A month ago I wrote a post called "A Husband, A House, A Mortgage, A Baby and A Lightbulb Moment" in which I talked about having had what I thought was the "American Dream" and how in the end, it didn't feel like the "prize" I had imagined it would be.
My marriage ended in divorce. We sold our home. My ex and I are not only not in love, we don't even communicate. Everything I had dreamt of having essentially imploded, leaving me to question most of the values I had held dear in the first half of my life.
I received over 1,000 comments and attacks on this blog and after awhile, I had to stop reading them. The blog was not meant to say my ex husband was to blame any more than I was. It was not meant to say that marriage, a home and a family are not worthy desires. It was simply to say that for so many of us, life is not one size fits all. We all have different paths. What works so well for so many families does not work for everyone. And that is not the end of the world -- it is simply the beginning of a new world.
Recently I was in a workshop with several men who talked about their families, their wives and their children. They were so proud and devoted to them, and I felt a pang of envy. To anyone who thought that I was saying that I don't believe in love -- or that I was critical of men -- I apologize. If I didn't believe in love, I wouldn't want to live. Love is, for me, the single most important part of my life. I am surrounded by love and though I do not, at this time, have a partner or a spouse in my life, that doesn't mean that there is no love.
I love my daughter, deeply. I love my dog, Lucy, who has been with me for over 12 years. We rescued her when she was 4 and even at 16, she's hanging in there. I lost a beloved dog, Lola, a year and a half ago when she was only 9. It still kills me to think of her. I love my friends and my family. I love writing. I love babies. I love New York City. I love this entire country and I also love many other countries. I love ice cream. I love people who can put their beliefs front and center and make a real difference in this world. I love spiritual teachers like Pema Chodron -- she saved my life when everything felt like it was going wrong. I love meditation. (I even feel not completely stupid when I chant now.)
I actually love my ex husband. I just don't want to live with him. And it's pretty clear that he is relieved not to be living with me.
When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I believe that walking down the aisle was the equivalent of my "Rocky" moment, climbing up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art in my wedding gown and raising my hands in triumph. I believed that my life was now complete.
And then I saw how challenging it was to keep a marriage going when two people wanted different things out of it. I wanted simply to have a partner and an ally, to know someone had my back and wanted to spend some time with me. He wanted to come together when he wanted to, and that turned out to be, in the end, not at all.
I was not right and he was not wrong. It simply was what it was.
In losing that "Rocky" triumph, I found myself. I found that all the external things I thought I wanted were less important than the internal work I had to do. I found a core of strength I didn't know I had, to help my parents die, to be a good friend to others. To try to know God, or whatever that "higher consciousness" is.
I do believe in love. I do believe in marriage and kids and a home and all of those desires of human connection. I just believe that our lives can be complete and joyous without all the external prizes we think we must have.
Despite a difficult divorce and some very painful losses, the past three years have been some of the best years of my life. Were they better than the early years of my daughter's life, when we were a loving family and we were all together? They were different; not better, not worse.
It's an amazing feeling to fall in love and plan a wedding and embark on a life with the person you believe is your soul mate. But sometimes the person we chose at 24 or 29 or 37 is not the person we can live with at 40 or 50 or 60. Should we be miserable for the rest of our lives because it didn't last? Or should we move on and accept that life has other plans for us?
A year ago, I started studying swing dancing because I hoped that dancing would lift my spirits after a horrible divorce. It did. Recently, one of my favorite dance partners told me that I had to go into more challenging classes in order to improve. I think that's true now about love, too. I think it's time to come out of hiding and put my heart on the line again. I'm scared to step on my partner's feet in an advanced intermediate dance class. And I'm also scared to get my heart broken again. But I know that if I don't take chances in life, I might as well just die right now and forget about the remaining days, months or years. Where would be the joy in that?
After that blog post got so many critical comments, I talked to a few successful writers I know about how they handled criticism and personal attacks. One of them, Michael Eigen, a therapist and author of at least twenty books, said to me, "If you go out into the world, you will be attacked by others. If you stay in your cave, you will be attacked by yourself."
I'm ready. I feel that Pat Benatar has taken over my soul and is singing, "'C'mon and hit me with your best shot... fire away."
Which is also a good song to dance to.