Dedicated to my friend, as she faces divorce.
There is no realization quite like the sinking certainty that your marriage can not continue. The instant when a hard-working, loyal, loving, and vibrant woman like you knows without a flicker of doubt that there is no more trying, no more hoping, no more waiting… That is where you are, my dear friend.
In between filing legal paperwork, arranging daycare pick ups and drop offs, and the terror of who will pay for what, you asked me questions:
How long will I feel like this?
How can he just move on? Will I be alone forever? Will anyone want me? And the unasked questions that I hear as if whispered in refrain: am I unlovable? What’s wrong with me?
You are someone whose smile lights up a room, who would gladly adopt every single stray dog and orphaned child. You have a devilish glint in your eyes and a zest for fun and trouble. There’s no one I’d rather have girls’ trips with, or visit a fortune teller with. You are vivacious and clever. Our humor intersects in such a way that you have made me hunch over, crying and breathless with laughter in public. You make me worry about peeing my pants more than I care to admit.
But I have also observed how in the last several years, you became more worried, more stretched thin, less exuberant, and less present.
You seemed ashamed to take up space and uncomfortable in your body. I kept my mouth shut, thinking that the normal stress and pressure of having young children was weighing heavy on you. I didn’t know the full picture of what was happening and I am sorry I didn’t support you more.
You can find logistical and practical divorce advice on your own. And parenting tips. You may not feel this way today, but you are entirely competent. So please let me speak to your heart here, and guide you down a path I know with regret. I wouldn’t want to share this path to divorce with anyone, but if you can learn from my pain, then perhaps it wasn’t entirely pointless.
Untangling hopes, dreams, and those soft-lit plans for retirement is painful. Imagining a future with young children, and living alone, is terrifying. But this pain is not endless. I promise you that it will subside. You will probably see, like I did, that the agony comes in waves. Some days it is intense, pure grief like a tornado. Other days, it’s a wistful longing. Grieving isn’t uniform or linear though. I’ve cycled from sadness to anger to bitterness, and then back to sadness, etc. Sometimes a cycle takes weeks to complete, other times I can experience a full cycle in a matter of hours. That is exactly as much fun as it sounds. What I have found, however, is that each cycle gradually diminishes in intensity. Sadness that would make my heart break turned slowly to regret, and then I could talk about losing someone I thought was my best friend without even crying. What I’m saying is that I know how bewildered, angry, hurt, and lost you are now. And I promise you that you will not feel this way forever.
A month of sadness for every year together is what I was told. I held onto that time frame like it was an oath.
You are wondering how he can be dating now, while you’re staring at your hands in disbelief, looking where your ring proudly used to reside, and wondering how your life turned into this tremendous mess. This is harder for me to answer. Your heart is like mine. It took me years before I wanted to date after my first marriage ended. It took me almost two years before I wanted to date after my second marriage ended. When my crusty, old heart warms to someone, it doesn’t let go. Eventually, when the grief fades, I know that
You will love again because your heart is too big to not find a loving mate to treasure it.
Which brings me to another point. Your marriage might be over, but the love you two shared- that was real. I believe wholeheartedly that like the atoms that make up our universe, the love we share with someone doesn’t just disappear. You loved each other, and it was true love. The sort of love to tell your kids about, because they will want to know about it, and it’s healthy for them to hear about it, in moderation. An epic love, and a genuine Hollywood love story. But we are all humans, and as such we can be flawed, fickle, and frail. Our love can wither and die, or change, and sometimes the person we are with gives up on our love without saying a word. While you were wondering how to save your marriage, and trying to improve yourself and what you brought to your marriage, he had already moved on. This sort of betrayal can harden some hearts, but not yours.
You may be afraid to even consider dating again, thinking what if all men are like your ex, why would anyone want to date someone with a young child, and how can you show your post-baby body to anyone? I rage with you at his betrayal, because I never appreciated my own unscarred belly until I had to reveal it, my loose belly skin, and my stretch marks, to someone who didn’t have a hand in creating them. You have to believe me that I know your fear and your pain. I can also promise you that I’ve never once noticed disappointment in a lover’s face, and never once thought that my interest wasn’t reciprocated because of my body. I know this is scary stuff, but once you face life as a single mom, there’s no going back. The tiny things that seem scary now will become insignificant soon.
Being a single mom is no joke.
At night, I am often too tired to take a shower, but I am never too tired to read to my daughter. There is never a moment when I am not thinking about what I need to do, prioritizing my tasks, and planning ahead. I have ongoing lists to make sure I forget nothing, because forgetting something means either going without, or disrupting my pulled-too-tight schedule. Not having someone to watch the kids so you can run to the store takes some adjusting. That is single mom life.
The next months will be hard for you. I’m not going to paint some unrealistic picture of an immediate joyful celebration. You will cry when you have a minute alone, and the weight of wearing a smile in front of your kids will feel like an iron mask. You will have at least one night when one of the kids is asleep and you realize that you need something, urgently from the store. You’ll search an old gym bag for tampons, and under couch cushions for spare change. When you are exhausted to the very core, the cat will vomit on the couch, and you will pretend not to notice it. That’s ok. Sleep is always more important than cleaning.
You will figure this out, and it will gradually get easier.
The thing is, after a while, when your pain is less acute, you will notice a rhythm. You will feel a sense of peace and accomplishment when you put dinner on the table for your children. You will gain the power to say no to extraneous obligations, and will become more deliberate about your choices. You will remember the feeling of pure joy, when you didn’t have to worry about balancing another adult’s wants and needs with your own.