Tag Archives: marriage

grieving before leaving

Last night I spent some time with my friend Lindsay, who is in town visiting.  A few months ago, she moved 1500 miles away from here to take an amazing job opportunity in the Pacific Northwest.  At the time, she was incredibly frightened about what the move would mean for she and Gray, her husband, but she was also hopeful that it would be the fresh start that they so desperately needed.  I wrote about my sadness in watching her go in I already miss her.

Seeing her last night was wonderful.  She looked amazing and her new job is everything she wanted and deserves and more.   We talked as if the time and distance between us did not exist, and I was so very grateful to be in her presence again.

But it was also very sad.  Because she is very sad.  Her marriage is crumbling around her and she is awash in the myriad of emotions that accompany that experience.  She vacillates between wanting — truly and completely — to save her marriage, and feeling almost certain that it is too late.  We sat at a cafe in the twilight by the creek, and I watched the candlelight play off her face and listened to her voice crack as she struggled to get the words out, and my heart broke for her.  I don’t know what her outcome will be, but I know that she is miserable and desperate for change and feeling hopeless, and those are all feelings I know all too well.

She has tried to reach her husband.  They have had some heart-wrenching, honest, no-holds-barred talks and each time she comes away convinced — certain! — that her marriage can be saved and they have finally turned a corner.  But within a week, the momentum is lost and their relationship has backslid into complacency and despair and silence.

Lindsay is grieving, and she’s only partly aware of it.  She is grieving her marriage and the end of all their mutual hopes and dreams.  She is processing the past and contemplating the future and considering her options.  Her heart and mind are engaged and attentive to their situation.  She is not passively awaiting some conclusion or resolution of their problem.

But Gray? As best she can tell, he has resigned himself.  She is frustrated that he doesn’t seem to see what is happening to them, that he is resigned to their situation and appears willing to live in that dismal space forever.

A few years ago I would have been puzzled and unconvinced by Gray’s apparent attitude toward their problems.  He couldn’t possibly not see it, could he??  He must realize what’s happening, mustn’t he???

Now I know better.

Between the work I’ve done in therapy and lots of reading on relationship ambivalence and my own observations,  I have realized that men and women face the end of relationships differently.  This is especially true of men and women over the age of 40.  Most women are proactive about examining their relationships, whereas most men are passive.  Men seem to mostly assume that things will be fine, or at least stay the same, while most women seem to think that things will have to change and get better or else they will leave.  I think this is why most men I know are surprised and stunned by the end of their marriages, while their wives report feeling like they were shouting at the top of their lungs for years before it ended.

I was one such wife.  I — quite literally and sincerely — informed my husband during our first year of marriage that if he continued to tell me I was stupid and treat me as such, I would be gone 10 years from then.  I loved him enough to want to work it out, but I made it clear that I knew myself well enough to know that I wouldn’t live like that forever.  Over the course of our 11-year marriage, I reminded him.  Each time he apologized and acknowledged it and then…. nothing changed.

I think he, and many of my male friends, assume that the wedding contract is non-negotiable.  You signed on, you’re in it, the rest is just details.  Including whatever misery you might be in.

The best example of this is a man I used to be friends with named John.  John cheated on his wife throughout their 14-year marriage and spent considerable energy detailing her every failing. The space between them gradually opened to form an enormous emotional chasm, but he was basically okay with things and, although he talked about leaving, it was clear he never would.  Then his wife, Heidi, came home from a trip to visit family and announced that she was leaving him.  From that moment onward, Heidi seemed to lighten.  Her depressed state lifted and she moved forward, and out of their marriage.  Meanwhile, John was stunned.  Truly speechless and in utter disbelief.  And I was stunned that he was stunned.  Their marriage had been a mess for many, many years.  Heidi’s needs and feelings had played second fiddle to everything else in their lives for ages, and yet he was shocked that she was leaving.  I hardly knew what to say to him.

Someone once told me that when a man in his 40’s says he wants a divorce, you need to call a marriage counselor; but when a woman in her 40’s says she wants a divorce, you need to call a lawyer.  Because when we say we’re done, we’re really and truly done.

Every divorced woman I know spent months if not years being unhappy and grieving her marriage before she finally left.  I don’t know a single woman who made the decision impulsively or without enormous angst.  I also don’t know a single woman who regrets that decision.

