I’m in love. Again. And I’m somewhat surprised because there’s not supposed to be life after divorce. Especially when you’re 30, divorced, and a black woman.
The studies on black women and marriage say that I should be grateful that anyone even wanted to marry me. According to society and Tyler Perry, I should be divorced, broken, and hopeless. You know, the first three quarters of Diary of a Mad Black Woman. But instead, I’m the happiest and healthiest I’ve been in my life. Here’s how I got here.
I come from a family that reveres marriages that last. They got that from the older generation. Both sets of my grandparents accomplished over 30 years of marriage. Even though they were far from healthy unions, my relatives and I all wanted a relationship unbreakably sacred and long-lasting.
I didn’t realize how deeply embedded that dream was in me when I married my college sweetheart at the age of 26. We had been together—exclusively—since I was 18.
He noticed me. He, an older and popular student on campus with ambitions unlike any of the boys I had known thus far, noticed me — a smart, shy, athlete from across the country. I was beyond flattered. I saw his interest in me as a validation that I was worthy of love. I figured I’d give it a shot.
I was not aware that I possessed any deep fear of being unlovable during my first semester of college, or even years later when I was engaged and reading books about how to make a marriage last. That’s the kind of insight that only comes from losing yourself and failed dreams.
At age 18, I had no doubt that I was intelligent, a great athlete, ambitious, and a good friend and daughter. But under no circumstance did I view myself as equal to a man in a romantic relationship. I had never seen that play out in real life; all I had seen was wives shrink themselves so their husbands could thrive.
So, I did what I thought all virtuous women were supposed to do: I took better care of my boyfriend/fiancé/husband than I did myself. For 12 years.
For the most part, things weren’t Gone Girl bad until we were married. Sure, while we dated there were the occasional red flags of him being inappropriate with other women: He once wanted to drive his female student home for the holidays, he once confessed that he didn’t believe he was doing anything wrong as long as he wasn’t sexually intimate with anyone else, he saw nothing wrong with a close female friend of his who had disrespected me in the past crashing with him for a weekend.
But I chose to focus on his positive qualities: He was kind to my dying grandparents, he made me laugh, he was smart, and he gave me donuts when I was on my period.
A year into the marriage, his behavior turned from questionable to reckless. I couldn’t ignore it anymore. He cheated multiple times and refused to tell me the extent of the affairs, even when the evidence was glaring.
He criticized my every move, from my professional aspirations to how I wasn’t excited enough to see him when he walked in the door. He expected me to be his secretary, his whore, his confidante and his financial, professional, and spiritual advisor. He told me that the test of how much a person loved you was their response when you inconvenience them.
His ideas of love seemed simultaneously grandiose, toxic and exploitative. Whenever I was with him, I had constant stomach cramps and headaches. By the time I turned 29 (three years married), I feared I would die of a heart attack.
After his affairs surfaced and my world came completely apart, it still took me a year to walk away. In my mind, the damage and disrespect seemed irreparable, but I just wasn’t ready emotionally.
Maybe it was my stubbornness, or my deep-seated belief that my vows to myself, my community, and a higher power mattered, but I knew (and several divorce blogs told me) that divorce was only worth entertaining if I knew that I gave it my all.
Since I couldn’t admit that yet, I insisted that we go to couples and individual counseling. Indefinitely.
And it was hard. I was living and conquering my worst fears every day. I forced myself to be vulnerable with someone I lost respect for. Not because he deserved it, but because I did.
My attempt at being the strong black woman equipped me with zero skills for true intimacy; I never felt truly known and accepted because I never really allowed myself permission to be the focus of anyone’s support. It was no surprise that I was emotionally depleted, unrecognizable to myself, and in a broken marriage. I never gave myself a real shot at being loved.
In the final stages of my marriage, I found out that I was married to a man with borderline personality disorder. Though I had never heard of BPD, it explained everything.
Like his need for constant validation, his bouts of substance abuse, his addiction to sex, his anger, his constant and extreme feelings of emptiness, and his fear that I would abandon him.
Most importantly, it explained why he seemed hell-bent on fulfilling his deepest fears. With his incessant quest for ideal love and my inherent need to please, we were the perfect co-dependent nightmare.
As my 30th birthday approached, it had become clear that the marriage wasn’t going to change. He had stopped going to individual therapy, was still in communication with other women, and seemed to become more erratic and abusive.
I, on the other hand, had learned to advocate for myself and view my needs and wants as equal to his. I learned to communicate and problem-solve effectively. I started making time to spend with my friends and started writing again. I was getting my swagger back and gradually, my vision changed from rose-colored to HD: Unless I wanted to continue to sacrifice my well-being for someone else’s fulfillment, I’d have to save myself.
Personal martyrdom was no longer appealing, so I decided to change my love life for the better. It was my 30th birthday.
The road to divorce didn’t change my love life in the conventional boy-meets-girl kind of sense. It helped me love myself better.
After watching my emotionally wounded loved ones continue to enter romantic relationships with scars still fresh, I promised myself that I would do everything necessary to heal from my marriage and the insecurity that led me to it in the first place.
I started tending to the wounded parts of my heart with the belief that if I finally became the woman I always wanted to be, love would find me, with or without my husband. If I loved myself, the rest would follow.
Once I decided that divorce was the only healthy option for me, I had faith that love would outweigh the stigma of divorce.
And lo and behold, after a year of therapy, tears, meditation, prayer, daily affirmations, conversations with my family about their own tumultuous relationships, and letters to my younger self, I fell in love. With the woman I became. And with a man who has blessed my life in ways that seem unimaginable at times.
But this time it’s different. In this relationship I actually know who I am, what I have to offer, what I want in return, and what values I want in a partner. This time I am accepted and celebrated for being my truest self. We are each other’s safe haven, each other’s friend. We let the relationship unfold organically. No pressure, no fears, just love.