At the end of my marriage, after Bryce and I had decided to divorce but before I had moved out of the house, we had a conversation standing in our sun-soaked kitchen that might prove to be the crowning achievement of our marriage. We agreed that we had had a conventional marriage. We had done everything we were “supposed” to do. We had lived up to everyone’s expectations. Except our own. We vowed that our divorced relationship would be different. We would make it what we wanted it to be, not what others thought was “right” or “appropriate” or, God forbid, “normal.” We would craft something that worked for us and our children and everyone else could just deal with it — or not. They weren’t our problem, and we’d spent too much of our lives living a relationship that had made everyone else comfortable and us eventually miserable.
To our credit — and my astonishment — we have kept that word to each other and ourselves. Some people in our wide circle are uncomfortable with our situation. How do we get along so well? Why do we sit together — with our partners, even! — at school functions for our children? Are we actually — gasp! — friends??? But fortunately those individuals are pretty rare. Most of the people in our wide circle applaud us for fashioning something that is different from the standard divorced relationship paradigm. I think they can see that it’s good for our children, but I also think that they can see that it’s good for us, too. We are still, in many ways, a family, even though we are most definitely not a couple. This makes us happy, and that’s really all that matters.
It has not always been an easy task — this concept of carving out a new relationship through the jungle of established habits, familial expectations, and emotional scars. There have been times of post-divorce conflict, when one of us has had to remind the other of our shared vision for a healthy divorced relationship that works for all of us. But those reminders have always successfully steered us back on course, which is, in and of itself, amazing.
It has been my experience that most of the dramatic change we experience in ourselves does not last. We try on a new version of ourselves, wear it for a while, and then it loses its novelty and fades away. And pretty soon we’re back to basically the same person we always were. It’s as if our essential nature is some kind of homeostasis to which we return after a short disruption. I am so very glad and very grateful that Bryce and I have remained strongly committed to that vision we shared that day in the kitchen. And it has taught me that I am capable of making something different than what is the norm in our circle, and having that work for me. That lesson has been rolling around in my mind this week as I have unpacked the emotional shifts and “aha!” moments that occurred within me during my short visit back East.
And let’s just say, it’s been a busy week.
I’ve settled back into my Colorado life, but with some new understandings of what I want this life to look like and who I want to be in it. I keep coming back around to the idea that the relationship model that works for so many around me is not going to work for me, and it is entirely likely that the romantic relationship that makes me the happiest might not make sense to other people. And that’s okay. Other people don’t have to be comfortable with it. As long as I’m not hurting anyone else, I just need to be happy being me.
When I was much younger, I knew this about myself. Katrina and I used to half-jokingly say that she would be the school-teacher with 2.3 children and a house in suburbs, and I would be the cool “aunt” who would jet in from some far-flung end of the globe, bearing wonderful gifts and fun stories. There was no judgment inherent in either path; we loved each other too much and too purely to have judged each other harshly. It was simply an acknowledgment of our different approaches to life.
As it turns out, I did far more of the white-picket-fence experience than anyone ever expected or could have predicted, including me. And I don’t regret a second of it. Truly. But I also see now that the choices that I have been making since my divorce were subconsciously guided by my need to create something different. Those choices have made sense to some of my friends but not to others, who have offered well-intentioned advice shared with love. I think I felt disapproval and internalized that in a way that left me confused about my vision for what I wanted my life and romantic relationships to be. My friends wanted me to be happy, and so they encouraged me to be happy in the things that make them happy. This is logical and kind and I treasure their good intentions. But in my post-divorce state, I think it only served to confuse me. Unlike in my endeavor with Bryce, I felt alone in my journey and I lost my clear vision of who and what I am and want to be as an individual.
But now I remember.
I have lately felt that I am my truest self again. I feel at home with who I am and what I want and the understanding that it might be different from what others want from me or for me. But the honest truth is, what they ultimately want is for me to be myself, whether they fully know it or not. Because when I am most myself is also when I am most sought after by my friends. We all naturally gravitate to people who are truly comfortable with themselves, who are real and present and open to the world. Whatever version of ourselves places us squarely in that description is truly our best version of ourselves.
Each of us must steer our own ship. Only we command the helm. The waves of opinion and expectation may buffet us, but if we hold a true course, we will reach our destination safely and triumphantly. That is our challenge, every single day.