Granted, my survey is by no means scientific, and it absolutely can apply in the reverse — there are women who feel blindsided while their husbands feel like it was years in coming, too.   But my point — and one that is borne out in psychological literature on divorce — is that 40-something women who leave tend to process quite a bit of their divorce before they leave.   To a very large extent, much of their grieving and pain occurs while they are still in the marriage.  Which is why, I think, so many men feel like their wives simply stroll out of the marriage without a glance back or a tear shed.  What they are missing is the simple and sad fact that she is already months ahead of him in her grief process, while he is only just beginning.  The pain and reality is fresh and new and harsh to him.  It is accepted and familiar and well-worn to her.

This is not a scientific white paper on divorce psychology, so I am necessarily making gross generalizations, but I think they are useful as a jumping off point when considering why men and women experience the demise of their marriages so differently.  Lindsay is lost in a morass of “what next?” s, while Gray is sitting with sad resignation.  Their experiences of this moment in their marriage are very different.

Sadly, I think that Lindsay will ultimately leave, because Gray has made it fairly clear that he is not interested in working on their marriage.  But she’s not ready yet.  She has a lot of processing and feeling and grieving to do before she’s going to be able to take that step away from him.  In the meantime, he is likely to continue assuming that their marriage, while far from good, is perfectly stable.  And when she finally goes to him and enumerates her reasons for leaving, he will be shocked.

And I will be sad for both of them.

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Filed under divorce, general musings, love, marriage, relationships, sadness

i do

I married someone today.

No, I am not a wife now.  I work at a town hall in a very small town  and I performed a wedding ceremony as part of my job.  It was a beautiful day, and the couple was so very sweet.  She was in her 50’s and so nervous and giddy.  He was a bit younger and beaming like luckiest man in the world.  They were in love.  They had waited for this day.  They were confident in each other and what they share.  Just being near them was intoxicating.

I don’t have any desire to remarry.  I know that is an unpopular thing to say and that some would assume that I had exited my marriage a cynical and negative person who had lost faith in the institution of marriage.

On the contrary.

I am still very much a romantic and I believe — strongly and without reservation — in the existence and power of true love.  I believe in the wonder of a marriage as a “forever” bond, between the right people at the right time.  My friends all know that I am a champion of every kind of happy ending there is.

I think that being in love is one of the small miracles of the world. I don’t know why God blessed us with the ability to connect to someone so deeply, to desire their happiness even above our own, to discover in ourselves a selflessness that we’d never seen, to be childlike and joyful in a way that we might not be in any other area of our life.  It is amazing to me that we cannot quantify it or fully describe it or capture it or synthetically produce it, and yet love is a currency valued in every culture known to man.  For every person that values money above all else, there are 10 others for whom the search for a true love is their life’s ambition.   More poems, songs, sonnets, and odes have been written about love than about any other condition or being.  Even God is only a close second.

For me, love and marriage proved to be two very separate things.  I like who I am when I am in love.  I am a good girlfriend.  I did not like who I was when I was married.  I was a “good” wife, but I was a miserable wife.  And I have no certainty that I would know how to do it differently.  So, for me, marriage is off the table.  I do not want another wedding because I do not want another marriage.

But I do still love weddings.  I love the optimism and the hopefulness and the bravery of that act.  I love that, in our culture,  it is one of the only times that the open and unabashed display of love is acceptable and celebrated. I love that, in spite of our collective pragmatism and cynicism, we have held onto the wedding ceremony as a means of shouting to the world that we love each other and we are going to try our damnedest to make our own happy ending.

I am not naive.  I know what our divorce rate is and I fully understand why it is so high.  I get that at least half of us make a mess of our first marriages, and around 75% of us do the same on our second marriages.  But that doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with marriage.  That means there is something wrong with us.

I have known some amazing marriages…. quiet fairy tales in the midst of everyday, common life.  They weather the ups and the downs, the “I-Can’t-Get-Enough-of-You” and “I-Never-Want-to-See-You-Again” moments, the highs and lows of sexual attraction, the challenges and victories of child-rearing.  And when I have seen those couples look into each other eyes, when they think no one is watching, and I have witnessed the tenderness between them, my heart has melted.  Every single time.  Cinderella is all fine and well, as is the hoopla of the royal wedding.  But the real miracle comes later, as the fabric of the marriage is woven and the texture acquired and the life lived side by side.

I watched my couple today, as they held hands and smiled at each other through tears during the service, and I said a silent prayer for them…. that whatever happy ending they were mutually imagining could please come true.  That they could find in each other their own special fairy tale.  Because I still believe in weddings.  And I still believe in marriage.

I do.

___________________________________________________________

Below is the text of the wedding ceremony I wrote for our civil wedding ceremonies.

