I’ve lost more than one close friend because I was married and my friend was either not married, or divorced. There seems to be an unspoken and clumsily resurrected wall placed by women of our generation between the married and the unmarried; an unspoken ambivalence of sorts that keeps us from communicating openly and honestly about relationships. I find it disheartening. We have so much to learn from one another.
Yesterday, was my 32nd anniversary. It was a day that I couldn’t help but think about all the anniversaries that have gone before, the years leading up to this particular day. I love my husband and he loves me, this is true, but we both got what we asked for in our marriage…and it wasn’t a Hallmark movie.
I, like most young women in the sixties and seventies, was swept away by the idea of romance and love and that perfect someone. I wanted the “happily ever after”, a “soul mate”, a champion of my cause, a knight in shining armor. I wanted him to love me for exactly who I am, find me beautiful, desirable, brilliant, witty, clever and utterly irresistible, no matter how I looked or behaved. I was sure I would feel the same about him. We would live and love blissfully ever after, raise perfect children and change the world with our love.
Or, I thought that’s what I wanted. The narrative was indelibly imprinted in my imagination from Cinderella to Love Story, and this woman with an overactive imagination and a hidden addiction to symbolism, fell prey to an idea that propelled me through one bad relationship after another.
At twenty-nine I found myself broken into tiny little bits and left dying by the side of the road. (Well, in a manner of speaking!) Inside and out, the dream I was chasing had slipped through my fingers and let me down….big time. All around me friends were marrying and having children, chasing careers and living my dream…only they weren’t.
During that year I decided that if I was not married by the time I was thirty I would end it all, (a dramatic challenge to the love gods). The point was I could not let go of my desire to love and be connected to another human being in some rich and meaningful way and I was pretty sure the only way that was possible was by following my imagined destiny.
As the clock ticked away, I pulled myself up off the pavement and, to the best of my ability, started living my own life. What else was there to do? I learned something during that year. I learned for the first time that I was okay alone. In fact, I was more than okay alone. I was enough. The life I was living was a life worth living, partnered or not. I began to feel an inner strength I didn’t know I had.
It was precisely the moment I let go of my obsession with the Hallmark dream that I turned around to see my destiny, my honest-to-goodness soul mate standing right beside me already. How many hours had we spent discussing our “relationship” problems (with other partners), our hopes and dreams, our desire to be better, happier people? He knew exactly who I was, and I knew exactly who he was, even as we were not as familiar with ourselves.
In that single moment of awareness my heart skipped a beat. It was a new kind of giddy that far surpassed the tongue-tied awe I felt with previous potentials. This man was not an idea, he was a person and I knew he was my destiny. What I didn’t know was what was in store for us over the next thirty-two years. Again, it was not a Hallmark movie, but it was our destiny, our desire, our commitment to life, love and the pursuit of happiness.
Again and again over the course of our marriage we have each had to surrender our stubborn obsession with unrealistic beliefs about what the perfect relationship and marriage looks like. Again and again we had to find ourselves before we could find each other. It has not been easy. Nothing about it has been easy.
There have been times when divorce looked a whole lot easier and when being alone sounded like nirvana. It was during those times that I was most saddened by my divorced friends who had no compassion or ability to put their arm around me because they were so convinced that my life was better than theirs and that even a difficult marriage was preferable to divorce. I found myself pulling away because of the resentment I felt from them and the guilt I felt from me.
It’s too bad, because in all truth people are people, and how we connect with ourselves, our lives, and each other is what’s important, not who we may crawl into bed with at night. Ultimately, we all just want to love and be loved. How we go about doing so is just in the details. Marriage is just a detail of how we go about loving and allowing ourselves to be loved. And, don’t bring up sex. There is a whole lot more bad sex among married couples, than good. If we don’t know how to deeply love and accept ourselves, we can’t go beneath the surface sexually for sure, and superficial sex is pretty gosh darn empty.
So my wonderful single and divorced friends, perhaps you can begin to see that your hard-done-to complex is not much different from many married women’s hard-done- to complex, and as such, should be the warning flag that it is. Feeling sorry for ourselves is a way of abdicating responsibility for our own happiness and well-being. When we feel sorry for ourselves, when we feel resentment toward others because they appear to be happy, or guilt because of someone else’s expectations or ideas of us, we are living with the false belief that something, or someone, outside of ourselves is responsible for our happiness. This is the false belief that will continue to keep us miserable until we take back the steering wheel of our life.
Dorothy Sander 2014 copyright