I met my husband on a three-month-long silent meditation retreat. We didn't speak to one another for those three months, and I didn't even really notice him the whole time. He kept his head down and never smiled. It wasn't until we had a chance to speak to one another at the end of the retreat that I realized he had the most incredible smile I'd ever seen.
His eyelashes were so long they touched his glasses. His eyes were calm and ridiculously blue. He was 22, I was 19, and I knew I was in love about a week after we started talking. M wasn't only sincere and kind, he was smart and a good listener.
We launched into an intense relationship, complete with a shared bank account and living situation within three months. We spent virtually 100% of our time together, even working at the same place. We became one another's everything: best friend, therapist, parent, spiritual teacher. And while this felt like an immense relief in some ways, it should have been a red flag. I should have known that we were so young and needed to be developing into our own beings rather than a single unit. After a childhood of poverty and trauma, M offered me unshakable stability, someone to wake up next to who would support me completely every day. But it came with a cost.
That was almost eight years ago, and it breaks my heart to remember our fearlessness and our optimism as we moved across the country twice, bought a car, adopted a cat and then a dog. Our love remains to this day as strong and as deep, but we're getting a divorce.
It's not because our relationship failed. It's because we realized at some point that the growing we both needed to do was something we couldn't do together anymore. The fact that we've been able to see that and support one another through it means that our relationship may actually be a success.Something that no one ever tells you is that a relationship doesn't have to be a disaster, doesn't have to be ruining your life in order for you to end it. I can honestly say that I experienced happiness every day I was married to my husband.
So I guess the question is, how can I be sure we're making the right decision?
Recently, M left to go on another long retreat. I thought I would be really sad. I was shocked to discover that I was elated to be alone. For the first time in my life, I was actually paying close attention to my own feelings. It's embarrassing to admit, but I went to the grocery store when he left and didn't even know what to get; everything on my weekly list was something I knew he liked (for the record, it turns out I like stinky cheese and good beer — basically all I consumed for the entire time he was away).
It's as though when we entered our relationship I became so focused on him that I stopped maturing into my own personhood. I didn't allow myself to have my own experiences,and when I did, I felt guilty. I didn't have my own friends. I didn't know how to take care of my own needs. If I felt upset, I would focus on what was happening with him rather than my own problems.
I'm 27 years old, and getting a divorce definitely feels like a defeat some days. I feel guilty often. I constantly second-guess what I know in my gut is right. I'm probably going to feel embarrassed each time I use my robin's-egg blue KitchenAid mixer (a wedding gift) or see a picture of us idiot-grinning in our wedding attire. I'm terrified to be living life on my own for the first time. I'm embarrassed that I felt so certain on that day — that I didn't have a single doubt — and yet here I am. And it sucks.
And already I've found myself looking for other people to dote on and take care of. It's a pattern that I've had 27 years to perfect, escaping my own feelings through care-taking. I know a lot of women learn to do this; my great-grandmother, grandmother and mother all lived their lives taking care of others, each of them paying the price in personal health and safety. The funny thing is, I thought because I had found a partner that was kind and supportive, I had broken the cycle of self-harm. I didn't realize that there are a lot of ways to sabotage your own well-being.
I was happy in my marriage, but I never felt comfortable in my own skin. I didn't know what my body wanted. I spent most of my time trying to make his life pleasant. I didn't know who I was.
On the day that I told M my reasons for wanting to separate, we both cried a lot. I had tried for a long time to distinguish my feelings from his, my needs from his, and it was just too impossible for me to do from within our relationship. I needed to be alone. M had his own reasons for wanting to separate, the foremost being his life-long aspiration to be a Buddhist monk (that's another story — I mean, seriously).
In the weeks that followed we've given one another a lot of shoulder rubs. We've had long emergency text sessions from my work bathroom where I've talked him down when he was feeling devastated. He's done the same for me. It doesn't feel like a normal divorce, but I'm not really sure what "normal" is.
I honestly don't know if I'm capable of being in a romantic relationship with someone and remaining intact as a person. But I know that if that is ever going to happen, I will need to spend time figuring out what I like to cook for myself, what color I want to paint my bedroom, my idea of a really fun evening. Sometimes living alone feels like living with a mysterious stranger. I'm scared to be doing things like budget my own money for the first time. I'm scared to be the sole person responsible for my well-being.
But I'm also ecstatic. I dance alone in my kitchen sometimes. I go for long rides to see if I can get lost on back roads. I leave the dishes in the sink for as long as I want to. And I've never felt so free. I guess that's how I know I'm making the right decision.