Hello everyone and welcome.

We have gathered here today to observe one of life’s most precious moments:  the decision of two people to join their lives together in the covenant we call marriage.

This decision is not to be entered into lightly.  It deserves the benefit of long hours of soul searching and thoughtful contemplation.  It calls for knowing oneself and what one needs and desires and has to give another.  It requires an appreciation of the promise that is being made and the bond that is being formed.

Finding that person that we each believe to be perfect for us is truly a miracle.  The world is large, and growing.  To realize, just for a moment, that the two people before us somehow managed to find each other and recognize in each other a specialness, a “rightness,” a “fit” that surpassed what they had found or encountered previously… it is truly awesome.   The story of how they met, got to know one another, fell in love, and began a journey that brought them to this place on this day is no doubt one of life’s most amazing little miracles.  Whether simple or complicated, mundane or extravagant, it is a testament to the universally human desire to love and be loved.

Love brought them here, but love will not be enough to sustain them.  It will have to be joined by respect, compassion, empathy, support, and patience.  It will need constant nurturing and attention.  It will need each of you to recommit, every single day, to its well-being and good health.  And in return, it will sustain you and comfort you and enrich you.

Are you prepared for this commitment?

[Couple responds, as one, ‘”We are.”]

As marriage is necessarily the joining of two individuals – with separate identities, personalities, and ideas, I now ask each of you:

Do you, __________________ and _______________________, promise, to each other and the world as a witness:

  • To love one another and show affection to one another and prioritize the physical and emotional connection you have with one another?
  •  To comfort one another without criticism or negativity, but from a place of love and support?
  •  To honor and respect one another’s feelings, concerns, beliefs, opinions, talents, and needs, whether you share them or not?
  •  To hold as sacred whatever aspects of your relationship you mutually agree should be so?
  •  To banish sarcasm, cynicism, and contempt from your arguments and debates, so as to cultivate respect and courtesy for one another?
  •  To support each other’s personal growth and self-awareness as being necessary components to the growth and sustainability of your union?
  •  To be even more patient, more kind, and more loving to one another than you are to the rest of the world?
  •  To be one another’s soft place to land when the world seems hard and unyielding?
  •  To strive to make one another feel special and desired and important?
  • To be the one person in the whole world that each other can count on unconditionally and without reservation?
  • To nurture and protect and guard your love from the stresses and pressures and temptations of life, such that your union grows stronger and more powerful over time?

 [The couple answers, one at a time, “I do,” and exchange rings, if desired.]

[Optional: The couple has expressed the desire to each make a personal declaration.

The couple takes turns making their declaration, if desired.]

By virtue of your love for one another and the commitment you have just made, I now pronounce you husband and wife.  You may seal this bond with the eternal symbol of a kiss.

[The couple kisses, if they so choose.]

Now go forth and share this wonderful journey of life together.  Congratulations!

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why every mom in america needs to quit

I rarely do this, but today’s post is a complete plagiarism of a column that a friend (a male friend, I might add!) sent me last week.  I love it and I hope you do, too.

Happy Mother’s Day!

______________________________________________________________________

WHY EVERY MOM IN AMERICA NEEDS TO QUIT
By Mel Robbins

Ladies, it’s quittin’ time.  Since when is a year’s worth of laundry worth a store-bought bouquet of flowers? And three hundred dinners prepared rates only a breakfast in bed?  Yes, your husband and kids are fantastic and you love them madly, but we deserve more – we deserve help!

This Mother’s Day, don’t stop at taking the day off. Just quit.  That’s what two women in my life did.

In 1978, Judie Robbins stood up at the dinner table in front of her husband and three sons and said, “Effective immediately, I am resigning as Chairman of the Household.” My husband is her youngest son — he was 8 years old at the time.

For years, she’d been asking for help from the family. She tried using an allowance as an incentive; she tested out becoming a tyrant.  Finally, she just settled into a long stint as a silent, resentful domestic servant. But Judie woke up one day and took a step that too few moms dare — she decided to assert her right to the pursuit of happiness.

No more laundry, no more dishes, no more making the beds – no more of any of that daily drudgery: packing the lunches, cleaning the house, taking care of the dog or organizing everyone’s social life. “I’ll buy groceries and make dinner on weekends,” she announced, “but that’s it.”

What followed was silence … and some nodding of heads. After a moment, everyone simply resumed eating, totally unfazed. They’d seen this kind of thing before – playing dumb was the best strategy. The boys cleared the table, sure that, once their mom calmed down, they wouldn’t have to repeat the chore.

