often jump into another relationship right away, without using the time to grieve this very important loss, and learn what patterns and habits might be worth examining. Our most precious and important relationship is the one we have with ourselves. If that is broken, no outside relationship can fix it.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?
I love all Anne Lamott’s books. I’m a huge fan of Tara Brach’s books, and her meditations (which available as podcasts). I adored the books The Unexpected Joy of Being Single by Catherine Gray, Unwifeable by Mandy Stadtmiller, and Love Addict by Ethlie Ann Vare. If you’re really struggling with learning to be alone or feeling stuck in an unhealthy relationship, any Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous or Codependents Anonymous 12-step meeting is an amazing place to start. Many of them are now available online.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?
“You are not in control.” YOur entire system is structured to make you think like you are, but really, so little of what happens in your life is up to you. We struggle so hard to get it right, to “manifest properly”, to do and do and be perfectionists, because we are taught that this will avoid pain. It won’t. I learned this, and continue to learn it, in meditation. It is immensely freeing for a control freak like me to let go of the fact that if I just do the right things I will achieve the “right” results. That’s not to say you don’t try your best and take care of yourself, but at a certain point, you have to let go of the results.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on a memoir about those 3 years I spent traveling after my marriage ended. I was trying to figure out what made us happy (who isn’t?) and about how to be more useful in the world. What I found came as a big surprise to me, and I’m sure will be helpful to others.
Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d encourage people to reach out and be real and vulnerable with someone today. Choose someone you trust, or a collective space (like a support group) where you can be safe. Talk about the parts of your life you’re embarrassed about or wish weren’t there. You’ll discover very quickly that you’re not alone — that we are all struggling, even those who hide it well. Join a 12-step group or a support network or a spiritual community. Find people who also want to be real. I promise it will change your life.
Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
I can’t choose just one! Hannah Gadbsy. Miranda Hart. Elizabeth Gilbert. Jen Pastiloff. Lidia Yuknavitch. Glennon Doyle. Jackie Van Beek. Alison Bell. Will more names give me better chances? ☺
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.