My marriage ending has taught me what I need, what I want, and what I don’t want.
One day I sat feeling terribly devastated about everything that had happened and decided it was time to pour those volatile, sticky thoughts into words.
I was a little shocked when — instead of the explosive ranting that I anticipated — what came out was something I would have been thrilled to say as a bride on her wedding day.
As a writer I felt that peculiar kind of joy over being able to give a voice to what I previously thought was intensely abstract emotion. As a newly single woman however, I felt overwhelmed, flooded with sadness, and more alone than ever.
What irony, I thought, that as my marriage dissolved, I could finally and seemingly effortlessly write my own vows. And that’s exactly what I’d done.
I blindly saved the words to an obscure folder on my desktop and ignored it.
From time to time I'd be drawn to the file and open it. Read it. See if it still made my heart cramp up.
I’d wonder why I’d written it. I wondered for whom.
It was only recently that I started reading it every day.
And it was only recently that I realized I had written it for myself.
I don’t want to grow old with you.
I want to stay young with you forever.
I don’t want to get my head out of the clouds.
I want to fly to the greatest heights together.
I don’t want us to be anything more than who we are.
I want us to breathe peacefully in our own silence; smile in the wake of our actions.
I don’t want to hide myself from you.
I want you to know my past, my dreams; accept my every fault, my every gift.
I don’t want you to change one thing about yourself.
I want you to feel, do, say, and be who you need to be on your path.
I don’t want to bottle emotions and stutter around our feelings.
I want to speak in the raw language of you and I and know in every cell that you understand me.
I don’t want to be the same person 5 years from now; 10 years from now.
I want us to grow into who we are meant to be; introduce ourselves again and again.
Fall in love with our own spark through different eyes.
I don’t want to go quietly or ever let you walk away.
I want to fight, to keep believing, and take the space we need until we can love each other again.
I don't want to miss you anymore.
I want to take a risk, pull you close, and spend as much time with you as I can on this Earth.
And I want that time to start right now.
That feeling is normal.
The one where you wake up and reality comes flooding in.
Where for a few moments you lie paralyzed in your bed, not willing to put your mask on quite yet.
Your heart is frozen in your chest, and you realize with some kind of ebbing clarity that whatever happened did actually happen. It’s not a dream.
Your heart stutters and your throat is tight with grief.
Still lying there you take a numb inventory of your life. The things you have to do. The things you wish you could do.
You swallow hard and put a smile on and there it stays until, maybe, you have a moment alone.
Maybe the veneer cracks in the car, driving—maybe that’s where you cry.
Maybe you choose the shower instead.
Your world has flown out of orbit.
Maybe you’ve lost your parent.
The love of your life.
Maybe you are in between everything and everyone, and maybe you hate your life right now.
But before you judge yourself for feeling that way, before you tell yourself you could have done something more, what if you just accepted it?
What if you stopped to let those feelings come out instead of fighting them down?
What if everything that you’re feeling right now… is ok?
What if you allowed yourself to cry? To scream? To be upset?
The next time you feel yourself sinking into sadness and find that you are pushing against it with all your might, ask yourself this:
Are you a better person if you pretend not to feel?
Why do we feel the need to set our default to ‘happy’?
Why do we judge ourselves as weak or less than, when we finally let ourselves give in to what our feelings are screaming?
Do we really think our friends, family, or loved ones would respect us more if we put on a brave face and ignored the messages we’re trying desperately to give ourselves?
So many times we think the answer to heal our suffering is to shut our feelings down.
But I think our suffering stems from the shutting down itself.
Maybe you’ll disagree, and that’s ok.
I’m not an expert. No one is.
The only person who knows what feels right in your life is you.
That’s why you have to listen to how you feel.
Be kind to yourself, and know that you are growing.
Know that even though you might not be where you thought you’d be, you are still somewhere.
Still taking steps on your path.
You will get there.
And one day you will smile again.
“You may want to tighten up on your parking. You’ve had 4 tickets in the past 4 months.”
The words, which are fairly innocuous on their own, when delivered by The Ex, seem barbed and mangle whatever part of my heart has the capacity to listen.
You are effing kidding me.
“Oh.. you’re not taking this well..”
