One and done.

From the beginning, I knew that my heart was broken.

I could feel it, piece by piece, falling apart. Pieces missing, getting lost along the way. Some of them were ripped out almost violently, or crushed with a hammer, others dropped off without much notice like small feathers floating to the ground, some shattered into a million little pieces.

But broken no matter how you looked at it.

And that was okay. That’s what we should feel when something this life changing happens, and happens swiftly and without warning. It’s expected. And as the saying goes, it has to get worse before it gets better.

I believed that, in the beginning.

From the beginning, I was told that I would find love again, and most likely even marry again. So many reassurances and promises, thrown at me to make me believe that this too would pass and there would be a rainbow at the end with all of my heart’s desires. People mean the best when they tell you that you will meet someone wonderful and love again, that it will be better than you had before, and hopefully even better than you could ever imagine.

At least most of them do.

The first time it was brought it up was during my divorce. Odd, isn’t it? There I was, sitting at a table with a divorce attorney, dissecting the life I had created with someone for the last twenty five years, to divide it up and let it go. Burying what I thought was the love of my lifetime, the definition of my existence, and already the reassurances began.

This was in the first meeting.

I was told about previous clients that swore that they would never marry again, and here they were, five years later, remarried and amazingly happy according to my attorney. The true fairytale realized.

I shook my head, that’s not me. My attorney smiled and said “you’ll see”.

A few weeks later, I sat at a table with attorneys, a mediator, a financial consultant and my soon to be ex and the “what if” question came up – what if I marry again in five years? How will that affect the settlement, the alimony? This was a question from my soon to be ex-husband. Looking for the loophole already, in the hopes of cutting me loose as quickly as possible.

I shook my head, that’s not me. I think I even chuckled audibly, the thought of it so bizarre to me.

As time went on and I began seeing a therapist, she too told me of the wonders that would await me in the near future. I would definitely meet someone that would love me dearly, who would love everything about me, and most likely I would be remarried within five years (what is it about five years??) It happens all of the time, she assured me.

I shook my head, that’s not me.

I tried the dating thing, just to see if I could actually try this whole song and dance again. Maybe everyone was right, maybe I just needed to meet the right guy. Maybe this door could be a window after all. Some very nice men, divorced with kids, looking for a new beginning. But I found myself blurting out that I had no intentions of ever remarrying…on a first date. And I wondered why I wasn’t having many second dates?

People may think that I’m only saying this because I’m hurt, still raw, and once the wounds scab over, I will get past it and give in to this idea.

But that’s not me.

It goes back to my childhood, weirdly enough. I’ve known this from the beginning. I remember spending the weekend at my grandma’s house one summer, I was about thirteen. We were sitting on the floor in the living room, to be close to the air conditioning vent, to stay cool. It was a hot, sunny day cooking the house even with the central air going – maybe because the thermostat was set at 80? Possibly, if I know my grandma as well as I think I do.

Somehow the subject of relationships and marriage came up. It was the 70’s, girls were still being trained to look for a man to marry (even if you planned on going to college) so you could have kids and perpetuate the pattern of your mothers before you, remember?

While we were talking about the whole idea of marriage and what I had in mind for my future, the thought that my grandpa would most likely die before my grandma came up. It’s statitistics, plain and simple. I asked my grandma if she’d ever remarry, thinking about how lonely she would be without him. Her answer surprised me.

She shook her head, and said no. Never.

Confused, I questioned her somewhat quick answer. Maybe she didn’t really understand the meaning behind my question, maybe she wasn’t looking at the reality of being alone, maybe she wouldn’t remarry right away but wouldn’t she want to?

Wouldn’t she be lonely?

My grandma chuckled and smiled, shaking her head once more. No, she wouldn’t want to  marry someone else, even if my grandpa dropped dead tomorrow – she was in her late fifties at this point, so not too old to consider it. But she went on to explain her answer.

She’d have to learn about a whole new person! How he takes his coffee, what his favorite foods are, find out if he snores or not, the list was endless. Why, she asked, would she want to go through that trouble again. She’d already done it once, and once was enough.

I gotta admit, it has stuck with me ever since. She made sense.

They had been married for over thirty years by then, that’s a lot of invested time and effort to consider. There was a lot of experience, history and struggle in those thirty plus years. I guess that’s where the phrase “marriage is hard” comes from because it really is hard. It is work, everyday. Almost like a job, but one that you work at twenty-four hours a day.

As I got older and went from one long term relationship to another, I started to get a taste of what she was talking about. Obviously it was much more exciting to start over with someone new in my twenties, finding out all of the things you have in common and the things that you don’t but you’re willing to adopt, and “long term” was only a couple of years, three at most, back then.

But once I was married for a few years I completely understood.

There is a lot of effort that goes into a marriage, it makes the dating part look like a walk in the park. You’re learning more about each other everyday, every year. Some of these things you love immediately, you find endearing and sweet; some are annoying, foreign and downright confusing – those are considered “the price of admission” (listen to Dan Savage eloquently describe this idea at https://youtu.be/r1tCAXVsClw).

It’s a balance of  the not so endearing parts with their wonderfully special gifts that make this a ride of a lifetime. To ride the ride, this gloriously delirious ride of love, you have to be willing to pay up with your patience, understanding, and sometimes just downright ignore the ugly, stupid stuff.

I realized only a few years into my marriage that I had no intention of trying to ride this ride, in any other amusement park of a new partner, anytime again in my lifetime.

