My 18th wedding anniversary is in a few months. Well, it would be my 18th if I hadn't gotten divorced.
Instead, 11 years ago, around this time, I was in the painful realm of trying to figure out if I wanted to stay married to my husband, the father of my two children who were then ages five and not quite three.
The months leading up to the decision to divorce were one of the worst times in my life. Trying to figure out what I wanted to do while keeping it all together and dealing with our day-to-day life. And trying, really trying, to be present for my two kids. My two still really little kids.
I was in therapy once, sometimes twice, a week. My husband was in therapy. And we were in therapy together.
That's a lot of therapy. A lot of intense time spent analyzing my life, who I was and what I wanted. Why my marriage was in the place it was in and could it be salvaged? Did I even want it to be salvaged?
There were a lot of in-your-face truths. And when I was honest with myself, finally honest, I knew what I wanted.
I made the decision a long time before I spoke it out loud. I needed the time to let it sink in. To roll around in my head for a while. To try on the idea of being divorced and see what that would feel like.
And also, because I didn't want people to think that I wasn't giving it a chance. I'm not proud about that. Caring what other people would think. Not wanting to be branded as the one who didn't try. But I had been trying for a few years already. It's just that nobody knew but me.
In those months, I spent a lot of nights crying because I wanted to get divorced. I knew it was the right thing for me. But, as the child of divorced parents, I also knew what that would mean for my kids. A life time of back and forths. Of wanting to be an intact family. Of divided loyalties.
Was I selfish, sacrificing my marriage for my happiness? My defiant answer is a resounding no. I couldn't be the parent I wanted to be in the marriage that I was in. I didn't enjoy my kids the way I should have. I wasn't as carefree with them as I wanted to be. They were losing out on their right to have a good mother. My unhappiness in my marriage was stopping me from being that.
And I didn't even realize the depths of my unhappiness until it was all past. And once it was past, once the details of the divorce were worked out and the papers were signed, my relief was immediate.
I became the parent that I wanted to be. The one that relished time with her kids. Couldn't wait to see them after school. Wanted to sit at the kitchen counter and make cookies, from scratch, with them. No longer feeling trapped by somebody else's issues or neediness. It was heavenly.
The irony of this? Now that I was enjoying my kids more, I got to see them less because they were spending every other weekend at their dad's new place.
At first I rationalized my way out of this sadness. A happier parent is a better parent so it's better for them because I'm happier. But I didn't need to. Because it turned out to be true. I'm proud of the parent I have evolved in to. Proud of how my kids have turned out. Of my relationships with them. Close. Solid. Strong but not perfect.
Not long after my divorce, I remember riding in my car with a girlfriend who was visiting. Windows down, music playing, giggling about our college days. And it struck me. Hard. That this was what happiness felt like. And it just felt right.
In the last 11 years, I've had a lot of those moments. I'm a really happy woman. Just ask my kids. And my second husband.