But Monday morning, there was no breakfast ready, no lunches packed, and no clean uniforms ready for a week of football and soccer practices. Judie wasn’t even home to hear their complaints – she’d gone for a walk with a friend.  By day four, the Robbins household was gripped by absolute panic. You could see it in the boys’ eyes as they ate Cheerios again for dinner.

Judie volunteered instruction, teaching the boys how to run the laundry and the dishwasher, but she never took over. She stuck to her guns.

Every few mornings, the boys crept down three flights of stairs into a dark, damp basement to run another load of laundry. They packed their own lunches, made their own beds, and kept their rooms tolerably tidy. On weeknights they took turns cooking very mediocre meals for the family.

When I first heard the story, I thought my mother-in-law was a monster.  How could she have done that to her boys?  How selfish! I thought. A third grader doing his own laundry?  I’d never be a mother like that!  I’d take care of my kids!  I’d bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan!  I’d do it all.  How wrong I was.

Being a mom has always been tough. But when four out of five families have both parents in the workforce, motherhood is a thankless treadmill. There’s very little upside. Even as women improve their incomes, and outnumber men in the workforce and professional schools, we’re still stuck with the second shift at home. Only 20 percent of men share housework with their wives in dual-income families!

Why do we do it? Because for a while, our husbands and our kids truly need us. In the early days of starting a family, being a mother really does mean nourishing, cleaning, caring. It feels deeply satisfying, but we hang on far too long to what’s safe, familiar and common.  There’s also the fear if we’re not doing it all, we won’t be needed.  The fear is real, but the reality is that as moms we’re needed for much more than folding shirts.

Quitting isn’t about staying home versus working; it’s about living in a modern world and getting what you deserve.  Once our kids reach school age, we can afford to ditch the 1950s ideal of motherhood for something a little more 2011 – collaboration and empowerment.

Last year, I stopped saying I was fine and I quit. I’d just discovered a pile of clothes in the closet that my youngest said he’d put away. When I confronted him, he looked at me with the deadpan honesty that only a 6-year-old can pull off and said, “But mom, I like when you do all the work.”

The fact is, your kids (and husband) can help a lot more than they do. When I quit as Head of Household, I learned just how capable my kids really are. For my Lego-obsessed son, sorting and folding laundry is a game.  Turns out, my 10-year-old loves to cook dinner and my 12-year-old can create a family calendar while texting, doing homework and weaving a friendship bracelet. The hardest part is letting go of how you want everything done. The best part is once you do, you have a solid team in place and time to be with everyone, instead of slaving for them.

When I thought about it, I realized my mom, Marcia Schneeberger, quit too.  When I was in ninth grade, she announced that she was opening a business with her best friend and would need my younger brother and I to pick up the slack.  I put up a fight, layering on the guilt, but my mom stuck to her guns and we kids got it done.  When my mom’s kitchen store opened, I remember feeling so proud that Mom owned it and I forgot about the pile of laundry at home with my name on it.

Quitting made me a better daughter, a better wife and it has let me become the kind of mother who isn’t ticked off and cranky at the slightest problem. My kids are more responsible, and I’ve gained their respect, because they see me as someone who won’t let people run her over.

You need to be honest with yourself and your family.  You aren’t fine doing it all.  It’s driving you crazy, it’s turning you and your spouse into roommates, and it’s making your kids lazy. This Mother’s Day, why not get what you really want?

When your family wakes you up this Sunday with breakfast in bed and the promise of a “day off,” just take a moment to prop yourself up with some pillows, gather everyone around and make the following announcement: “Thank you very much for the gesture, but this Mother’s Day I don’t want a day off.  I want the year off.  I hereby quit as Head of the Household.  Thanks for making breakfast.  Now what’s for dinner?”

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if you need absolution, see a priest

Last year, a friend of mine betrayed me in a fashion that was so hurtful to me, it left me numb and shaken.  When he first revealed to me what he done, I thanked him for his honesty in telling me (although I would have found out eventually anyway), and explained that I was hurt and surprised and needed some time away from him.  He had, in earlier times, been a good friend and supported me through some of the darkest days I’ve faced, so I tried to get my head around his betrayal and find a path to forgiveness.  I did not want to lose his friendship and over the next several days, I genuinely struggled to find my way back to a place of trust and security with him.  But then he decided that I was taking too long, that four days was an excessive amount of time for me to be upset by his actions, and that I was making a big deal out of things just to make him feel bad and punish him.  We spent an evening exchanging emails in which he became more defensive and antagonistic, and I became more aggrieved and less sympathetic to his claims that I was mistreating him.  He accused me of withholding forgiveness just to be controlling and told me that I wasn’t be sensitive to his feelings.