Once was enough.

So when my ride came to a screeching halt, the music stopped, the air shifted and I was pushed out of the seat of the ride, I decided I was done. No need to get back on that one again.

One and done.

I know, many people go through divorce and come out of the other side eventually ready to try it again, some barely wait while others take a timeout to regroup, everyone has their own timeline.

Some of those people that remarry are truly successful at it, some even happier than they were the first time around, so glad to have this second chance to find their true love. And to them I say that is awesome and I am happy for you, but please don’t ask me to get in that long, slow moving line once more just to experience this ride again.

I’ve been riding this ride too long, there have been too many twists and turns, and sudden almost endless drops, that have left me dizzy and stunned, my stomach queasy. I’ve tried it, it was good and it was horrible, and I don’t regret the experience overall. I just don’t think it’s the sort of thing I need to repeat.

Like my father used to say, “you have to try everything once to know if you like it, and if you don’t like it, don’t do it again.”

I can feel the hole that my heart has left behind, deep within me, almost everyday. It’s not just a numbness or ache, but an emptiness that has no real shape, it’s just there. It’s vacant, and will remain so. No need to learn someone else’s habits, meet their kids and possibly grandkids, to adapt my life to fit into theirs.

There’s less upkeep this way.  Just like my grandma said, one and done. I get it.

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What’s so funny?

Late last year, I took my youngest to a comedy show over the holiday break. The comedian was considered ‘clean’, so safe enough for myself and my twelve year old. He was someone that I usually didn’t go out of my way to see, or even listen to on the radio when I had XMradio, but I’d heard good things about his act and how funny he was supposed to be. My son was excited to see him, so how bad could it be?

Usually, the main act has an opening act, someone to warm up the audience. I love this part because you usually get to see someone that is up and coming, or possibly local that you may be able to see again if you pay attention to the venue ads and local radio spots. But this time, the main act did his own opener. He did about thirty minutes of stand up, without his usual props.

Just him, the stage and the microphone.

That’s fine, I thought. Interesting way to start the show, and a lot more effort on his part to be the opener and the main act. Kudos to him.

Then he started speaking.

His main bit, that was pretty much the only bit, was about the fact that he was now divorced after over twenty years of marriage and two children, and had fairly recently remarried a much younger woman. A yoga instructor. She’s vegan.

And she’s 18 years younger than him.

He blushed like a school girl when he admitted this, the camera zooming in on the twinkle in his eye was shown on the big screen for those of us not fortunate enough to sit closer.

This garnered an overwhelming response from the audience, mostly the men sitting there…with their wives and girlfriends. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Lucky bastard. You could almost feel the back-slapping, high-fiving, attaboys snickered in the room.

Then he went on to tell us all about his new wife, and her pregnancy with their twins. Yes, twins. But of course, he didn’t see the big deal about it all because he knew all about this pregnancy stuff, and having babies, from his previous experience. He’d already done this a couple of times over twenty years ago. How much could have changed?

He’s a seasoned pro, after all.

He was the calm, easy going one in the house as they prepped for their new additions, while his yoga instructor vegan wife was frantically preparing and reading every book in existence to be ready. She was baby-proofing the house like crazy and gathering recipes for organic baby food, while he stood by and shook his head in an adoring fashion.

The more he talked, the more agitated I became. He stood there smugly telling the world how freaking awesome his life was now that he basically dumped his first wife of over twenty years (and two grown children) to have this new, updated 2.0 version of his life. He stood there in his black denim jeans and button down shirt, trim and fit but still 54 years old, bragging about his thirty-something wife and their two year old twins.

And the audience laughed. They cheered him on. Even the women were laughing. And all I could think was…

What’s so funny??

Seriously. What is so funny and amusing about this entire schtick? Why should we be expected to indulge his oversized ego telling stories about ditching his first family and creating a new version of his reality, in the name of entertainment?

Why are we laughing??

During all of those years he was out making a name for himself, traveling all over the world at times, she was at home raising two kids, building a life for their family and keeping the home fires burning for his return. That was part of the plan, wasn’t it? For him to be successful and “have it all” someone had to stay behind and keep the stakes planted and tend to this seed of a life plan, for this tree of success to grow.

That was the point of both of their sacrifices being made, to build a life. A life with a shared history and a shared goal. Making them stronger, bonded for life, in the end.

It would all be worth it.

Maybe it was too soon for me. Too soon after signing the official papers on our divorce to hear this, too soon to hear people laughing at someone else’s expense.

Especially someone just like me.

Too soon to watch someone bragging about being an asshole. And too soon to watch people laugh with encouragement while he did it.

And while I was disgusted with him, I was just as disgusted with the women in the audience around me who were laughing right along with him, and all of their jeering husbands and boyfriends. I thought to myself, they honestly don’t think it can happen to them, do they? They think it’s a “them” problem.

That’s the real joke. The real punchline.

Every woman in a marriage wants to believe that she’s in a fully committed relationship, that she’s figured out the secret to long-lasting love and happiness with “the one”. She’s safe. He loves her and they have a great life, with great kids and friends and family. Sure, it’s hard work and sacrifice at times, but that’s what it takes to get to the rewards.

The good stuff.

Maybe they even feel that they’ve made it over the “hurdle” of what? The seven year itch? Or maybe ten is when you feel that you’ve come to the smooth road making it easier to navigate life’s twists and turns. Or is it fifteen, or even twenty years?

By twenty they’re solid, right?

