I’ve been struggling with something for a while now, but I think perhaps my struggle has finally started to wind down. It isn’t anything like good versus evil or whether I should save my mother or my father from a towering inferno (I hate heights, so if it were a true towering inferno they would both be totally screwed), but it’s been a struggle nonetheless.
You see, several years back I had this hideous marriage to a less-than-wonderful man. I was, simply put, pretty numb. When I stopped being numb I got miserable. Either feeling (or lack thereof) is not one I care to recreate. I finally left the marriage, but for the past seven years I’ve been petrified of accidentally ending up numb or miserable again. So much so that I’ve avoided anything remotely resembling my old life.
In many ways, that’s good. I’m in a much better career (for me) and I’m doing things I enjoy now (instead of things other people expect me to enjoy, or things people I love enjoy but I secretly can’t stand) and I’m more in tune with what makes me happy.
But for years I lived in this black and white existence where things were either Like My Old Life or Not Like My Old Life. And that worked. Pretty much. As long as I didn’t THINK about my old life.
Because I don’t want it back, not even a little bit. I don’t even want anything remotely like it. But not wanting it back doesn’t mean I have to change completely, which is what I did for a long while. I mostly wore flip-flops because before I mostly wore dress shoes. I didn’t get dressed up because before I got dressed up all the time. I wouldn’t be in a traditional relationship because before tradition almost choked the life out of me.
Slowly -we’re talking seven years slow-I’ve realized that there can be shades of gray in my life. I can sometimes wear shoes with closed toes that aren’t gym shoes, and putting on a dress doesn’t mean I want to join the Junior League. I can admit that I love someone and don’t mind us spending more than one night a week together without surrendering to some sort of suburban hell with deed restrictions and parties with Chex Mix and cheese balls.
I credit this to the people with whom I’ve chosen to surround myself. I suspect that what went wrong the first time wasn’t the black leather heels (and really, they were supple and lovely) or the muted lemon Egyptian cotton sheets (440 thread count, and worth every penny they cost, which was substantial, even for my income back then) but the man I chose to be with and the people I called “friend.”
My friends weren’t bad people, but they weren’t my people. They didn’t get me. Neither did my husband. Is it any wonder that when I met a man who really did get me I charged into him headlong, without looking back, and ignored the whole circle who, honestly, didn’t seem to notice I was gone? I’m not kidding; by the time my divorce was final my ex was talking about remarrying and I’m almost positive it was easy enough to slot his new wife in at dinners– and, if I were being brutally honest here, which is my goal, she probably was a infinitely better match at those dinners. My mind was always at the beach or a boat or back at home, snuggled between yellow layers of Egyptian cotton, watching MST3K.
As for me? I was single and loving it. There was no one to tell me what to wear or what not to mention at dinner or what to cook or what color to paint the walls. I was my own person which, at the time, I took to mean I wasn’t part of my old life anymore.
But if there is a danger in losing oneself because you are identified as part of a life to which you don’t belong, there is an even greater danger in identifying yourself by what you aren’t. I wasn’t a wife; I wasn’t middle class suburban Chex Mix bourgeois; I wasn’t corporate America; I wasn’t a lot of things.
I WAS happy, yes, but I was always scared that I would lose that happiness if I admitted that yes, I missed those sheets or hey, those heels are sexy and I would look good in that dress. I truly believed that if I admitted I missed certain luxuries–and everything I’ve mentioned is, indeed, a luxury– it was like that one sip the alcoholic takes that sends her over the edge and ultimately leads her to the gutter, where her friends will find her face down, clutching a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. I was scared of ending up in a committee meeting that adjourned to my husband waiting to go to little Johnny’s preschool interview.
I was, of course, missing the crucial point: I wasn’t missing the life. I wasn’t missing the social circles or the job or the husband. I was just missing things I liked. I also failed to realize that perhaps the problem I had with committed monogamous relationships had more to do with who I was allegedly committed to than the idea of monogamy.
And then I met someone. Someone who I, out of nowhere, wanted to look good for. I bought lipstick (This was a huge concession for me; after the divorce I swore off lipstick and stuck to the gloss.) Someone who, I’m now starting to realize, maybe doesn’t think that love means surrendering everything he likes just to feel like he’s doing what the world expects. Someone who I care about enough to try and make sure he doesn’t have to pay for my past. After all, wasn’t that decade of my life payment enough?
Before I get too carried away on the moonbeams of love, don’t misunderstand. It wasn’t just him. It was having friends that don’t care if I ever wear heels (although I am a little afraid to wear Crocs around Leah) or if I ever live somewhere with a separate bedroom. It was rediscovering the friends that didn’t pass the muster of my marriage, and finding new ones who didn’t care who I used to be and I don’t have to censor myself around. It’s a very freeing feeling.
And with that freedom came not only the freedom NOT to be a Chex Mix corporate American woman but also to love some of the nicer things without the fear of anyone pointing their finger at me and saying, “A-HA! We KNEW it… you’re a Junior League, born again Republican with Christian sympathies, aren’t you? AREN’T YOU? ADMIT IT!” and then forcing me to drink the Kool-Aid and move to Stepford. That freedom allows me to admit that sometimes I like to drink wine that you can’t get at Publix or that I really, for no good reason, want those strappy bronze Carlos heels at Macy’s.
I’ve started to see that with this freedom comes the idea that I can look past the moment and see the big picture and understand that liking parts of what used to be my life doesn’t mean I miss my old life.
I’ve come to understand the notion that I can define myself by who I am and what and who I love rather than by what I will never again be.
I’ve gained the knowledge that every moment matters too much to live in the past. With that freedom comes permission to set aside what I am not and live instead in the now.
I’ve realized that looking past the moment doesn’t mean I have to stop living in the moment, and that love doesn’t have to be a ball and chain that sucks me under the water; it can be a lovely way to just keep swimming.