At first, I was confused.  Was I being a royal bitch?  Was I some unforgiving, controlling shrew who allowed no room for mistakes or missteps in my friendships, as he said?  Was I really this awful person??

And then it dawned on me:  He knew that he’d done a terrible thing.  He had at first concealed it from me precisely because he knew that it would hurt me.  He felt guilty and bad about his actions, and he wanted me — needed me — to make it better for him.  Which is all fine and well, except for one thing: that’s not fair or right or appropriate.  It wasn’t my job to make him feel okay for having hurt me.  It wasn’t my job to absolve him of the guilt he was feeling for doing something he knew was wrong.  It wasn’t my job to pretend that I wasn’t hurting, just so that he could feel better.

I had every intention of forgiving him, and I made that clear from the beginning.  But I needed some time to process my feelings, to cry privately and care for my emotional wounds away from him and what had happened.  When he contacted me the night of the emails, I told him straight out that I hadn’t been in touch with him because I hadn’t wanted him to see my pain, because I knew that it would only make him feel worse.  He was my friend, I told him, and I had no intention of punishing him by making him share the space I was in.  But concealing my ache from him while I worked through it apparently wasn’t enough; I was simply not allowed to feel it.  I was supposed to be okay with it all, for his sake, and on his timetable, so that he would no longer feel like the jerk he’d been.  He didn’t want eventual forgiveness; he wanted immediate forgiveness.  In fact, he didn’t want forgiveness at all.  He wanted absolution, a complete clearing of the slate wherein we would never mention his action again, and I would go back to being his loving, trusting, caring friend again, without reservation or hesitation.

Absolution is a beautiful thing.  The mere idea that we can completely eliminate our sin and any consequences thereof is a comforting and idyllic concept.  Which is why devout humans look to a deity to receive it — because we simple mortals aren’t really capable of it.  The best we can achieve is complete and sincere forgiveness — the chance to move forward through our hurt and create a new tomorrow, leaving the scars of yesterday to heal over.  The expectation of anything more is, quite frankly, unreasonable and unrealistic.

None of us likes how it feels when we hurt someone.  We want their pain to be over as quickly as possible, and a sense of normalcy re-established.  But to demand it according to our needs and timeframes is unreasonable and unfeeling.  For instance, if I have cheated on a boyfriend and informed him of my infidelity, it is okay for me to then demand that he “just get over it”?  To accuse him of making too big a deal of it  just because I want it be over, past, done?   Do I get to dictate the breadth and depth of his pain, or did I relinquish that opportunity when I knowingly damaged our relationship?

Please don’t misunderstand: I don’t believe that a bad action grants the injured party the right to intentionally punish the bad actor through emotional or physical abuse, or to engage in vengeful retaliation, or to seize the mistake as an opportunity to gain on-going control and manipulation of the relationship.   In the wake of a serious injury to the relationship, it is certainly incumbent on both people to do no further harm to the relationship or each other.  Indeed, in that space, tenderness and compassion must be the guiding doctrines if the harm is to be repaired with the greatest speed and success.  But it is not okay, in my very humble opinion, for the injuring party to dictate the progress of the healing.  So long as progress is being made in a very real and sincere manner,  that should be enough.

A good friend of mine is currently going through something similar with a man she deeply cared for.  She is in pain and sad and grieving the relationship, and, merely 24 hours after breaking her heart, he is accusing her of being mean for withholding her friendship and “not getting past it.”  Seriously, dude?

Like I always say, if you need absolution, see a priest.

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two years

This weekend will mark an anniversary for me: two years to the day since I loaded my earthly possessions in a moving truck and formally separated my life from my husband’s after 11 years of marriage.

The day of my departure played out like a suburban melodrama. I had scheduled my move for a Friday, so that my children would be in school, but that morning we awoke to find my youngest running a fever and generally feeling rotten.  So, my five-year-old spent the day numbly watching her mother extricate herself from the family home. Feeling her eyes follow me around the house that day was agonizing. My husband stayed home from work, ostensibly to watch my daughter, but subsequent events suggest to me that he would have been there anyway. That morning, he alternated between standing with his arms crossed, surveying the moving men as if insuring that I didn’t take anything to which I was not entitled, and whistling as he moved through the house taking care of small things with a kind of forced nonchalance that I found grating, but would have gladly suffered all day, had I known what was to come.