They’re a team working towards a common goal. They are committed to the end game, together. This is the good part now, the kids are almost grown and the struggles are fewer, it’s time to enjoy the fruits of their labors and their golden years together. There is light at the end of the tunnel. They feel sorry for all of those other women who aren’t as lucky as they are.

You know how I know that?

Because that’s exactly what I thought at one time, not so long ago. I also thought we had made it through some of the toughest life challenges and struggles we could imagine, we had put in the time and the hard work, and we were looking at the reward years now. Finally a time for us, as a couple, to really live and enjoy our lives together.

It almost embarrasses me now to think of how naive and trusting I had been for so long.

The saddest part, to me, is that this is a growing trend. It once was thought to be an odd circumstance for couples to divorce later in life, but now it’s so common that it even has a name: gray divorce. And the statistics are showing that it is now the fastest growing demographic of divorce, couples divorcing after twenty or more years of marriage.

Let that sink in.

Googling it recently, the example given was of Al and Tipper Gore divorcing after FORTY YEARS. What the hell?? When do you know that you’re truly in it for better or for worse?

And I get it, people have been poking fun at this cliche of older men leaving their wives for much younger versions (to hang onto their youth, let’s be honest) for years now, but that doesn’t make it right. It shouldn’t be something worth bragging about in a crowded room, or congratulated on as some sort of accomplishment.

And maybe it wouldn’t be so funny if more women spoke up about the upheaval and the destruction of their lives that comes out of it, how it steals their entire life, their very existence and identity, in one crushing blow. Everything that they’ve worked for – and believe me, it is work. They’ve sacrificed of themselves for years to help build this life, working behind the scenes managing it all, to get to this place.

And suddenly, it’s all taken away, usually without warning.

They have been fired, let go, pushed out of their own life without any apology or remorse. Some women never recover, emotionally or financially. It’s too late in the game now.

Maybe if we heard more statistics about how women are affected by this growing trend, heard more voices from the women who have been a victim of this new movement, maybe people wouldn’t be so cavalier about it and so willing to laugh about it.

Maybe, it wouldn’t be so funny.

 

 

 

Clusters

You always hear that things happen in three’s. It’s usually referencing the deaths of movie stars or famous people, but other things also do I’m sure. It sounds so religious, the trinity symbolism being carried through the ages, but in many ways and often times it’s true. It just works out that way.

I think I’ve personally dispelled the myth of the threes for myself. Mine are more like fives or sixes. Clusters.

And maybe they aren’t really happening to me in clusters, maybe I only notice them after there are a few things in a row strung together, usually only able to connect the dots in the aftermath.

During my last pregnancy I was 39 years old. We already had two boys that were around 18 months apart, but now we had waited almost five years to decide to add to our family. One last baby to have our desired three. Before I turned forty.

My ex is from a family of three, I am from a family of three, it only seemed right to follow the pattern. The trinity and all, God’s plan right? That wasn’t the reason, but it made sense in some way. Three is a solid number.

During that pregnancy I had a cluster of bad luck events that I can only blame on hormones sucking out my braincells. Seriously. I cannot remember being this big of a moron during the other two pregnancies.

I was also a bit younger with the first two.

The cluster included a fender bender in my brand new minivan while trying to park at the school, only weeks later filling up the tank with the wrong gas in the same newly minted minivan (my first experience with a diesel tank…and my last), missing a school ‘thank you’ award ceremony for room parents (which I was that year) that left my oldest son standing on a stage in front of the entire school, with flowers in hand, waiting for me to appear (yeah, I still wince and feel sick to my stomach every time I remember that one) and walking right into a glass door not realizing it was even there, my very pregnant belly bouncing off of the glass to the horror of one of my friends.

Where is a camera when you need one? That would have definitely been YouTube worthy.

You can’t always blame hormones on mishaps or uncomfortable circumstances in your life, sometimes it’s just life happening to you – or karma, or bad juju, or the universe speaking to you, whatever you want to name it. The fact that it happens in a string, or cluster, may only be because you can now look at it as a whole and connect the dots.

Maybe you made one off decision that lead to a multitude of more challenges or surprises than you expected. Too many to deal with properly, in constant succession.

It’s like a wound that is left uncared for, not properly cleaned and bandaged, without first aid. At first it seems that it can heal on it’s own, it’s not that big of a deal, it’s only a scratch and you’re healthy and strong. But then dirt gets into it or you scrape it again. The skin around it can’t heal properly, it weakens and your body’s resistance gets lower the longer you leave it unattended. It gets infected and the infection spreads.

After a couple of these life challenges, your resistance and resilience gets lower and you just can’t fight as hard any longer. You can no longer make sound, rational decisions, or deal with life’s surprises as well as you could before. And that causes you more stress, adding to your already overloaded heart and brain, leaving you desperate to catch your breath and grab onto something or someone, for help or support.

You just need to take a break from it all. You need time to heal and get stronger.

Along this “life happening” journey of divorce, I’ve learned a lot, and dealt with many “clusters”. More than I ever expected, in a multitude of ways, and sometimes more lessons than I ever wanted to learn about the world and the people I thought I knew.

I’ve grown in ways that were born out of making tough decisions, decisions to protect myself and my kids mental health. Sometimes it included distancing myself from the very people that were close to me, that I trusted deeply, to save my own sanity. Family and friends, clubs and social circles, have now been trimmed of excess to reduce the possibility of new energy-draining events that will only weaken my resistance. I’ve gradually begun to create new boundaries, to insist that people respect them, finally drawing a line in the sand and sticking to it.

