I currently live at the intersection of divorced and engaged. It's a temporary home, one which I will only occupy for a little more than a year. I am never sure how to answer when people inquire about my relationship status. If I reply that I am divorced, they look at the ring on my finger with puzzlement. If I answer with, "Engaged," I begin to receive advice appropriate to someone who has only had experience with singlehood. I am divorced and engaged, both states equally as true. My divorce has formed me into who I am and the engagement describes where I am going. But in this fleeting moment, I am described by both my past and my future.
My divorce, like so many others, was horrific. I faced desertion, infidelity and marital fraud, leaving me shocked and devastated. I never want to feel that pain again -- the breath-stealing stab of betrayal, the confusion and shock of abandonment and the aching chasm of loss. While it is true that I can ensure that I never again face divorce by refusing to wed, the only way to guarantee that I do not experience heartbreak or betrayal again is to shun love and trust in all its forms. While this self-protective thought crossed my mind at times, I refuse to live within the shadow of my divorce, allowing the fear of pain to hold me back. Much like the survivor of a car accident must face the road again to fully experience life, I must allow love again if I am going to live.
My divorce was terrible, but my marriage never was, and perhaps that is why I do not condemn the entire institution because of my ex's actions. In fact, I always knew I wanted to be in a committed relationship again -- not in a panicked, "I can't be alone" way, but because I loved being married and sharing my life with another. I have never been too concerned about applying the legalities of wedlock; to me, the true commitment is not what happens on paper, it is what happens in the heart. With my ex, the transition from cohabitating to engaged to married occurred seamlessly with no distinctions from one stage to the next. We had already seen ourselves as married long before the state did. It's different now; the plan to marry has changed my current relationship for the better. I have been surprised to note that something about a promise and a ring has made both of us more vulnerable and more open, a necessary state for love to truly flourish.
After the divorce, I was focused on healing myself, expanding my world and learning how to date. I had the intention of marriage or something like it in the long run, but I was not actively looking for a husband. As it so often does, love snuck in when I wasn't expecting it. We met on Match.com, a platform that I had selected as my classroom in modern dating. On our first, coffee shop date, I disclosed the synopsis of the story of my bigamist ex and revealed my intention to move out of the state in six months. Not exactly words to establish the beginnings of a new relationship! I always told my dates these facts for two reasons: I wanted them to be fully informed of my circumstances before they decided to proceed and I used it as a defense mechanism that kept feelings at arm's length. Luckily, in this case, he wasn't scared off.
Our relationship developed slowly, without hurry and without pressure. It gave him, a lifelong bachelor, the time to adapt to being committed and it gave me time to learn how to trust again, not an easy task after suffering such total betrayal. His dog, a 95 pound mass of snuggly Pitbull, acted as an ambassador of trust. Our canine companions are a true reflection of our hidden selves. As I got to know the healthy and balanced dog, I knew that a healthy and balanced man was behind him. And both man and dog helped me to find that balance within my own life.
We approached marriage with the same lack of urgency that we had at the beginning. It wasn't until he questioned me last summer, "Would you ever want to be married again?" that I realized that I did. Making that promise has made me aware of the love I have for him and, for the first time, I let myself fully grasp what it would be to lose him. I hadn't realized that I was still holding back before, but I was. I need to learn to be here in that vulnerable space. To not panic and hide or to grasp too tightly out of fear, but to trust in him. And in myself.
Love is different the second time through. In some ways it's harder now that I know the pain that can come with abandonment and betrayal. In some ways, it's easier; now I know I can survive the worst and so I do not fear it as much. It is like the difference between milk chocolate and dark. My first love was uncomplicated and smooth, a simplicity born of inexperience at its core. Love now holds a remembrance of the bitterness yet it is richer and more complex than ever before. I appreciate the nuances and have more respect for the interplay of vibrant flavors that we each bring to the relationship.
I have been very careful to bring the lessons from the end of my marriage into this relationship. After accepting the fact that I will never know what happened with my ex, I chose to focus on what I could change in myself. I have learned how to slow down and set my to-do list aside. I no longer shy away from conflict and I am better at listening to my instincts. I may have been married for 10 years, but in some ways this is entirely new to me as I learn the language of this relationship. My past is a teacher but it is not a blueprint. I am on a new path lit by the lessons of the old.
I am no longer the same woman who stood on the empty Florida beach and married her best friend almost fourteen years ago. Divorce changed me, pressed its harsh imprint into my very core. It has left its marks -- I am prone to feelings of abandonment and can display a level 10 response to a level two incident on the Relationship Transgression Index (RTI) if it manages to find an emotional trigger. But that's okay and expected. Those are lessons I am still learning.
Life at the intersection of divorce and engaged can be a bit strange; it is comprised of both reflection and hope, past and future. I strive to find a balance between the two states. I want to look back, to remember what brought me here. My divorce does not define me, yet it has been a pivotal event in my life and, at some level, will always be a part of my story. I gaze forward with excitement at the possibilities the future holds. I have gratitude for both my past and my future, as I would not be able to experience the happiness of today without the devastation of yesterday.
With every month that passes, I am closer to marriage and further from divorce. But most of all, I'm thankful. Thankful for the years I had with my ex. Thankful for the lessons I learned from the horrific ending of my marriage. Thankful to have found love again with a wonderful man. Thankful for a relationship that has challenged me and pushed me to grow. And, I'm thankful that, in a few short months, I will be able to call him my husband. Every ending has the seeds to a new beginning. It's our responsibility to let them grow.
Follow Lisa Arends on Twitter: www.twitter.com/stilllearning2b