I still remember the moment I fell in love with my ex-husband. We were standing on the back porch of a friend’s apartment in La Maddalena, Italy and he just agreed to take in a stray kitten we’d found. We’d been living together, in that paradise of an island in the middle of the Mediterranean, for a few months. It was a sweet, and incredibly intimate moment and while I don’t remember his exact words, his message was clear – I just want to make you happy. Never mind he was severely allergic to cats and had previously swore that he’d never own one. And he did make me happy. He did everything he could to make me happy. And some how, it wasn’t enough.
Fourteen years later, after an epic road trip across the United States with our three daughters, we sat on the couch at home and cried together as I finally was able to speak the words I’d been feeling pulling me under with brutal strength… “I want out.” And it was that moment that I began my own journey to figure out how the hell I found myself in a moment I never fathomed possible. Though I had instigated the dissolution of our marriage, I spent the next few weeks breaking down in tears because I could not picture what my life would look like from that moment forward – I was lost, confused and not feeling as free as I believed I should have felt. You don’t enter a marriage with the idea, “Well, let’s see how this goes for now.” Most of us begin our marriages with visions of the life we always dreamed of; a man who treats us like a queen, children who behave and are well mannered, a tastefully decorated home in the ideal neighborhood. I had those things and I wasn’t happy. I was a control freak and lacked self-awareness about what I was doing.
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Traveling back to that sun-bathed porch in Italy so many years before, I knew I was testing him. To see how far I could push. When I reflect on my own contributions, these selfish acts are the moments that defined our marriage. My ex-husband will admit to becoming what he called lazy - not rising to my challenges or demanding equal footing, to folding. There were other things in our marriage that we struggled with and never seemed to be aligned in handling. During our marriage there was a lot of finger pointing, it wasn’t until we committed to treating our divorce like a new beginning, not only, for ourselves individually, but “us” as a unit, that we turned those harsh fingers on ourselves. Over the last five years I have done more work on myself than the previous 35 altogether. And I’m nowhere close to where I want to be.
There is no such thing as an easy divorce. And though we thankfully lacked the high drama of infidelity or complication of other shocking heartaches, it was not easy. It’s still not easy. It’s hard for many of us to admit when we’ve completely screwed something up. As women in particular, we carry not only the responsibilities of work and family life, but are expected to smile and be gracious and humble through it all. It’s bullshit, really. But the hardest part is wading through our own BS – the truths we’ve told ourselves in order to navigate our everyday existence. I don’t have all the answers; I’m still a work in progress and I have finally come to a place in my life that the journey of evolving brings me joy instead of believing I had my shit together.
I share this story because I know that some readers can relate to this cocktail of emotion about love and loss. Personally, I gained strength from shared stories and the sense of community around me. I hope you can find the same. That same year that I divorced – after swearing I would never marry again and found peace with that resolution, I met the man I am married to today. But how we navigated that tempest of a year and blended our six children is a story for next time. We treat each other with equal love and respect, our home is not in an ideal neighborhood and while our kids are absolutely well mannered – they absolutely have their moments of digression. And I’m so damn happy. Some things never really ebb, I’m still stressed, worried, tired – and really, really happy.