Standing up for myself more often than usual is only an added bonus.

And I know I was brutal at times, sometimes even hysterical I’m sure, no longer employing my usual habit of censorship to save someone’s feelings it was most likely shocking to some. But to make them listen, to really hear me and finally ‘get it’, I had to use extreme tactics. I had to be blunt and brutally honest, for fear that I wouldn’t be heard or taken seriously once again. I needed to tell them everything that I had been thinking for the last week, month, year…or decade.

Because in the end, in the thick of the cluster, what more did I have to lose?

I needed to purge. To unburden myself and strip away the heaviness I had been carrying for so long, trying to protect their feelings at my own expense. I needed to vent, unload, scream and let it all out.

I needed to breathe. I needed the surprises and challenges to just stop, for awhile. I needed someone else to take some of the weight off of my shoulders, for just a little bit. If only for a day, or an hour, I needed a free pass to not be the normal version of me that they were so used to seeing, to believing, who they wanted me to be to fit into their world view.

My life was messy and hard and relentlessly pushing down on me. I had to build the walls, put in the moat, and protect myself and my kids to weather this storm of clusters, with or without them. I no longer had spare energy or extra brain space to worry about pleasing other people, or saying or doing the “right things” to keep the peace. I was in survival mode and it was my turn to need support, understanding, love.

And for some, it was too much to ask. They weren’t prepared to understand or support. Or love.

Over my lifetime I have been an enabler, an empath as it’s commonly called these days. It started early on in childhood, and with each passing year and each new relationship added to my emotional history, it grew in strength. I slowly buried who I really was, denying myself what I truly wanted out of my life, my relationships and my dreams. I put myself at the end of the line to wait patiently for it to be my turn, because there were always more important issues and bigger problems for the people in my life. More urgent matters, that needed more attention, than anything that could be going on with me.

I was the therapist, the organizer, the sympathizer, the cheerleader, for everyone…but myself.

I’ve lost a couple of family members, and a couple of what I considered close friends, in the last year or so during this storm of challenge and change. I don’t regret it, as horrible as that sounds. I think everyone needs to purge once or twice in a lifetime, possibly more often than that, to really clear your mind and your soul, to reset your moral compass and your personal boundaries.

Change is part of growing, and growing isn’t always easy.

These days I feel lighter, able to breathe and relax a bit more. My days of pleasing others at my own expense, or at the expense of my children, are over. Am I sorry that I’ve lost people along the way? A little, but it’s really more about disappointment than sorrow.

Disappointed that those same people that I’ve tried to give my best self to, tried to be supportive of, couldn’t rise to the smallest challenge of just being there for me in my darkest hour, my darkest year. Unable to show understanding when I needed it the most. Unwilling to protect me in even the simplest ways. But instead of filling my heart with regret and sorrow over that loss, I’ve filled in those gaps with people that truly bring joy, happiness and support into my life.

People who can give of themselves as well as receive, reciprocated support and love.

The next cluster may be just around the corner, because that’s how life works, but it doesn’t scare me as much now that I’ve tightened up my inner circle and feel more secure in who I am and the boundaries I’ve set. I’ve come through the longest cluster of my life, a better and stronger version of myself, surrounded by the people who only want the best for me and will help me fight for it. I’ve rebuilt my support system, revamped my walls and boundaries, with the hope that I am better prepared for the next cluster when it comes my way.

 

A Hallmark kind of love

Packing up my half of our shared family house to move to my new home, I didn’t take the time to go through every piece of paper, or book, before they went into the many boxes. I knew that I really needed to make the time to do this before I moved out, but between the spiraling depression from the aftermath of our divorce and the house closing process dragging on longer than I expected, it just didn’t happen.

New discoveries, adding to the existing drama, were popping up like weeds. It was just too depressing some days, trying to pack things up without a solid destination secured, not sure if I would be able to move anytime soon, while at the same time being pressured to get out. In the end, in the days before the moving truck arrived, I just grabbed piles of things, emptied drawers, and threw it all into boxes unsorted.

It could wait until I unpacked.

And it has waited, in the many boxes around my house. The boxes that I keep moving from one room to another to make room for furniture in the living room, or to “organize” the office so we can actually use it. I’ve unpacked most of the boxes now, but there are still a few stragglers.

During the unpacking, I’ve come across some things that have made me stop and pause, with a melancholy look on my face and tightness in my throat, remembering the happier days and the love in our family. Pictures, notes, books, cards…

My heart aches.

Cards from Mother’s day, Valentine’s Day, birthdays and anniversaries. Some from my kids, but mostly from my ex. I saved all of them, even now. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them away, so I packed them into boxes and moved them with me, just like I’ve done with every other move. I’m a sentimental idiot sometimes, leaning towards hoarding tendencies, I’ll admit.

When I had them in our other homes, they were kept safe in the back of my dresser drawer. Under my pajamas or underwear, but still available at any time for me to flip through to remind myself, on a tough day, that there was love when I wasn’t so sure.

I have unpacked them from boxes, from a sideboard cabinet, from a dresser drawer. It was as if they were hiding, lying in wait, to jump out at me to take my breath away, make me do more than just pause.

Stop me dead in my tracks.

