At the moment, I sit in my favorite leopard print chair in my bedroom, feet perched on the brown leather ottoman, cup of tea on the bench to my right. Around me is my bedroom, with all its familiar photos, lamps, and furniture. And yet what I notice is the unfamiliar — the family photos that are not mine, the television sitting on the second dresser, the baseball cap hanging casually from the doorknob.
In the bed to my left sleeps a man I love possibly more than I have ever loved anyone. He breathes softly and regularly, sleeping the sleep of the supremely tired. In a few moments, I will crawl into the bed next to him, he will drowsily pull me close to him, and I will fall asleep feeling safe and adored.
James and I have moved in together.
The circumstances of our decision to take this bold move were, in some important ways, not ideal. A personal and professional crisis hit his life like a tornado, coinciding with a planned move from the gorgeous family home he had built as a his dreamhouse. Major life changes were afoot and, as we talked through his options, the logical one — for practical and emotional reasons — was for him to stay with me and my daughters for a while. At first, that idea took the form of him keeping a few clothes and things at my house, while using his parents’ ranch in the foothills as his main homebase. But the more we talked about it and got comfortable with the idea, the more it evolved into a decision to actually merge our lives.
And so, one Sunday, a mere 6 weeks after deciding to give it another try, we took the biggest step of our relationship.
The moving part was arduous but also fun and exciting in some ways, as we watched our individual things blend together far more harmoniously than we’d expected. Boxes were unpacked, artwork was hung, clothes were shifted, and space was made. We admired our progress and smiled at each other — a lot. There were also moments of deep sadness, as James was giving up a home that he’d truly thought would be where he’d raise a family and have grandchildren playing someday. But I think, for me, those early days were mostly like a surreal dream. How in the world had this really come to be? How had we, who had for so long viewed each other over the top of a thick, high wall of emotional defense, suddenly found ourselves sharing space with the intention of becoming a family at last?
The first week, James and I were on our own, as my girls were off at their dad’s and his children live out-of-state with their mother most of the time. This was a good thing, as it gave us a chance to deal with the basic logistics how we’d combine our material possessions and schedules, but also because it allowed us to shake off the initial jitters of our decision. At one point, at the end of our first day as a co-habitating couple, after considerable prodding from him, I admitted that I was freaking out just a little bit. Since then, we have spent much time talking about how scary this is for both of us, working through the same kinds of feelings that would have held us back previously and instead finding ways to leverage those feelings to a deeper connection.
My life these days seems to be a series of unbelievable moments. This weekend, we went house-hunting for a house that could accommodate the two of us, our five school-age children and one college-aged child, and three dogs. Over the last 2 1/2 years of knowing each other, I have spent many, many days house-hunting with him, but never with my own family in mind. And yet, there we were, side-by-side, contemplating taking that wall down or creating two bedrooms out of that space, expanding that kitchen or re-landscaping that lot.
I awake every morning to his smiling face, and return every evening to the delicious smells of his cooking in my kitchen. He is constant and steady and solid. And I, who spent so many months wishing for a relationship with this man that was even half this good, am amazed every moment.
The obstacles in front of us are huge. How to blend our families, rebuild his company, strengthen our crippled finances, and stave off our fears of loss and abandonment. There are moments in which those obstacles seem overwhelming and insurmountable, but then I remember that the only way we can be together is to move through it, and my resolve returns.
When most of us dream about a relationship after divorce, we think only of the beauty of a new love, but the reality is far more complicated. And I cannot imagine taking this journey with someone with whom I was not crazy in love. When I think of the men that I have dated who were perfectly nice and yet completely not right for me, I realize how impossible it would have been to face the challenges inherent in a post-divorce relationship with any of those men. Because this journey can either be a struggle or an adventure, and I think the definition depends, in large part, on your travel companion.
I am not naive about us at this point. James has revealed too much truth for me to be so. I have a pretty good understanding of what happened in our first 2 1/2 years together, and I know that I have no guarantees that the man sleeping so beautifully near me tonight will always be there. But none of us gets any guarantees of lasting happiness; my divorce taught me that. And so, each day, we simply affirm our commitment to each other and this road we are on. Because, in the end, that is all we can do.
That, and love each other. Truly and deeply.