A month earlier, my husband had made it clear that, other than tossing all my clothes into trash bags and depositing them in the guestroom (“Was Daddy helping you pack, Mommy?” “Yes, dear. Wasn’t that nice of him?”), he was not going to lift a hand to assist me. So, I hired two strong Mexicans with minimal English and a truck to do the heavy lifting. They were kind and by the end of the day were offering sympathetic half-smiles of encouragement. They could see how much I needed them, I think, because my child and my Mexicans were witnesses to possibly the most hurtful moments of my life that day.

Of all the acquaintances and friends I knew, of all the women and men whom I reached out to during my 12 years in our town, only one friend offered to help me move that day. She arrived, despite her husband’s opposition and the disapproval of our mutual friends, in ready-to-work clothes and with a can-do attitude. Within moments, she had plunked herself down in my living room and was busily packing my china. Had I been less numb, her gesture of compassion and kindness would have likely reduced me to tears, as they did later when I was able to fully appreciate that day.

Next to arrive were the couple that my husband and I had been closest to during the last year or so of our marriage (we’ll call them Brooke and John, because those are their names). John came first, and joined my husband for a beer in the living room, as I bustled around them, removing items and apologizing (yes, seriously) for disrupting their conversation. And then later Brooke came sweeping in, right past me without a word, my former best friend who hadn’t spoken to me since I told her that I was leaving my husband. Just as I finished in the living room, the three of them followed me to the den, standing casually in the middle of room, and I was again reduced to shamefully collecting my belongings as I shuffled around them and tried to be as small and inconspicuous as possible. Even in that moment, I understood their need to punish me for daring to break a covenant that we’d all held so dear, and the nature of my guilt was such that I bore their condemnation with alacrity.

Like most people my age, I have suffered my share of intentional acts of meanness directed at me, but the memory of leaving my home under those circumstances currently surpasses all others. It was a cut so deep and painful that I could barely process it for months. Were it not for my Irish stubbornness and determination, I would likely have fallen apart, truly. Even now, it takes my breath away.

It was a long day. My friend had to return to her familial duties after a few hours, but my Mexicans and I worked until after dark. At the end of the day, I offered them each a beer from my new fridge, which they accepted ruefully and drank quickly. As they left, the older one turned back to look at me and ask, “You be okay, yes?” “Yes,” I replied, but I don’t think either of us was convinced.

That horrible day mostly seems very distant now. Within days of my move, a few kind couples offered various assistance and support, every single one of which brought me to the verge of tears. In those dark days, I saw the true character of many of the people around me. The people who surprised me pleasantly will never know the indebtedness I feel for their small acts of kindness. As for those individuals who were so certain that I was making a huge and horrible and unforgivable mistake, I have thought recently how perturbed they must be to see me now. They say that living well is the best revenge. I hope that’s true. It’s the only kind of revenge I really believe in.

I have often thought that how we feel about a milestone is more about where we are in our life and how our previous expectations fit with where we are, than actually about the date or occasion we’re marking. For instance, my 25th birthday – when I was broke and un-coupled and struggling through graduate school – was far more difficult for me than any birthday since, primarily because I was unhappy with where I was and frustrated that my life didn’t match the expectations I had for myself.

This anniversary is oddly sweet for me. The initial elation of freedom and blossoming possibility that I felt during the first year has passed, but so has the loneliness and doubt of the phase that followed. I feel like my new beginning actually commenced within the last three months, not two full years ago, as if I had been previously in a holding place, a benign purgatory of sorts, over the last two years.

One of my more colorful friends likens my recent history to a difficult birth. She invoked this analogy not long ago to explain to me that leaving my husband and the home we’d made was like detaching from the uterus and beginning the painful journey through the birth canal.  I pushed my way through, gradually, until recently, when I finally emerged, damp and blinking, into the new world I’d created for myself. In some ways, her analogy is a bit graphic, but I appreciate how vividly it captures the struggle one encounters when separating from that which is safe and warm and secure and embarking on a world that seems wrought with uncertainty and newness.

Of course I had certain ideas about where I’d be two years hence from my separation, and I can honestly report that not much of my life looks as I’d anticipated it. There have been losses, and regrets, and stumbles, but there have also been insights and gifts and love. I cannot honestly say that I would change much. True, I’m not where I thought I’d be, but I think there’s a strong case to be made that where I am is even better. And for that, I am truly and completely grateful.