At first, I tried not to read them. Then I decided that I would, as if someone else were in the room daring me to, with the notion that they wouldn’t make me feel anything other than angry and disappointed. If anything, I told myself, they would reinforce the idea that my sense of security and love all of these years was just a false curtain. They would be dripping with false promises and proclamations, and I would see that now.

And I know, I should be thankful that I even received cards from my ex-husband, since I’ve now learned that not all couples exchange cards (or gifts?!) for anniversaries, Valentine’s Day, Christmas or birthdays (who are you people?!)

I read them with spite and disgust, so certain that they would make me shake my head in disbelief. Knowing that they would cut through my heart with a swift force and make me wince, possibly causing me to beat myself up (once again) over how stupidly trusting I had been for so long. Wonder to myself how I didn’t realize that it was mostly for show.

But I was wrong, for the most part.

They are still painful to read, painful in a regretful way, similar to the way you feel when you think of someone who has died and you regret not making more time for them while they were living. Reminding yourself that life sometimes gets too busy and we miss the  simple opportunities to connect, we neglect to make time for what should really be important.

Realizing the connections that were lost along the way.

Some of the messages are the usual “I can’t wait to see what the future holds” or “I’m so glad that we are on this crazy journey together” type of sentiments. But others are a bit more detailed and personal, what I knew when I first met you memories and inside jokes that only we could remember why they were so funny or so endearing. Things that only couples understand. But they all read like a gauge of our relationship at any given time, how good or bad it was during that particular chapter, that place in our history.

I can almost feel the energy from each one, good or bad. Or just lukewarm.

I admit there were times that writing inside of a card for our anniversary or Valentine’s Day felt forced, staged for public consumption, following the same scripted outline because that’s what married people do.

Sometimes we fake it till we make it.

During a holiday or milestone celebration, we look for the silver lining in our relationship to highlight, even when we can’t really see it or feel it. We need to dig ever deeper for that proper sentiment because that’s the “right thing to do”. We celebrate another year of togetherness, no matter where we fall on the spectrum of happiness at that point in time.

Because marriage is hard. Marriage has good days and bad days. Everyone knows that.

It is a rollercoaster of work, with some very high highs and some even lower lows. Nobody can be happy and content every moment, of every day, with anyone. Nobody is completely in love with each other at all times for all their days. It ebbs and flows.

You can tell from the written messages inside of each card where we fell on our timeline of love at any given holiday. The messages would be long and flowing, filled with appreciation and devotion, during our happier times. Those were the days that we both felt secure and trusting, or maybe more comfortable and relaxed? Not just in love, but loving towards each other.

At least I thought so at the time.

Looking back at the last few cards now I can’t help but wonder how I missed the signs. How could he be so unhappy with me, discontented with us, and still write some of the most loving words imaginable inside of a twentieth anniversary card to me?

“I love you now and always will. You’ve been an incredible wife and friend over these 20 years and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have someone as warm, loving and thoughtful as you. Love, your husband of 20 years…xoxoxo”

Followed by my birthday card only two weeks later,

“You’re as beautiful now as ever. And I’m not just saying that to be nice. It’s absolutely true.”

Four weeks later, sitting in our living room, he was telling me everything he hated about me, how I had disappointed him and all of my shortcomings that he couldn’t bear any longer.

I guess Hallmark doesn’t make a card for that.

So, I read through them once more and tucked them away once again. Not sure why, or when I think I will need to pull them out again. Am I saving them for our children to see someday, to reassure themselves that at one point we really did love each other? Or will they feel even more betrayed once they read these hollow hallmark promises?

I don’t know.

But I hope, if they get anything out of reading them someday, they will realize that marriage takes more than fancy cards, expensive gifts and beautiful flowers. It’s not just about celebrations and dinners out. That’s only the surface stuff, and it doesn’t guarantee success in your relationship or your marriage. You need to dig deeper, to give more, to say more.

You need to go beyond the silver lining and deal with the clouds and the storms together.

Hallmark will always have a card for every occasion, but it doesn’t have the answers to your real life questions and struggles. You can’t hold it all together with card stock, ribbons and glitter.

Marriage is about the life that happens in-between those holidays and celebrations. It’s about the everyday challenges that you have to choose to stick together and to make it work. It’s choosing each other, not another card.

 

 

Is this all there is?

I was watching an episode of “Dexter” with my son the other night – yes, we bond over serial killers and crime scenes, there are worse things. In this episode, Dexter is helping a woman track down her rapists – yes, plural – to kill them.

What are friends for, right?

She recounts the experience of leaving her fiancee at the altar only three months before her life took this ugly turn, and how she had arrived at the decision not to marry him. It was so real, so full of truth, and sounded so eerily familiar that I almost couldn’t breathe.

She told Dexter how she had pushed herself hard all of her life to please her parents. She was a good student, the first in her family to go onto college to get her degree. Followed by her masters. She was involved, athletic, smart. She was a good girl. Then she met the “perfect” guy, fell in love, and that eventually lead to planning a wedding. She had checked all of the boxes, and done all of the right things, her entire life.

It wasn’t until she was almost at her wedding day that it finally struck her. This is it.

For the rest of her life, she would be part of a couple that had the same friends, the same neighbors. They would have cookouts in the backyard on weekends, visit their families for holidays, attend PTA meetings and birthday parties for their kids, and have “date nights” once a week. They would do these average but good things, for the rest of their lives, and grow old together. That was it, that was the sum of her future life.

Is that all there is? she wondered. And so, she didn’t show up to her own wedding.

