Thursday, June 18, 2015

A Year Ago and a Year Later

Eighteen months ago we made the decision to get divorced. Fifteen months ago we were separated. Five months ago our divorce was official. But it's the year I'm coming upon that seems the most significant.

A year ago we moved out of "our" house.

A year ago I had just made it through living in a hotel for two weeks.

A year ago I had just driven from the Midwest back to my foundation in NY. As I said then, "For the first time in 20 years, the idea of the cocoon of my parents and my childhood home is calling my name and I am heeding the call." I stayed there for weeks, in the cocoon, until I was able to come back to Ohio and move into my new house.

A year later there are seven kids between 8 and 13 running through my yard, screaming with the delight of summer and freedom while I sit inside and work, smiling at the sound of childhood.

A year later, we sometimes have dinner as a family of four, attend the kids' events as a posse of exes and currents, pack together for our kids' summer adventures away and discuss their anxieties, etc. According to a close friend "the general public thinks you guys have done a remarkable job, especially when it comes to the kids."

A year later, we still know all of each others' insecurities and weaknesses. I can still have my heart broken and be rendered speechless. We still fight over the stupid shit and the monumental things. We still bicker and fail to communicate, understand each other and be respectful. Fail. Often.

A year later, my house is my home. Every single thing in it was chosen by me and my kids. Each thing has a way of making me feel happy and comforted. Our schedule has a sense of normal, our new normal. My relationship with my kids has changed too. I am so much more present. We are so much more in sync. They have become more grown up, independent and responsible. I have become so much more grown up, independent and responsible, too. People argue over what "single mom" means, but when I am on my own with my kids, a single mom is exactly what I am.

A year later I am less gutted by the experience, less acutely sad, less mournful. I miss him less. But I do still miss him. Parts of him and parts of us. I spend less time crying and angry and more time reflecting and understanding. More time analyzing and working on me. More time alone. I used to hate alone. A year later, I've learned to hate it less.

A year later I have lost and gained friendships. Some have been a shock and others make perfect sense. I have built a village that is mine. I have learned that shared experience is more powerful that shared background or upbringing. I have learned that you cannot force someone to remain your friend if they are done with you. I have learned that you can want your ex to be your friend, but you can't make him want it too. I have learned that you can keep parts of your ex-family as your own and feel blessed for that.

A year later I am not "alone." Freud would likely have a field day with the fact that both my ex and I entered serious relationships soon after we separated, but we both seem happy. My relationship is long distance and seems to boggle the minds of those who love me, but it works for us. I am with someone who makes me feel like the best version of me. He is great with my kids and my family when he sees them and that, well, that is everything. My ex's is local and adds the layer of a regular presence in my kid's life and even in mine. Oddly, most of the time that makes me feel grateful. Sometimes it hurts, as I assume mine does for him. Sometimes. Most of the time I am glad that she is a good person - an open and genuine human, who is good to my kids and who seems to take a sincere interest in them.

A year ago, I was just beginning this journey. A year later I have come to realize that the baby steps count just as much as the leaps of faith.

A year ago I'd forgotten much of who I was in the face of such a heart-wrenching loss. Grief is the pendulum swing of love. A year later, I'm back. I'm building and rebuilding. I'm starting to recognize this version of me. A year from now, I might even love her.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

What We Wish You Knew

It’s true, isn’t it? I am that person. I lack a filter at times and want to (g-d forbid) talk about the tough stuff. I’m a firm believer in the power of talking. It’s my process. It’s my thinking out loud. I’m far from alone.

Recently, I was talking with a friend who is fighting and beating breast cancer. She asked how I was and it felt selfish to even answer. She commented that she’d read a lot of what I’d wrote about divorce and much of it hit home for her too. She shared the difficulty of knowing that at first, everyone shows up. They feed you, they hold your hand, they take your kids - they are THERE. Then, they move on. They have their own lives to get back to, as they should. But you are not done, not by a mile. Yet, it feels selfish to ask for more, to NEED more. In that way she and I were the same, she said.

