I got an email from a woman last week who I don’t know; she’s been reading my blog and connected with the fact that I’m divorced. And surviving. I might even dare to use the word “thriving.”
She wrote anonymously (so let’s call her “Ann”), and it was weird, because it was the first time someone was asking me for advice because of the blog. Ann is married ten years now… and for the past three she’s felt alone, trapped, etc. In a word, miserable. She wanted to know what had happened to me and my marriage. Mostly, she wanted to know how I got up the guts to leave. I’m guessing that she was looking for strength more than advice.
I wrote back to her privately, but then I thought, why not make it a topic for my next post – in the off chance some of you might be interested too. But first, a disclaimer: I’m not writing this to embolden anyone or promote divorce. Hell no. I am the last person to encourage anyone who might have a shred of a chance making their relationships work to break from them.
I’m talking about when you’ve come to the very last stop on the marriage train. Maybe you waited until this point, you got on the train early and then shut your eyes tight the whole way, when all along, there were stops where you could have taken pause, opened your eyes and looked around, reframed your outlook, so that you could stay on the train for the long haul. I think it’s different for each and every one of us. I have friends who need things to be black and white, who can’t deal with the subtlety of problems, with the gray, so they wait for things to become undeniably irreparable – they wait for a catalyst – before making a decision. I get it. Some would say I did the same thing. But once you’ve gotten to that last stop, and you start freaking out, what’s the point of beating yourself up for missing the stops that came before it?
So now that I’ve exploited the train metaphor ad nauseum, what I’d like to say is, well, then what?
Well, first comes denial. Then comes recognizing your crumbling marriage. And then figuring out, what the hell do I do with the baby carriage?
Part of me believes in some denial, in ignorance. I think in a way it gives us courage (a close cousin to stupidity). If we knew how painful the consequences of a decision were going to be, we wouldn’t act. If you’re standing on a cliff one hundred feet up from an abyss, and you need to jump, wouldn’t it be better not to know how far up you actually were, or how cold the water was? Or whether it even was water, or jagged rock? Maybe it’s better to take the plunge first, and deal with the consequences afterwards. Besides, we can’t really deal with the consequences of our actions until they’ve happened anyway, when we have real facts to work with. There’s no point in fearing the hypothetical. So I’d rather just not hypothesize.
Okay, so then you’ve jumped. And the water is colder than you could have ever imagined, and the waves as rough as a tsunami. Most people freak out. Drowning, desperate, they scan the area for a lifeboat, a buoy…something. Usually this comes in the form of drugs to numb the pain, crazy girlfriends who encourage you to drink heavily each night, or another man who extends his oar in your direction. At this point, I believe you should grasp for whichever is closer. Hell, hop on all three. Or whatever works for you.
The truth is, we get so hung up on the how, that we are unable to act on the why. When, in my opinion, making any kind of major life change, where the fall out is so crystal clearly painful, is so daunting, that how is the least of your worries. And that question that burns in the forefront of your mind, what will everyone else think of me? Think about this: nobody really cares as much as you think they do. They will get over it, a lot faster than you will.
There is no easy way to stand up for what you want, because it almost always means hurting other people, people you love. I think that above all, that is the hardest lesson about growing up. We want things to be easy and harmonious, our actions and their effects invisible, but maybe once we accept that this is not possible, and understand that there is a price for every choice we make (unlike when we were 24 and could switch jobs and boyfriends without consequence), perhaps that is when we can start putting one foot in front of the other, down a path that we choose. I don’t mean to sound preachy, I only know what I’ve come to learn going down the path I’ve chosen. And I can’t go back. I learned that the hard way too. At first, I tricked myself into thinking that I could turn back to the fork in the road and try again. That I could climb all the way back up to the precipice I jumped from. Maybe I needed to believe that to jump in the first place. But I do not believe that any path we choose is ever wrong. It’s just different, and sometimes in stark contrast from what we had pictured in our heads – and so it is wildly disorienting when we first set foot on it.
A wise woman I used to work for happened to call me when I was in the crumbling marriage phase (sorry, I can’t offer insight on the “what to do with the baby carriage phase.” That’s still pending). She called me about a job, but then we started talking, and she said something that I find myself latching onto in moments of despair. And it’s found its way into my novel. She said, “Just think of the moth before its transition out of the cocoon. It must have thought its world was coming to end, right before it turned into a butterfly.”
I have no idea if what I’ve just rambled about (stealing from my novel no less) illuminates a thing for Ann. Or if it’s what she wants to hear. But hearing what we want doesn’t really help us. It disables us. So all I can say is, I can’t tell anyone if jumping is the right thing for them. All I can say is that if you do decide to jump, make sure you’ve thought long and hard about why (therapy does help…as does alcohol…and apparently all of my mother’s praying for me in temple), and that you’ve tried everything possible to make the place you’re at more palatable before doing so. And that you do it with your eyes wide open. Because no matter what – it’s going to suck. But you’ll survive. And maybe, you’ll even thrive.
I’d like to quote JK Rowling from her commencement speech at Harvard, she said: “And rock bottom is the foundation on which I built my life.”
You’ve heard of JK Rowling, right?