Have you ever had that dream where you had to look for a job and were groveling at a stranger's feet, rambling on about how qualified you are, but fearing they would never hire you? What about the one where you were dating again, having to sell yourself to a virtual stranger who you weren't even sure you wanted to win over? These dreams would fill me with dread. And then, I would wake up. I'd feel confused and still dreadful until the realization that it was just a dream would kick in. Then came the relief, a sigh before starting the day with my stable home, children and husband. I had a job; it was being married full time.
That is, it was. Until, at a couples therapy session one day, my husband of 12.9 years announced he was moving out. I should have seen it coming from the way he was explaining what a good woman I was, what a great Mom, how giving and kind. These couples therapy sessions we'd been going to usually involved lengthy chronicles of what I did wrong: I'm bossy, I interrupt him when he is talking, and I eat meat in front of the children who I'd promised to raise vegetarian. All true. Still, I wasn't prepared when he said, "I'm moving out for a trial separation."
He'd been seeing our therapist on his own for a few weeks building up to this decision, but it still shocked the shit out of me. I knew of course that we had our issues, but I was sure that we would work through them and maintain our relationship. After all, our children were young. Surely we weren't going to break up their happy home. Were we?
That day I was a wreck. This was a nightmare that I was not going to wake up from. I maintained my composure in front of my two girls (3 and 9) and then would sneak away into my closet, collapse on the floor, cry a bit, stop crying, and go back to pushing one on the swing or helping the other with homework. Rinse and repeat.
I had a fair army of friends to help me through this new reality. Their responses brought me some much-needed reassurance. "He's leaving You?" "You're virtually a single parent as is. This won't be different except you'll have weekends off sometimes." "How wonderful, and you just lost 18 pounds. What great timing." There were even a few universal signs that this was a fortuitous event, if I chose to view it as such. The flavor of the month at Baskin Robbins was "Love Gone Sour." The cornerstone of one of my front walkway stepping stones had just fallen off its cement anchor. The stone said "love". Luckily Joy, Faith and Trust were still in place. Even the Annie Lamott book I was reading at the time, "Blue Shoe," was about divorce.
As the days passed, my panic slid away. I realized that I was shocked, but not surprised. I'd always thought my husband had one foot out the door. I had lived on eggshells. He wasn't an abuser, or a drunk, or a screamer, or anything I could put my finger on concretely. He was just more and more absent. He was almost never home for dinner, he worked both days of the weekend, and he had refused to go on any more family vacations. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that our marriage had been over for a long, long time. The truth of that was wrenching at first, but slowly, over the course of daze (sic) I started feeling an enormous sense of relief.
And that's when the fun kicked in. I started making lists of things that would be better, from the idiotic to the sublime. No more snide gripes about the way I organized the pantry (just because he couldn't find the rice cakes). No more questioning of my every parenting choice. The girls and I could get a dog. I could take the kids to the zoo again without a lecture on what evil places they are. And if he had the kids from time to time, I could actually go out without the hourly phone calls asking when I'd be home. This might be good.
The weeks that followed proved to be promising. I felt liberated. People who saw me thought I looked happy. One person even thought I'd cut my hair because I looked 10 years younger. I was smiling a lot.
And that recurring dream of having to go on a date? Not so much of a nightmare actually. This time around, there would be no pressure for it to go well. I already had children. And the years had brought me a little security in who I have turned out to be. Finally, at 45, I pretty much liked who I was. I didn't feel I had to please anyone at the expense of my self-esteem. I wouldn't have to sell myself at all. I'd just have to be. This time, if they weren't buying, I would not be selling. Next. This may in fact be the dream I want to be awake for.