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never date a man whose butt is smaller than yours

When I was growing up, my mother (widowed at a very young age) had three dating rules:

(1) Never marry a man who has been married three times or more.  They can’t all be her fault.

(2) Never marry a man you haven’t known at least a year.  Men change with the seasons.

(3) If  a man tells you you’re too good for him, believe him.  He knows himself better than you do.

People have lots of dating rules:  Don’t sleep with him until the third date.  Don’t call him first.  Don’t get too dressed up, lest you discover that he doesn’t like you “casual.”   Since my separation, people’s “rules” have intrigued me, and I’ve tried out several of my own, with varying degrees of success.

About a year ago, I had dinner with an old friend whom I greatly respect.  She is very happily married to a man who is clearly her soul mate — their connection is obvious and palpable.  I asked her if she had any dating advice for me and she said, “Never date a man whose butt is smaller than yours.”

Seriously?

But she was serious, and as we talked, I saw the value in this advice.  It wasn’t about being superficial or shallow; it was about finding someone with whom you could feel soft and feminine and safe, after a long day being a modern, ambitious, successful woman (as she definitely is).   Everyone needs a soft place to land, as Dr. Phil is fond of reminding us, and part of that for many women means feeling physically safe and cared for.  It doesn’t mean he has to be built like The Rock, but it means that he needs to have a presence, a feeling, of being able to care for you.   This reasoning holds value and truth for me.  These days, I don’t have many rules around dating, but I do still hold this one.  I offer it here to challenge those reading this to think about your own rules and how well those rules serve you.  Sometimes we cling to rules because we’re scared not to; other times they just feel right to us; still other times we have mistakes to bear out the wisdom of our rules.  The trick is in knowing when our rules are best for us and when they aren’t.

When I was 13, my mom broke all three of her rules to marry my stepfather, a good man who was just plain bad for her.  The marriage was comprised of one year of crazy, head-over-heels love, followed by four years of wretched misery, topped off by a divorce and 15 years of seething anger and resentment.  Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

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divorce as divine mercy

I have a friend who has been divorced for 8 or 9 years now.  He and his ex-wife have a pretty remarkable relationship — they still spend holidays together with their daughter, they went on college -visiting trips together as a family, and they have actively supported each other through their respective family crises.

This weekend, this friend explained to me that, for them, divorce was like a divine mercy — the last act of mutual kindness they paid to their marriage, ending it before the pain became too great to bear.  A kind of marriage euthanasia, if you will.  Rather than wait until it the cancer of betrayal and deceit completely gutted their respect and concern for each other, they ended their marriage when some modicum of decency still existed, to be nurtured and built upon, to provide the basis of a a new relationship of mutual respect and caring.

I had never heard divorce described with such tenderness before, and it made me ponder yet again why we have turned divorce into such a nasty, vindictive, painful industry.  Why have we accepted all of that vitriol and jealousy and nastiness as “normal”?  Why do we expect people to behave more maturely when breaking up a simple dating relationship than we do a marriage?  Doesn’t a marriage deserve even more mutual tenderness and understanding and compassion?   Shouldn’t we demand from ourselves, and each other, better than this? Why should any marriage be battered, burned, and bruised until it is no longer recognizable?  Aren’t most marriages worth more than that?

I think that divorce is likely often a “divine mercy.”  And, really, when it’s all falling apart around us, and in our hearts we know it can’t be rebuilt, don’t we owe each other that much?

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hello, i’m mrs. jones.

Shortly before I announced to the world that I was leaving my marriage, I had a bizarre conversation with my then-best girlfriend.  We were in my kitchen, one evening during a dinner party I was hosting, and she was helping me tidy up after the meal.  We were talking about the second home my husband and I had purchased and how much fun it would be to have weekends away — all of us together — up in the mountains during the coming winter.  And then, with a smile, she said it:  “You know, y’all are the Jones.  You’re the ones that have it all.  The rest of us are just lucky to keep up with you.”

The air left my lungs as I bent over to the load the dishwasher and I mumbled some attempt at a witty reply, but my head spun with her pronouncement. Was that really what she thought?  Could she really not see how terribly unhappy I was?  Did my husband and I really seem that right for each other?  God, couldn’t she see that I was dying inside??

True, I hadn’t told anyone how I felt.  At that point, I wasn’t even sure myself.  I hadn’t yet determined that my marriage was the reason for my depression and grief.  I hadn’t yet admitted to myself that I’d been mourning a relationship that was still on life support.  But I did know that something was terribly wrong and that I felt like anyone who glanced at me could see it written plainly on my face, and yet she — my closest friend — did not. 

