It’s been five years since my divorce was finalized and I thought I would share what it’s been like. My ex and I are still friends, I am proud to say that we held our own in front of the kids. We didn’t badmouth each other in their presence, we are there for their milestones, and we both love them for who they are and have never tried to use them as pawns.
The first step to a good divorce, and the hardest to correct if you get it wrong, is to marry a good person. I don’t date assholes, and I didn’t marry one either. But the pain of a breakup often brings out our worst sides and it was hard to resist becoming one. I also had an unfair advantage–I was the one who decided to end it. When people decide to end things, they end it in their head first; silently, without discussion, weighing the possible futures. It can be a long process, taking months or years. But the longer the buildup, the more fixed the position. When that decision is finally brought to light, the other person *may* be able to bring up something new; some new argument or leverage that changes things. But not always, and not often.
It does not feel good to break someone’s heart. It feels awful. But I also knew that I had already been grieving for the end of it long before my ex did, and that he was at a disadvantage. He wanted to do all the right things–how can we fix this? Counseling? We did do that, but it was too little, too late. Ironically, I had thought about counseling in the past and immediately would get angry–why is it on me to fix this? I am supposed to do the work, in addition to everything I already do, to fix this? And so I didn’t, until it was too late. Emotionally I was done and I hadn’t even realized I had crossed that threshold. Suddenly, as things fell apart, I realized that I just didn’t care anymore.
Just to be clear, I’m not proud of that.
But the past is what it is: we got divorced, and we both moved on. He is dating a really awesome woman; smart, beautiful, and creative. And I’ve been with my significant other for a few years now. We have come to a new normal.
I was reading a new book, “Decluttering at the Speed of Life,” which had a unexpectedly poignant section on decluttering dreams. We assign meaning to our physical stuff. We assign meaning to how we label ourselves. When I was 18, I thought that someday I was going to get married and I was going to do it the smart way and I would be married for 50 years until we died. Because I was going to be chaste and faithful and true. Turns out, you can be those things and still end up with a marriage that ends before five decades. You can make an informed choice at the time, be utterly sincere, and yet not be able to predict how life or either party will change over time. I am not the wreck I was when making that decision, but I still feel sad about it sometimes.
So here are some questions from the book on decluttering dreams, on letting go.
Is this actually a dream?
Or is it a cool thing you thought you might like doing? I respect people who get married, I respect those values. And there were some parts to being married I did like, but I’ve never been one to care particularly about weddings or a ring on my finger or even talking about “my husband,” as though it was a status symbol. I know myself enough that if that’s what I really wanted, I could have it again. But at the end of the day, it was about that day and the next and the one after that. The mundane, the ordinariness of everyday life.
Did you inherit this dream?
Is this your dream or someone else’s? Certainly when I was younger, I absolutely wanted marriage. It would have felt like I picked a waffling type of man if he couldn’t commit to me. I wanted a public declaration of that commitment. I wanted that stability. My take on that has changed greatly. Stability is only as present as the persons and circumstances allow. Now, I feel I don’t own anyone or owe anyone, and no one owns me. I don’t know where this life journey is going to go. I can make a commitment as my present self, but I cannot speak for a future me that does not exist yet. I may change my mind on this; after all, I changed it before. But for now, I am content to just see where the next few years go. And it ups my game to be the best person I can be. If I want a great partner, then I need to be a great catch myself.
Was Collecting the Stuff the Best Part of the Dream?
Well, that was never much of an issue for me. I used to live in a house, now I live in an apartment. That works well for me. As far as furniture goes, I’m eclectic.
The Big Dreams
And then it gets to the hard stuff.
“I thought one day I would ______________, but now I realize I never will.”
There is the small stuff, the regrets that I’m not going to be a major costumer and maybe I should get rid of my fabric stash under my bed. I am no longer a stamper and I’m cool with that. I should unload those from the basement. Regret for the small stuff.
The big stuff comes with grief.
“There’s a form of grief that’s common in new marriages. As you work to build the so-called perfect relationship, putting time and energy and focus on what it means to do marriage right, you start seeing the flaws in your own childhood and family. While the way your family functioned was normal to you because it was all you knew, working on your own marriage means identifying things you want to do differently.”
That grief comes back when a marriage ends. Because now the future possibilities you saw for yourself are erased and it takes time to navigate what the new possibilities will be. For awhile, there can just be . . . uncertainty. Five years later, I have dealt with most of that. I am happy where I am.