The reason that this struck me, made me sit still as stone as I listened to her, was the fact that I had basically the same epiphany about 18 years ago. Not at the altar, of course, already married with a child.

It was a typical day in our fairly new tri-level home. I was already a stay at home mom, taking care of our baby, who was about a year old at the time. He was in the pack ‘n play in our bedroom, watching a kids singing show, while I scrubbed the toilet in our attached bathroom. Innocent enough.

Something that I did weekly, along with all of the other household upkeep and day to day life. But for some reason, that day, it suddenly washed over me…this is it.

This is my life for the next thirty, or probably more, years.

We will have the same friends and neighbors, that we have over for barbecues on weekends and parties for our children’s birthdays. Our families lived close enough that we would see them on just about every holiday (and I’m talking every holiday – that includes Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, and any other “day” holiday you can imagine), every birthday, milestone and reason to celebrate. We would probably live in this house for awhile, until we could afford to move into something bigger, but not too far from the same area most likely.

There would be football and basketball games for the guys to watch at the bar, Tupperware and Candlelight parties for the wives to attend to order more of what we really didn’t need. Possibly a group camping trip, with all of our kids, once or twice a year. Baby showers, graduations, funerals, weddings and everything else in-between with the same people.

That was it. That was our future. My future. For the next thirty plus years.

And for some reason that day, with the toilet brush in my hand and the sound of ‘The Wheels on the Bus’ being sung in the background, I thought to myself “Is this all there is? Is this it? There has to be more.” I could see our future like a movie montage, because it was all so familiar already.

How did I get here?

This is what I had always wanted, had dreamed of, wasn’t it? I wanted to be married to a good guy, live in my own house to take care of, have kids and be a mom. But that wasn’t always the end story I had seen for myself, had always dreamed.

In the beginning, I had also seen a career in a big city, meeting new people, making big decisions and earning my way through life. Having one of those cool apartments with the hardwood floors and glass doorknobs, downtown over a convenience store or bar. Walking to museums and plays, getting opportunities to travel and see the world somehow. I had dreamed of being independent.

I wanted more.

As much as I loved what I had, and really did want it, I also wanted the other side of the dream that I didn’t really give myself much time to figure out. After graduating from college, the constant mantra of “you need to find a job” was pounding in my head, and repeated by my parents, so I basically took the first job I was offered. Not in the city, not in a cool design firm like I had always dreamed of, but instead a corporate art department job with benefits and vacation time. And a commute of about an hour, to another suburb, still outside of the city.

All of this came flooding back to me that day, while I looked around, toilet brush still in my hand.

When my ex came home that day, I asked what it would take for him to be offered a position in another country and if it was possible. I had heard of others in his line of work taking jobs in France, England, Germany. Why not him? He explained that he didn’t have the qualifications to go; he didn’t speak another language, he didn’t have any foreign clients, and he was married. They usually preferred to send single people who were more available and easier to move.

I still pushed on with the idea, telling him that if an opportunity ever came up to go somewhere else, like another country, I was willing to move. To have a new experience. If I couldn’t make it happen personally, I was willing to support him to make it happen.

Oddly enough, only a few weeks later, he was approached for a foreign assignment.

And as they say, the rest is history. That began the crazy, and challenging, journey that lasted close to ten years. And that journey brought me here, to this place. This place in time, in location, in mind and soul.

Almost back home, but not quite. Almost back to “normal”, but not really.

It wasn’t the dream I had dreamed when I was a child, or in high school or college, but it was very much like a dream in many ways. The meaning to the old adage “be careful what you wish for” became incredibly clear as time went on though.

It was amazing and exciting, the new experiences and meeting new people from different backgrounds, speaking different languages – so much to learn about the world! So much to explore. But at the same time it was also scary and confusing, and sometimes more difficult than I ever could have imagined. There were many highs and lows along the way,  over the many years and multiple moves, making me stronger in the end.

It had challenged everything I thought I knew or understood, pushed me out of my comfort zone, made me question everything about my previous life. There was more than one “right” way to do things, and more than one type of person or food or language. It changed the very core of who I was, for the better, in my opinion.

Would I have been just as happy without this experience? Would I have gotten over my feeling that there had to be more to life, blamed it on hormones or sleepless nights with a teething baby? Shut my mouth and just went along with the program, like everyone else was happily doing? I mean, what you don’t know you don’t know, right?

No need to second guess it or go through the list of possible “what if” scenarios now, it was the life I was meant to live. It was more than the life I had ever expected, or even thought I wanted. It was life changing.

I had asked myself so long ago “is this all there is?” never realizing where it would lead, how it would end, or how it would shape me in the future.

But now I know, no this isn’t all there is, there is so much more.

 

 

 

 

He’s not the guy

I’ve dabbled in the dating world this year, and realized all too soon that I just wasn’t ready.

It happens, I know. Some people can jump right into it after a breakup or divorce, they need to find someone to ease the discomfort, or they crave affection and attention, human touch. Sometimes you just need to know if you’re still ‘marketable’, attractive enough, to attract someone new…that isn’t a freak or total creep, preferably.

But that’s not me, obviously. I need time to figure out where I belong, how I fit in, and what I truly want for the next phase of my life. I need to know that my kids are secure and ready for another possible change to everyday life. I need to feel that the time is right for all of us, it’s not just about me.

It was so much easier when I was in high school (sigh)

So, I’ve made it clear to anyone who will listen, that I am not looking for anyone. To date or otherwise. I am focusing inward instead of outward, marketable or not.