“It’s just that you’ve been towed.. you had those 2 tickets that I paid.. now this..”
The sound of blood coursing through my veins seems to drown everything else out but I hear the last few reasoning strains of my more-enlightened self:
Breathe. Stay calm…Why are you personalizing this? In one ear out the other. You are being reactive…
Yes. That’s right. I'm being reactive. I’m going to yell and scream in a minute.
“I’m just trying to help. I mean, it’s expensive.. you need to be more responsible..if you just paid more attention...”
It’s hard to be intimidating when you’re 5’5” with your back stretched taut, but I pulled myself up to my full height anyway. I went rigid with a kind of ire that replaced my need to breathe. My eyes were burning holes through him.
“This is where I say this is none of your business. None. You can go now. Good night.”
“I’m sorry.” The Ex was already leaving. Already retreating with his hands up in surrender.
It wasn’t enough for me.
“How could you?! Why the hell did you have to say that? What is wrong with you?! You don’t know me anymore. You know nothing about my life. Nothing. It’s NONE of your business.”
I’m surprised at how adamantly I’ve gone on the offense. My teeth are hooked firmly into this issue and I’m not letting go. I’m picking my battles and this is one of them.
Scuffles with the custody schedule? I’m all smiles.
Real estate resolution taking longer than originally thought? Patient to the end.
But apparently talking about my parking tickets will earn you a place in hell.
I tune back in and hear myself say
“You want to know why we fell apart?! Case in POINT. JESUS. CASE IN POINT.”
I’m pretty sure I’m frothing at the mouth. And I’m crying. Why am I crying?
A few hours later I had 2 emails in my inbox, profusely apologizing for the unsolicited commentary.
I didn’t care. I wasn’t budging.
Whenever I turned inward all I could hear still was an incendiary diatribe.
‘How COULD you? You never voiced concern when it came to the marriage falling apart.. but GOD FORBID I should get a fraking parking ticket!!’
I was crying again.
I cried bitterly. For hours.
The truth is we didn’t fight about the marriage falling apart. We didn’t fight about custody, or about who gets what. But all that frustration doesn’t just cease to exist because we decide we’re better than that.
We have the same push-pull as any other couple. We have the same limitations. And we fumble over the same invisible trip-wire boundaries – one of which we’d set off tonight.
We had chosen to do the honourable thing. We had decided to fight over dismissive fluff that we didn’t know was laden with land mines until one of us was exploding.
But was it worth it?
Was avoiding the big issues somehow more sophisticated and respectful than just speaking our truths and embracing our conflict?
Why couldn’t we just level?
When I finally called I felt awkward and raw.
“Hey.” I blurted it out. I think I dropped my voice a couple octaves to sound more sincere.
“Hey. Look. I’m sorry. Did you get my emails?”
“Yes. Listen, I am sorry that we argued. I know we pick our battles. I know that we fight about these stupid things because it’s easier than fighting about the big stuff.”
“No really. I’ve been thinking about this a lot. A lot. I get it. I get that this is going to happen sometimes. That we’re going to bash heads because we are trying to be bigger people.”
“You know.. we don’t argue about custody or our house or anything else.. but all of a sudden you want to go 10 rounds about my parking tickets?”
“Oh.. yeah.. well I just wanted to fix it.”
“I mean, you didn’t even want to fix the marriage.. at all.. you never stopped to say anything about it. Hell, you didn’t even want to go to therapy..But the parking tickets..”
My voice broke. I sounded harsher than I wanted to. I could feel the tears about to erupt. I swallowed hard. An awkward silence had fallen on us. I struggled to break it with some kind of witty rejoinder but my voice kept catching in an unbecoming way.
“Yeah. Sorry… about all that.” He stumbled over the words.
There is a very strange kind of moment that defines the end of the relationship. It’s the moment that you’re beyond ‘I’m sorry’. With both of you having said what you’ve come to say, the distance between you becomes a no man’s land.
The silence hangs with a kind of weight that is not entirely uncomfortable. No one makes an effort to clear it away. It’s just there, thickly coating each other’s one-sided truths.
There is no fight left.
There is no fight to fix left.
There are just a few parking tickets, a civil truce, and the honour of sparring in subtext for the good of it all.