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Dianne Burnett Headshot

Waiting Before Leaping

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"And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk to blossom." -Anais Nin

Early this morning while strolling along the Pacific Ocean, I felt entirely alone. And it was wonderful. As I walked along the sand, I recalled that for the first time in 27 years, I wasn't married, engaged, or otherwise romantically involved with a guy, and that no "other half" defined me. And for the first time in my life, I was enjoying being by myself -- a state that now struck me as empowering, and not a condition to avoid at all costs. I wished that I'd tried it before -- particularly before I married a second time.

If anyone had asked me when I was in my mid-twenties if I'd ever marry twice, I'd have said, "Not a chance!" I'm old-fashioned, and was then happily married and so deeply in love that it seemed impossible to ever experience that connection with anyone else. Besides, we believed we were soul mates who would stay together 'til death do us part. Unfortunately, after more than a decade together, the marriage crumbled. When we separated, my world felt shattered, and I walked away deeply wounded; the last thing I wanted to do was to be alone.

Luckily, or so it seemed at the time, I met someone who fulfilled what had been missing in the last years of my marriage when it fell apart. He had plenty of time for "us"; when I telephoned, the call never went to voice mail, and he didn't have an assistant to inform me he was in a meeting or a conference call. Unlike my first husband, he didn't put his work before me and family; he was laid back and content to do nothing more than come over for dinner and watch a movie. And he got along with my two sons.

I felt no reason to play the field; I soon fell in love. Never wed before, he apparently loved me too. Starting early in our relationship, he asked if I would marry him; I answered his proposals with "Yes, I think so." But I kept putting off setting the date, wondering if he was really the one to spend the rest of my life with. There was something that was missing, and I was confused about what was best for me and the boys.

Our relationship continued for the next few years, although there were red flags along the way. I provided him with a beautiful place to live, we went on wonderful vacations, and I helped finance new businesses for him, wanting to help kick-start his career. We stayed together long enough that we were faced with the unspoken question of what the next step should be. My gut kept telling me to wait before making a commitment.

When my first husband announced he was remarrying, my boyfriend again proposed. This time I said "Yes," and we promptly set the date. Why not, I reasoned. We seemed compatible and enjoyed our time together; I figured that a love like the one I'd had with my first husband would flourish with time. Together we appeared to be a happy family. It was a win-win for both of us.

I wanted nothing more than for our marriage to work. I ignored statistics, like those saying that nearly two-thirds of second marriages end in divorce. I didn't see at the time that the qualities he brought to the table, while helping me heal from my first divorce, weren't necessarily enough to sustain a long-term relationship, and that we weren't a good fit. Not long after the honeymoon ended, resentment on both sides began building up; ultimately, we turned to therapy. We'd walk out of the counselor's office hand-in-hand, but within an hour the same disagreements would arise. The constant tension around the house, and the turmoil in our relationship began affecting my health and my happiness; it became apparent to friends around me that this was a strained relationship. Nevertheless, we continued on. I was determined to make my second marriage work.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, however, I was stunned that my second husband wouldn't fly back with me to the East Coast on any of my frequent visits to see her. I expected the man I'd spent the previous eight years with to be there for me in my time of despair, but he showed little compassion, and his digs grew harsher and more frequent -- and hurt more.

"Honey," my mother said as she lay dying, "don't stay with someone who doesn't make you happy. Life is too short." I hadn't mentioned the state of my marriage to her, but apparently she could see it in my eyes, and could sense it by his absence. When my second husband would not come to my mother's funeral, that was the clincher. I wished I'd listened to my gut feelings to bide my time before marrying.

The emotional pain of the death of my mother, who was best friend and confidante, helped me grow. I began going in new directions, including starting a foundation to raise awareness and help fund cancer research for alternative therapies. Our paths seemed to take different courses. By then, one of my sons was off to college, the other was in high school, and it appeared that they could deal with it when we went our separate ways. And from the moment he moved out, the world seemed to brighten. My health improved; friends commented that my home felt cheerier. My kids noticed that I was happier.

This time, however, instead of running back into a relationship, I realized I wanted to be on my own. I wanted to delve into projects that I desired to become involved in -- not those that others wanted. I realized that I'd previously made decisions based on what society thought was acceptable, but that weren't necessarily the right decisions for me. Divorce was the bold move I'd desperately wanted for a long time. And when our split became final, for the first time in my life I began loving living alone and not having a man define me.

It struck me this morning as I walked along the beach that by learning who I am, including owning my strengths and shortcomings, and by forging my own direction in the world, that I've felt free and at peace. Whether I'll go that route again, I'm not sure, but I won't take the plunge again without listening to my gut. And knowing myself better will only help me attract people into my life who will accept me and love me for the person who I am.

"Learn to get in touch with silence within yourself, and know that everything in this life has purpose. There are no mistakes, no coincidences, all events are blessings given to us to learn from." -Elisabeth Kubler-Ross