A special man sent me a text this morning wishing me a happy fifth anniversary. It wasn't OUR anniversary he was recognizing but the fifth anniversary of our divorce. It's hard to believe that it's been five years since our marriage ended (not to mention that it was on this day 20 years ago that I went on the first date with my ex-husband.) Those first couple of years post-divorce were some of the most difficult of my life, but the past three years have been a great time for healing, personal growth and authentic joy.
To commemorate -- celebrate seems a little inappropriate -- the fifth anniversary (anti-versary?), I decided to write about the five most important things that I've learned since my divorce.
1. Everything happens for a reason. One of my best friends had "EHFAR" tattooed on her wrist shortly after her own separation. To be honest, I used to find the saying cliche and flaky; much like the saying "it is what it is," EHFAR struck me as a cop out for taking accountability for your actions. I've never been good at leaving my life in fate's hands but following my divorce I learned to just let things happen -- either as a great success or an epic fail -- and see it as a learning experience. My dear friend AF refers to the challenges or disappointments in his life as "the best shit that's ever happened to me." The universe has never given me anything that I couldn't handle and although there were times when I feared that I might break, it turns out that I'm made of some strong shit." And on that note...
2. I'm strong, but I break too. There were so many days when I thought, "I can't go on like this." Dark, sad, lonely nights filled with self loathing, doubt and regret. And the little things -- bedtime, bath time, another night of tantrums with no one there to spell me off -- were excruciating. Worry that after another relationship failed to "stick," I was going to turn into a Grey Gardens-type kook eating cat food and ordering in vodka. But during those dark nights of the soul, I called on my personal reserve of optimism, fierce determination and my love for my children. And I surrounded myself with the best friends a woman could wish for, friends who knew that although I'm usually strong I sometimes need a safe place to fall apart before I can grow.
3. To respect and admire my ex-husband in ways that I couldn't when we were married. I'm not the only one who has changed and grown since my divorce. My ex-husband has also transformed himself, and not just into a lean bearded hipster (although he totally is.) I truly admire the father he has become to Our Two. He is invested in their day-to-day experiences, cherishes the time he spends with them and has a deep love and respect for the men that they are becoming. One of the saddest truisms of divorce is that it often takes the unique experience of single parenthood for us to become authentically present for our children. I've also watched him allow himself to be vulnerable and open to a new relationship, and he is happier than I've seen him in years. He has never criticized my parenting style, used financial support as a weapon or judged me for my choices. I wouldn't say that we are best friends or even that we still love one another, but there is deep caring and mutual respect between us which will only benefit our children.
4. How to give zero fucks. When I told friends and family that we were separating, many were quick to judge, criticize and offer incredibly unhelpful advice ("Why don't you wait 10 years until the kids are grown?") Sigh. Needless to say, I could have used a divorce doula during those early days when I wasn't quite sure what I was doing. There was no Huffington Post Divorce five years ago, no divorce parties or cakes, no Wealthy Single Mommy or Joy of Ex. Divorce and single parenting were largely undiscussed and a bit... shameful. I didn't feel like a failure, yet there was always someone who insinuated that I was through their anger, disappointment or pity. But instead of worrying about what other people thought about me or my decision, I gave zero fucks and did what I felt was right. I knew intrinsically that I was right to end my marriage and things have turned out pretty well for both of us. Our children are happy because their parents are happy, just not together.
5. I still believe in happy endings. People often ask me if I want to get married again, and my answer is always "yes." Maybe not white-dress-big-ring married, but I definitely want to be in a committed, equal and enduring partnership. I'm not a princess who needs rescuing nor do I want a father for my children -- they have a great one already. I want companionship, mutual support and respect. Intimacy. Openness. Communication. Trust. Physicality. Adventure. FUN.
If you know me personally or if you only know me through my blog, you know that I that I have a had a couple of awful breakups, several lovely relationships that didn't work out and also that I have kissed my share of frogs. And yet, five years on, I remain open to the possibility of love in the second act (and maybe even the third act because I plan to live a loooong time) and know that happiness, love and acceptance needs to come from within before it can be experienced with another person. So am I done kissing frogs?
You never know.