“Hi, my name is Emily, and I’m divorced.” That’s pretty much how it feels to share this part of my life with people. I might as well wear a big red ‘D’ on my shirt. What happened? Really bad question to ask a divorced or divorcing person, by the way, but for the purposes of this post: I was young, I was naive, we were in love. By the five year mark, ugliness had overtaken us – so slowly that I didn’t even notice. The D-word had never even crossed my mind, and literally one day I woke up and realized that I didn’t know who he was, I didn’t know who I was, and I had no idea how we had gotten to that place. I was 27 when our divorce was finalized, but I felt like a newborn. I had to learn to walk, talk, feel, exist on my own. To say that this was a transformative event in my life is a vast understatement. I learned so much, and here are some of the most valuable lessons:
A bad marriage can sneak up on you. It wasn’t anything as clear-cut as someone cheating or someone having a sudden change of heart. We had some problems, sure, we fought occasionally like a normal couple. But what ultimately broke us apart were a series of small things that festered for YEARS. It is amazing how long denial will carry you, how long you can tell yourself, “We love each other, it will work itself out.” Very few things in marriage work themselves out. You ladies know – marriage is work. If you aren’t actively working on your issues, they can start to rot.
In marriage, the little things matter. And some little things don’t matter at all. A hug at the right moment, a text message to have a great day, listening to me when I’m upset, doing the dishes without my asking – those things all make my heart swell in a way that makes me proud to be married to my husband. Balled-up socks, tracking dirt in the house, letting the trash overflow before it goes out – those things are unimportant. Nitpicking my husband needlessly distances us from each other. My failed marriage taught me a lot about what I really need from another person and what I need to let GO.
“Everything happens for a reason” is bullshit. This is a tricky one because I am in a really good place in life right now, so in a way my divorce got me to where I am today. But to say that all this had to happen to me – that I HAD to lose half of my friends and most of my belongings, that I HAD to leave my dog behind, that I HAD to have my self-concept shattered to pieces before I could be the person in the place I am now… I don’t buy it. My divorce didn’t happen because of anything cosmic or supernatural, it just happened because it happened, and it sucked, and I learned from it, and it’s better now.
There are two sides to every story. When I talked to my friends and family about my divorce and my ex back in the day, he was a spineless asshole, and I was the victim. Meanwhile, I heard through the grapevine some of the awful things he said about me that made him seem like the victim. Clearly, the truth is somewhere in the middle. The fact is that neither of us are horrible people, we just were horrible for each other, which brought out the worst in us. The whole experience has helped me to be much more empathetic toward people who get into bad situations or make bad choices. It happens to all of us, and it doesn’t have to define you.
You can’t commit to someone else until you are fully committed to yourself. This isn’t so much about loving yourself (though that’s good) or feeling good about yourself (that’s good too), it’s about knowing and being true to yourself. The fallout from my divorce left me broken as a person. It’s cheesy, but I always think of it like I was a piece of pottery that got knocked onto the floor. The process of healing from my breakup was me slowly glueing those pieces back together. The most reassuring thing about it was that when I was done, I looked basically the same as I had before. The biggest difference is that I’m a much stronger version of who I was. My core values and beliefs are incredibly important to me, and there are certain qualities in a significant other that I am simply not willing to put up with. At the same time, I’m not perfect. I laid it all out there when I met my husband, and he has accepted me exactly as I am from day one. It has been a crazy journey, I’ve been through a lot, and I am so grateful to be in a very different and wonderful place today.
(**And on that note, I have to say that I am especially grateful to have welcomed a new nephew into the world just last night! Happy birthday, baby Benjamin!!**)