I’ve been mulling over living arrangements more often of late, as the circumstances of my life are evolving.
However, living with someone full-time is a dramatically different scenario. It’s something I’m considering, though I recognize that I feel comfortable with living together – separately.
What I am finding is this: The more I visualize what is involved, the more frequently images of my marriage appear.
Likewise, memories from my divorce and the years that have followed, smoky with skirmishes and mind games, the fog of raising children through fatigue and money troubles, and the terror that I wouldn’t make it and if I didn’t – what that would mean for my sons.
When I finally no longer had to carry it all, the relief was – and remains – present and palpable.
To wake alone with no one to take care of but myself has been healing. To putter around in my kitchen late at night, to sit up and work at 3 a.m. if I wish, to watch trashy TV if I’m so inclined, to bask in the silence around me – glorious silence – these are the ingredients of freedom, salvation, safe landing.
It is as if I reached the shore at last, exhausted but no longer treading water, no longer fighting the current, no longer bearing the burden of my sons’ survival, much less my own.
On the mornings when I do not wake alone, there is sweetness: the touch of a lover, a friend, a partner. I did not have the same experience in my marriage, and in that way, my union made no new “me” that was emboldened, enraptured, or even enjoyed, though in contrast, motherhood was a blossoming of breathtaking proportions.
While that last remark may seem to conflict with the pleasure I take at being on my own, it should not. The relief is real, as are the profound love for the two young men I raised and the ache in realizing their boyhood is over. With the knowledge of my much lessened importance in their lives, there is nonetheless the satisfaction of playing such a central and giving role.
Perhaps, intermingled in this same place of aching, I recognize the loss of my youth.
There was no similar blossoming in marriage, but rather a polite and pleasant state of superficial sharing. There was much more of course, and much less, both of which lead me back to the question I pose myself now. Did marriage make me who I am – marriage as it floated calmly, easily, uneasily and ultimately depleting me, disappointing me, diminishing me? Does the reality of my marriage share equal place with divorce, and even more so the high conflict aftermath, in its own terrible way, stripping me of belief systems and thereby remaking me?
If those years stole a certain innocence, didn’t they also teach me compassion, tolerance, patience, perspective, and appreciation?
If I can never fully trust again, is that a sorrowful statement, a realistic one, or a sentiment that I shouldn’t judge as it is subject to change? Allowing oneself to be vulnerable is progress, isn’t it? After all, there are degrees of trust and their circumstances – talking things out, allowing time to reveal the true character of a person – these encourage us or dissuade us from trusting.
Yet I cannot decide if marriage made me who I am, if marriage undid me, or if they are equally true statements as is this: the past dozen years upended the best possible version of myself – the woman I was or could have been – all the while these same years recreated me.
None of this is simple or static. I was strong and knew who I was before marriage. And yet there’s no question that marriage, my marriage, changed me. I grew smaller, I felt intimidated, I was less confident.
Divorce itself was all about breakage: a shattering, numbing, minefield of traps and troubles with their residual wounds that cannot be pinpointed and therefore, never fully healed. Perhaps they couldn’t be healed even if I were able to locate them and name them. So I take a stab at writing them out, in different ways at different times, like some circular therapy that may nudge me closer to self-knowledge than I realize. Or I turn my back on them and smile when required. After all, pretending is a useful mechanism as long as it doesn’t devolve into perpetual denial.
Anniversaries paint me into their own dark corners. And then there is light – when my sons telephone, when my lover kisses me, when his mother wraps her arms around me and calls me “ma fille.”
Did marriage make me who I am? Did marriage destroy who I could have been? Was it divorce and what came after that caused the undermining of my better angels? Am I wrong in all these perceptions or wrong in simplifying? Aren’t we the sum total of all the events in which we participate or observe?
If I have refashioned myself as a result of my experiences, that we all do so consciously or not is no surprise.
That I find myself hopeful in the possibility of sharing my life with another adult full-time is a surprise.
That I am happy with the man I love, that we have been happy for three years, that we have grown closer through challenging times – and there have been some – these are markers of quality in him and in us as a couple. I must remind myself that it is also the result of quality in me – something I rarely consider.
That I am accustomed to being on my own and enjoy it, that I maintain certain boundaries that he understands, that he cherishes me all the same – I am reminded how different this relationship is from my marriage.
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