In that moment, I saw my first glimpse of what would unfold months later:  the utter shock on my friends’ faces as I told them I was leaving, the complete shunning I received from some acquaintances, the gossip that analyzed my “sudden” action.  To them, it would seem like I was upending perfection, tossing away all the good stuff we all want and strive for.  To me, it felt like the final, gasping breath of a woman flinging herself from her gilded cage in a desperate attempt to save her soul from a quiet, silent death. 

I never wanted to be the mythical Jones’ whom everyone struggled to match and keep pace with, and I don’t think that my ex did either.  But somehow that’s where we found ourselves, performing the roles of the couple who seemed to have it all, when in fact, we were missing everything that really mattered.

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was it worth it? (pt 1)

Sometimes people ask me if I have any regrets about leaving my marriage, and I can only assume that lots more wonder but don’t ask.  To those who do, I always say no.  But that’s not entirely true.  I often wrestle with the ubiquitous “what if’s” that lurk in every dark corner of my decision to divorce.  I think this contemplation, reevaluation, reexamination is normal, and good.  There was real value in my marriage — it wasn’t an all-bad situation — and I think my “what if’s” are my way of staying real with myself and not getting caught up in the polarized ideas of good guys and bad guys that seem to be the standard paradigm of divorce.  I don’t hate my ex, and he doesn’t seem to hate me, and I think the utlimate question of whether my decision was the right one will only be known at the end of our lives, when we look back on what we created separately after I left.

I want it to be worth it.  Really, truly worth it.  I want to know that the pain I inflicted with my decision somehow gave birth to goodness in our lives in other ways, and not just my life, but my ex’s and my children’s.  I want us all to emerge from the shattered ruins of my marriage as better, more well-developed, self-aware, happier people.  Is that too much to hope for?  Maybe, but I am damn determined to try.

Something happened recently that put my dedication to this ideal to the test.

One of the small injuries that accumulated over time into a real wound in my marriage was my ex’s apparent indifference to me when I was ill.  You know how sometimes you’re just so sick and you need to sleep alone so you can barf or cough or toss and turn all night?  When my ex was sick like that, I’d offer to sleep in the guest room if he wanted me to.  Not because I was afraid of the germs, but because I didn’t want him to be concerned about bothering me when he was that sick.  So, when he was sick, I slept in the guest room.  But when I was sick… I slept in the guest room.  It was a very, very small thing that became associated, in my mind, with all of the other ways that he seemed not to care for me when I was vulnerable.   In the midst of one of our vicious post-separation, pre-divorce fights, I hurled that example at him with the power of the pain that was behind it.  He physically recoiled as if I had slapped him, and I saw my own pain played out on his face, as he realized how broken we were and our mutual culpability in getting us there.

It was never mentioned again, directly or indirectly…. until a few days ago.  My ex delivered our daughters to me for my week and explained that his girlfriend had, for the first time, spent the night at his house while the girls where there.  Before I could say anything, he offered the explanation that she’d been sick and he hadn’t wanted her to be home alone at her place.  He further explained that she’d slept in the bed, and he on the sofa, so that she could get a good night’s sleep.

Ouch.

As the final words left his lips, we had the same realization at the same moment, and the next moments were excruciating:  me fumbling through a reassurance that I was fine with it; him over-explaining that he only mentioned it in case the girls were uncomfortable or talked to me about it; me mumbling agreement; and then us awkwardly saying goodbye as he retreated, and I was left standing alone in my foyer.

In that moment, the fork in the road was clear.  I could resent him for giving her, in those small, caring gestures, what he had denied me all those years.  I could rail against her as undeserving and some usurper who was now reaping the benefits of all my pain.  I could hate them both for being what we could not be together.

Except that I couldn’t.  I want him to be a better person.  I want him to be happier than he was with me.  I want to know that my leaving meant something,  I want to know that I meant something — enough to cause him to pause in who he is and possibly reconsider his fierce certainty, through the latter part of our marriage, that he was fine and justified and right, and I was broken and selfish and unreasonable.  And everytime I see glimpses of the new man he is becoming — and believe me, this was not the first glimpse — I am proud of him.  I am proud that he is making this worth it, finding value in the pain that we created and I blew wide open.  He is using this experience to become a better version of himself.  It is what I wish for all of us.  That, and possibly that alone, would make me feel, at the end of my life, that this decision was indeed worth it.

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