I asked her what she wished people understood about her journey. She said “too often people think the end of treatment is the end, when really it’s the beginning. The beginning of looking over your shoulder every day, wondering if the disease will return. The beginning of adjusting to a “new normal.” She knows she will never be the same as she was before breast cancer. For so many people in her life, that is challenging to understand. When your world shifts on its axis, when you are reinventing yourself, when life is now “2.0,” there is so much you wish those around you understood.

So, I asked again. This time I asked men and women who are divorced or getting divorced. What do you wish people understood? Their answers were all over the board, but poignant, real and raw.

“Even if I asked for it, I didn’t want it.” Nobody gets married to get divorced. By the time you finally break down and admit there is no other option, you have fought the good fight. You are hurt and broken and sad, dammit! You might very well be sad for a long time.

“I'm totally fine with it, we might have actually separated 2 weeks ago but we separated from each other 3 years ago. Everyone else needs to catch up to where I am.” That doesn’t mean this was easy, it just means I’ve been processing it myself for a long time and I’m ready to move on.

I was very committed to the marriage and sad that it is over, even if you think I am better off, or that he/she was no good for me etc.” I am grieving, I am mourning. Please allow my marriage the respect it deserves. Please don’t belittle my feelings, my heartache and my journey. Give me time and patience.

“Divorce is not contagious. I know you might be scared and looking at your own marriage and wondering, but I assure you this is about my marriage and only mine.” So often friends don’t show up and we are surprised and bewildered. After a while we realize that this is scary for people “if it could happen to them…” It’s hard to assure others when you are still reeling.

I'm not a shitty person because someone was able to stop loving me.Trust me, I have spent enough time beating myself and my ex up for this. Enough time in therapy breaking this apart. I did not fail. My marriage did. I am enough, my marriage was not. Try not to judge what you don’t know. You were not inside my home, not inside my marriage. I am worthy.

There is no right or wrong timeline for things. I dated right away and am in a very happy, serious relationship.”  “I’m not ready to date. I have so much me to work on” “I've been CRAVING an intimacy with someone who WANTS to be with me for 3 years. Dating after marriage is complicated, scary, exiting and all together new. Please don’t remind me how young I am, in the dating world I might as well be 100. If I’m not ready, don’t pressure me.

Sharing my kids and seeing them for ½ of their lives can be devastating.” It’s the single hardest thing about divorce for parents. When you say "I would give anything to have a night to myself,” I want to punch you in the mouth. It’s not like a night out or an adult vacation. It’s every day. It’s permanent. It’s forever.

“I’m not a threat, and I’m not after your spouse.” Getting back in the saddle is laden with insecurity and doubt. Please don’t assume that being divorced makes me desperate or a target. I am not interested in your spouse any more than I was when I was married.

“My friends no longer invite me to events where it will be only couples. I wish they’d leave that decision to me.” “I can function fine on my own and wind up simply feeling left out when uninvited.” Most of us had a social life based completely around other couples. Once we were single there were choices to be made. Which of us to invite? Even if we have a new significant other, this gets complicated. But trust us, we are adults. Let us decide.

“Even when it’s over it’s not done.” Co-parenting is a daily job even in the most amicable divorce and in a hostile one, it can be a daily nightmare. Divorce is a death and the recovery is long and hard at times. We will take a lot longer to mourn that you might expect. Navigating a new relationship with your ex, be it friendship, partnership or something else is a process. We will fall down many times before we get it right. Some days we will hate them and others we will miss them and we need you to hold our hands either way.

“We need you.” We need support, love, patience and understanding. Please save your judgement for someone else. We might be lonely and needy. Please don’t forget about us. Call, write and show up when you can. If you can’t just make sure we know that we can still count of you. Our world is hardly recognizable for a long time. Remind us that you still see us.

No one expects that anyone who has not been in our shoes will get it. No one is angry or hateful. We are all just doing our best to reinvent ourselves, our families and our lives and we wish you knew how hard that was. Be patient, this is our journey.

A big thank you to everyone who contributed their thoughts to this article. I am blessed with an amazing village. This is just the tip of the iceberg, tell me what YOU wished people knew (in the comments).