I used to think that divorce meant failure, but now I see it more as a step along the path of self-realization and growth. (I chronicle this journey in-depth in my memoir Rearview Mirror.) I don't regret either of my marriages -- not for a minute. I only regret that I wasn't more mature and spiritually evolved, and that I hadn't yet learned the art of compromise and how to be a more loving, supportive, understanding mate. But you learn by making mistakes, and perhaps what could be called a "failed marriage" is really a learning experience that helps us grow into the women (and men) we need to become in order to find that special relationship that really can last.
Another conclusion that I've come to, which I suppose is rather controversial and may incite a lot of hate mail, is that I don't believe marriage is necessarily meant to last forever. But hear me out before you hit the comment button. I was talking to my minister the other day, and he said that the belief that you have to stay with one person for your whole life is an "old idea" and doesn't always work in modern society, where traditional beliefs and values have been undergoing a transformation for many years. Consider how society looked at gay marriage and even racially mixed marriages 50 or 60 years ago. He pointed out that several hundred years ago, many people were lucky if they lived to be forty. And yet, when people marry, they're supposed to stay together "til' death do us part".
I had a similar conversation with a friend of mine who is a well-known spiritual teacher. She said that we come together with another person to have a relationship and to learn from each other -- and that the relationship is not necessarily meant to last forever. She repeated a quote she'd heard: "We are brought together for a reason, a season, or a lifetime."
One hopes, of course, that a relationship grows and becomes a deep and wonderful marriage and friendship that lasts forever. But that's not always the case. Often people meet, fall in love, get married, have children, raise them and suddenly look at one another and think, "I don't have anything in common with this person anymore." Or they just don't get along, or the marriage has become dead and devoid of passion. Should those two people be sentenced to being unhappy and unfulfilled for the rest of their lives because that's what society has told them they should do? Or under the guise of keeping a family together when the children are grown and have gone their own ways?
I've known a few of those lucky couples who had that "forever" kind of love. Not too many years ago, I was seated at a dinner party next to Veronique Peck, who was married to Gregory Peck for many years. She confided in me that she was still madly in love with Gregory and that every time he walked into the room, her heart still skipped a beat. Right then and there I thought, "That's the kind of love I want to have!" Okay, so maybe she was married to one of the most legendary and handsome men of all time, but I've known other couples who were just normal folks who genuinely loved, adored and cherished their mate; they truly enjoyed spending time together and remained that way until they died. I've also known a lot of married couples who you could clearly see were just "hanging in there" for all the wrong reasons and who were both unhappy and unfulfilled.
I ran into a woman recently that I hadn't seen for some time. She had been in a very unhappy, longtime marriage and her pinched, drawn face always reflected her miserable situation. At first I didn't recognize her; I couldn't believe this was the same woman I had known. She looked like a different person -- about fifteen years younger and absolutely radiant. Standing at her side was a very attractive man who apparently was her new boyfriend. Her husband had left her for someone else and she'd been devastated when the marriage finally ended. But in the end, it was all for the best, and she wouldn't change the outcome for the world.
I realize that most of us are simply afraid of change and would rather stay in a stagnant relationship than brave the unknown. But, from experience, I've learned a valuable lesson that applies to life in general. Sometimes you just have to let go of the old and trust that something better is going to take its place, even if it's scary to face change and the unknown.
At the end of the day, I know that I would rather be alone and occasionally lonely and unhappy than in a miserable marriage and lonely and unhappy all the time. I don't mind being single. In fact, I like it. Of course, if I had my choice between being single and being with someone I was in love with, there's no question which I would choose.
My seemingly unorthodox preference for being alone rather than settling for someone I'm not in love with seems to confound my friends. They're constantly lecturing me that I'm too picky and I'm not a "spring chicken" anymore -- that it's time to find a nice man and "settle down". It's the word "settle" that bothers me. I never settled before in my life and maybe I'd just rather be alone in my bed with my long-haired Chihuahua and my remote control than sleep next to someone I'm not madly, passionately in love with. And maybe I won't ever find that special person, but if and when I do, I will be the woman I've spent all these years becoming -- a woman who has finally learned what love is and what love isn't. And the best news of all is that at that point, we'll be too old to get bored with each other because we won't have enough years left!
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