I had this conversation with a new friend recently, who is also a hired consultant that has helped me forge this new path in my life. She has been really enlightening and supportive, and I don’t know how I would have survived all of this upheaval in my world, intact with my sanity, without her guidance and expertise.

A short while after my divorce was final, we were meeting about whatever, she asked how I was doing and how the dating world was treating me. I explained that I was no longer in the market. It was too overwhelming and disappointing. I was getting out of the game before I was too battered and bruised to want to play anymore. I just wasn’t ready. She understood, she was encouraging and supportive of my attitude, and agreed with me that sometimes it just takes longer than you think.

But…I should let her know when I was “ready” because she has the “perfect” guy for me.

All I could think was, ‘and so it begins’. The sitcom set-up that I’ve watched play out a million times on TV. Blind dates and stiff introductions set-up by well-meaning friends and family, grinning at you both like idiots because you are ‘so perfect for each other’ and they knew it! They know a guy from the office, from the gym, from their cousin’s friend. They truly just want to see you happy, smiling and excited with pep in your step, and with something positive and uplifting to talk about.

They want to see you whole again.

I politely explained that I was really not ready, and probably wouldn’t be for quite some time. My focus had changed, and it wasn’t all about me feeling good about myself, through someone else’s eyes, finally. She nodded and said that she understood, but just to let her know when I was ready because she didn’t want to ruin this perfect match with poor timing.

That was a couple of months ago.

We recently met again about other details of my new life, she sent an email that morning explaining that she was bringing her partner along to meet me and to help answer my questions. It was unexpected, but I didn’t think anything of it.

The morning that they came to my door, I was in jeans and a hoody from the Hot Chocolate race and simple makeup, my basic everyday attire. Her colleague was pleasant and friendly, a clean cut middle aged guy, nothing out of the ordinary. It actually made me a bit nervous to have a man join us for some reason, usually the two of us worked on my stuff while we talked like girlfriends. I liked it that way, swapping stories of our lives while planning my future, it didn’t feel so “necessary” then. Now there was a guy with a crisp white shirt and tie standing at my door, his leather satchel slung over a shoulder, smiling but in a business like manner.

This was serious. There wouldn’t be any girl talk this time.

I was a bit bummed, but shook it off. Every meeting shouldn’t be a coffee klatch I told myself. I didn’t hire her to be my friend…did I?

As the morning went on, and we talked about my accounts, he easily took over the conversation as the expert on the subject, and not only answered my questions but asked them of me too. He was teaching me how to look at it all, more than directing me, which I liked.

He was complimentary about my grasp of everything. I felt more confident.

Sprinkled into the conversation were personal details about himself, tossed in from my friend. He was divorced, from a narcissist, and he agreed with the adage of “if I knew then what I know now” with a chuckle. He’s a beekeeper as a hobby, and loves it, stings and all. He said beekeeping was therapeutic and relaxing, he also cans his own honey.

Being the thoughtful hostess that I am, I offered something to drink along with the cookies that I had baked the day before. I also offered the Italian lemon cookies that I pick up from the farmers market each week, joking that I “knew a guy”. That lead us to the talk of farmers markets in the area, which markets we visit and love, and the idea that I often buy local honey, usually with nuts mixed in. We must have talked about this for fifteen minutes. He asked to see my jar of honey, and was so interested in the idea of it, that he took a picture of it to use as a reference later.

As the conversation moved on, he mentioned his talent for betting on horses as a way to compare financial risk taking – then went on to say his good luck with betting on them comes from the fact that he owns horses, and has always loved them. He was a new age kind of guy, in my opinion, white collar work with a farmer’s love of nature.

An urban gardener type, unlike most of the men that I had recently met, and I liked that.

Suddenly I realized that I found him much more attractive than I had when I first opened the door, only an hour before. I now noticed that he was cute, easy to talk to, had a personable way about him. We had things in common that I never would have guessed.

That’s when the thought occurred to me, was this the guy that she wanted to set me up with?

My mind began whirling, trying to piece it all together. This was a sneaky way to make the introductions, not what I was expecting at all, but I wasn’t that upset about it. I started thinking about the idea of going out with him, or someone like him, and it didn’t scare me. It felt right and fitting. He was funny, honest, personable, interesting and smart. He was the best of both worlds, white collar job with a love and appreciation of nature. It was like finding a unicorn sitting in my kitchen!

I began to smile a bit more, with a slight flirt in my voice, and it felt good. Natural.

Once they left, after our two hour meeting, I shook my head and smiled some more. She was sneaky, I had to admit, but she knew me better than I had ever imagined. I didn’t expect anything that morning, so I wasn’t nervous or overthinking, and I was dressed like I always am – not trying to impress. A great way to meet someone, definitely more organic and less pressure. Her instincts about this match seemed pretty dead on, too – how did she figure me out so quickly?

I was impressed. And a little excited, I will admit.

I waited to hear from her, maybe giving me a little hint about what I had already figured out, patting herself on the back for being so sly, and yet so right. But I didn’t hear from her.

I figured that she must be busy, the weekend was coming, etc. Or maybe, just maybe, he wasn’t nearly as impressed with me, as she had promised him he would be? Maybe he didn’t think we had as much in common as I did, or I just wasn’t his type? And why would she share someone else’s disappointment with someone who didn’t even know there was a motive to meeting them to begin with?

Better to leave it unsaid, making it easier to go on with a professional relationship.

