When a relationship ends, it’s rarely mutual. Usually, no matter how miserable both parties may be, just one makes the decision to pull the plug. And so we have the Leaver and the Left.
The Leaver, often, is further down the road in processing the break-up. Often they’re more at peace, in part because it was their decision (however difficult) to move on. That said, the act of leaving takes a great amount of bravery. The moment when you say good-bye is terrifying.
The Left, on the other hand, might feel powerless, might feel taken by surprise (even if there have been months or years on the rocks). Being left is a huge ego blow.
When a marriage ends, particularly a long-standing one, particularly one with children, it upends your entire life. Everything is in the air, waiting to land. It’s scary as hell. Both the Leaver and the Left live in this space but at least for the Leaver there was a choice involved. It’s an entirely different experience to embark on a treacherous journey on purpose than to be sent on that trip against your will.
I’ve found, in this post-divorce, middle-aged dating pool, it’s best for Leavers to date Leavers and Lefts to date Lefts. If a break-up is recent, you tend to process with your new friend (or at least I do). For a Leaver to go on and on about their hysterical and angry ex might be hard for a Left to listen to. A Left venting about the selfishness, the gall, of their former partner is going to be rough for the Leaver.
Even friendships tend to run down party lines. Leavers have lots in common; bravery, guilt, exhilaration. Lefts might bond over grief and anger.
Lefts get more social support in a break-up, generally speaking. Leavers can be seen as the villians, Lefts as the victims. Leavers have upset the status quo, have turned the page; societies don’t like that so much.
Often when I meet a new divorced friend (and when I sense we land on the same side of the divide), I ask, "Are you the Leaver or the Left?" Always there's a clear answer. It's a world view.
I have played both roles, I’m sure we all have. Both are wretched. Breaking up is hard to do.