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Lisa Arends Headshot

The Spark

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I remember well the first time I felt that spark. My husband had left only months before and I was still reeling from the loss. I knew that I wanted to love again, to be in love again, but, at the time, that desire felt like an impossible dream. I was beginning to question whether I still contained the capacity to feel passion. To bond. To trust. My world was filled with pain and pain was the only language I was fluent in.

It happened on a rainy Sunday morning. We met by chance over coffee at the local Starbucks when he commented on the Seattle guidebook I was carefully studying in anticipation of my upcoming move. A few words turned into a few more. Coffee turned into lunch. We traded stories. We laughed. I cried. We went for a long walk through my favorite park. We flirted and then flirted some more, the nuances of which began to come back to me after 16 years of partnership. Lunch turned into a full day together that culminated with a make out session in my car like a couple of teenagers. Steamy windows and all.

I was giddy that night, retelling the tale of the improbable day to my friend, my heart standing at attention like a new recruit. My mind was swarming with the possibilities. My body tingled with the memory of touch and trembled at the thought of more. I felt alive, awakened. For twelve amazing hours, I could forget about the pain and the misery and pretend to be healed.

Pretend being the operative word.

Like many people recently out of a serious relationship, I clung to that feeling. It was such a relief after months of drowning in anguish and anger. I wanted more. It was like a drug, damping the pain. That spark awakened my body after the slumber of trauma and survival. I feared my body had forgotten how to feel pleasure much like it had forgotten how to eat. I was relieved to discover that some lessons are not easily forgotten. I relaxed into the respite from my daily struggle with the legal system, as I was still in the gory midst of a malignant divorce. But most of all, I felt hope, optimism that I would be able to trust again. To love again.

I wanted that spark to be real, to be fanned into a full-fledged flame that would continue to burn. But the truth was that I was nowhere near ready. I still relied on medication to get me through the endless nights and to trick my body into eating. I still became overwhelmed by the tears that seemed to sneak up on me. I still responded physically to telling my story and I avoided known triggers like they were land mines ready to explode. I was still learning how to be single; I certainly didn't yet know how to be partnered again.

I was ready for the idea, but not the reality. I was prepared for the fantasies but not the work. I wanted so desperately to be healed and that spark let me believe, at least for a moment, that I was. But the truth is that the spark was real, but the promises of an easy escape were simply a mirage, glittering temptingly on the horizon.

Many divorcees fall victim to that mirage, falling under the spell of its promises of escape from the harsh realities of healing and rebuilding. Some people jump from spark to spark all to avoid the cold and dark that lies between the flames. I, too, played that game for a time with help of Match.com. Others commit to a new relationship far too soon to try to take a shortcut through the pain, telling themselves that the only reason that their marriage failed was due to a poor choice of partner. Those early sparks are so tempting, their siren songs made all the more vivid by their contrast to the agony that is often the reality during divorce.

Be careful after the end of a marriage, both for your sake and for the sake of those around you. Be honest with yourself and with others about your healing. It takes time, more for some and less for others, to mend after the dissolution of a marriage. If you try to fan a new flame before you're ready, it's much like trying to fuel a fire with no oxygen. It will not work.

Give yourself time. An early spark may turn into more, but there is no rush, no hurry. If it is real, it will wait. Don't use your spark as an excuse to hide from the depths of your pain; there is much there to learn and you will only master its lessons if you face it head on. Even when a spark fades, there is much to be gained from its appearance. It brings with it the gift of possibility. Priceless.

That first spark can be so intoxicating, carrying with it suggestions of a future without the endless dark of divorce. Use that spark to give you hope. Use it to help fight off the cold and the gloomy days after divorce. But be careful not to be blinded by its intensity. It may burn bright, but it usually doesn't have what it needs to persist. Work instead on cultivating your own light that will illuminate your life, regardless of others.