As the day went on, I couldn’t stand not knowing if this was the setup, and if it was did it go as well on his end as mine. Did he even ask about me? So I texted her and asked, “just out of curiosity, is he the guy that you wanted to introduce to me?” I didn’t want to seem too excited or give her too much credit…yet. I was playing it cool.

She responded almost immediately, “No, it was Jeff :)”

I stared at the message for a minute, sitting with the small disappointment in my gut for a moment. He wasn’t the guy. This guy that sat at my kitchen table today, seeming to possess all of the qualities that I would be interested in, surprising me with my level of interest and tiny hope that he felt it too, that guy.

He wasn’t the guy?

He wasn’t the guy.

‘Jeff’ had better be pretty amazing when the time is right, since he’s ‘the guy’. The bar has been set high now, maybe too high. And I didn’t even know I was picking up the bar.

What if…

Such a common thought, for most of us at some point in time…”what if?”

I’ve had too many to count of these unsettling commentaries running through my mind over the past year or two. If I’m honest, I’ve had that commentary running through my mind for years, always looking for the hidden answer, the deeper meaning or secret message.

Like a game show, I always wonder ‘what was behind door number three?’ What did I miss?

The internal conversations of “what if” range from small scenarios, maybe tiny bits of conversations that went wrong, or smaller actions that became something bigger and harder to live with than I had ever imagined or expected.

What if I had done it differently? What if I had said yes instead of no this time?

When the idea of getting divorced was first brought up, said out loud in an almost business like way as a solution to our stalemate, it seemed surreal. The room seemed to get bigger and I felt smaller, quieter, my brain was filled with cotton dulling the sounds and senses of it all. I was numb. It felt as if it wasn’t really happening to us, I was just witnessing a movie or a scene from a play from another seat, in another room.

Maybe it was all a dream? Or a nightmare?

It didn’t seem like something we would really do, considering our level-headed decision making history. We had done so much together over the last twenty five years, experiences that challenged us beyond our imaginations sometimes, and still managed to stick it out to figure out solutions together, as a partnership. This was just an idea, right? It was a test for both of us, a game of chicken really, wasn’t it? Was it really so broken that we couldn’t fix it this time? Were we really that far apart in our goals and future plans?

Shouldn’t someone say something, back pedal, stop us from doing this? But nobody did.

Once the big decision had been made, agreed upon in theory, my mind began to spiral around the events that lead us here. The most current events, not the long list of small slights and disappointments that built up our resistance to one another over the years, like bricks building a wall.

That’s when a new set of “what ifs” began.

What if… I had just agreed to make the move for his new job? All that I had researched about the new location – the housing, the schools, the neighborhoods – proving to me that it was not the right fit for us as a family, put in a box in the corner of my mind, ignoring the deep gut feelings that I had about how our kids would (or wouldn’t) adjust to another move because the timing was completely wrong for all of them.

What if… I had disregarded the disappointment and hurt that would come from my extended family to find us moving away again? What if I had just thrown it all to the wind, blindly trusted, and jumped in with both feet?

What if… I didn’t think about anyone else, not even myself, and just did it?

What if… I had done what I had always done in the past, just trusted that it would all work out for the best, for all of us? What if I had just chosen our marriage, our partnership, over the perceived well-being and happiness of our entire family? Would it have saved our marriage? Would we be blissfully happy in our new location, glad that I was talked into it, with everyone seemingly well-adjusted by now?

What if… I was wrong about my theories, my research, my fears?

Did I put too much stock into some of the reasons not to go, some of it just fear of another change, did I devalue the importance and weight of our marriage?

What if… after that ugly night, when he told me all of the things he hated and disliked about me, I had gone to him and tried to “fix it”? What if I had told him that I would try harder to be a better partner, to be the kind of wife he wanted and deserved, and I would do whatever it would take to keep us together. Even if that meant moving.

What if… I had accepted his offer that we could continue “doing this” for twenty more years? No apology offered, no excuse for his ugly rant tearing me apart, just accept it as our way of life and love and moved forward to the finish line.

What if… I put it out of my mind and pretended that it didn’t really happen?

What if… I had accepted his now obvious peace offering on Christmas day, a trendy designer workout bag and matching top, as an unspoken apology and just moved on? What if I had continued to shop for a Christmas gift for him even while hurting, and gave him a similar fence mending gift?

Would that have been enough to stitch us back together? Would we just pretend that he hadn’t said any of those hurtful things, and just kissed a bittersweet thank you on Christmas day to move past it all, both of us accepting it as one bad night brought on by stress, travel and work.

Would he have continued to commute for us, his family, as a peace offering until we were ready to move?

What if… I had told him from the beginning, from the earliest days of our slowly growing apart, exactly how I felt when he treated me like I didn’t count? What if he had told me how disappointed he was with me and my apparent shortcomings then?

What if… we had figured out how to really communicate with each other years ago? Would we have stayed married this long because we could work things out and understand one another, or would we have divorced years ago realizing that we weren’t really right for each other?

Maybe we would have come to the conclusion that we had different expectations of marriage earlier on, and acted upon it, before we spent twenty years trying to hold it together.

What if… we had just broken up at the end of that first summer or first year?

We never would have gotten here, to this ugly place of broken dreams and unfulfilled promises, and maybe we both would have had happier marriages with other people? Maybe we would have taken completely different paths that made us each happier, and feeling more secure, more fulfilled, more loved. Maybe not.

But, what if…?