It has been 7 years since I stepped out of one door and walked through another. It was scary, challenging and empowering all rolled into one. Leaving a 25 year marriage is hard. Even if it isn’t the greatest relationship, it is comfortable and safe. Comfortable and safe can be sad and lonely too.
I walked out that door with my clothes and computer. I stepped into an empty apartment, put up my air mattress, sat down and took a deep breath. What had I just done? Even though I possessed a degree in accounting and an MBA at the time I was working at a part-time job at the local food cooperative and teaching yoga classes. I was floundering both personally and professionally. I am pretty sure one fed the other. When you are not in a happy place, it is hard to find your place anywhere.
Over the years, I had thought of leaving many times. The time was never right. The kids were little, we were broke, he was depressed, I was between jobs. I remember finding out I was pregnant with my third baby. My first thought was that I was stuck for another 18 years. As I look back, that was a choice I made. I love my kids, and I wouldn’t trade any of them for anything, but sometimes the decisions I made were made for what I thought was in their best interest. As I view it now, and with the things I have learned over the last 7 years, I question that. But we can’t go back, we can only go forward. If you are in that place and feeling those feelings, read on. Even if you aren’t and can’t grasp why someone would make that decision, read on. Maybe the things I learned might help you!
That first year I learned so much about myself.
- I learned that I could live with almost nothing and be completely happy and content. My car had been totaled the week I decided to move out. With a minimum wage job and very little income, I decided to walk that year. I walked everywhere. Just to get to work and back was over 2 miles a day! That coupled with teaching yoga four nights a week, led to me feeling really great physically. A job at the food coop netting me a great deal of free food. I learned what to do with bread, cheese with moldy edges and frozen soup. I learned that milk is good for at least a week past the date on the carton and I created some of the most amazing “freegan” meals! I created salads from the stuff they took off the outside of the lettuce to be sold. I cut the rotten parts off of tomatoes and learned how to freeze things to be used later. I was living on virtually no money and was happier than I had been in years.
- I learned that the best friends in the world are there for me. One of my yoga students was in the midst of a breakup and seeking an apartment at the same time I left and moved in to the space above my yoga studio. I asked her to move in, paying a small amount of rent to help me cover my mortgage. She was the age of my oldest daughter, and we were both in a place where we just needed space. She is, to this day, one of my dearest friends. I had friends come out of the woodwork with support. Whether they agreed with my decision or not was irrelevant. They care about me and supported me. True friends were fettered out during that first year.
- I learned not to date the first guy who shows an interest. Well, I have to admit that I went through a little wild stage that first little while. I dated randomly and drank too much. It was exciting to feel wanted, even if it wasn’t for my mind. I think in a way, I hated men. So feeling in control of the situation made me feel powerful and sexy. I could snap my fingers and they would be there. It is a feeling I can’t completely explain, but it made me feel good at the time. Unfortunately, online dating can bring out the weirdos which I found out pretty quickly. I met this guy who seemed great. He was charismatic and charming, which turned out to be a huge personality flaw I now recognize as being narcissistic behavior. He saw me as his meal ticket, and during a time when I was broken and probably at my lowest point, he moved in on me. It took a little over five months and a restraining order to get him out of my life. That topic could fill a book, but just letting you know, be choosy (and check criminal records).
- I learned that spending time alone is a good thing. I spent a ton of time reading books, watching movies on Netflix, practicing yoga and walking. I spent time alone in ways that I could get myself back, learn who I was and that I was important and fun to be with! I went to lunch alone, went to movies alone and walked miles with nothing but my thoughts. I learned that being alone with yourself is a lot better than being alone in a house with others. Being in a “relationship” doesn’t equate to being happy. To be good in a relationship, you have to be good with yourself. I didn’t even know me. I only knew the face I put on for others. I wasn’t Jen the accountant or Jen the mom. I was Jen, the really sad person who didn’t know who she was. I was Jen who got stuck in the façade of this happy family, in the nice house, with the kids and the dog. It all looked really pretty from the outside.
- I have learned that finding the right person just happens. You can’t force a good relationship. Almost exactly one year after leaving, I met a guy. I met him through a mutual friend (who I had met on Match.com interestingly enough). This friend kept coming over for dinner and saying “I have this friend who you should meet. I think you would be perfect together.” To which I kept saying “I am done with men. I hate them. I would rather be alone for the rest of my life.” Well this mutual friend wasn’t taking NO for an answer! One evening, he arrived at the door, with his friend and three bottles of wine. This was on a ruse that my dishwasher needed fixing. He fixed the dishwasher, we drank wine, and commenced to talk for 7 hours, with no sleep. In all fairness, there was a blizzard and no way to get him home, but I wouldn’t have wanted him to go home anyway. Both of us tried to fight it for a month or so, then finally mutually decided that it was IT, the real thing. We have been together for 6 years now, and love each other more each day. I would have never thought in my wildest dreams that this kind of relationship actually existed. If I hadn’t stepped out of my comfort zone, I would have never found this, but would still be sitting in my own dismay.
- I have learned that the kids with be fine if not better. I stayed for years for my kids. I read all the studies and knew all the rhetoric about kids from single parent households. I wanted my kids to have everything, even if everything meant me being miserable. That was a trade-off I needed to make because I chose to have my children. My kids actually all KNEW I was unhappy. Recently one of my girls told me that when they were growing up, she thought everyone’s parents disliked each other. She thought that parents showing affection towards each other was strange. She didn’t know what a good relationship was, because she was being modeled something totally different. Had I known when my kids were small, what I know now would I have made different decisions? I can’t know, because hindsight is always 20/20. I do know that what I modeled for my kids wasn’t healthy. I do know that they deserved better and I do know that choices they made later in life may have been influenced by my decisions and for that I apologize to them. I do know that if parents can be mature and kind to each other, the kids get the opportunity to see happy parents. That is a gift for them.
- I have learned that not everyone will support you and that is ok. Your true friends come out. Family members are another deal. They may not agree, but if they can be supportive that is good. Friends will pick sides in a break up sometimes, and that is ok. Don’t worry about losing someone, as if they take one side, or no side, they probably weren’t that good of a friend to you anyway. I have remained friends with my ex-husband’s sisters and mom. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We spent over 25 years in each other’s lives and I didn’t break up with them! Know that the choices you are making in your life, are ones you need to make for yourself. No one else lives in your house, knows the situation or can make the decisions for you. Maturity is a huge factor here. I know families who have gotten through all kinds of horrible things, much worse than a divorce or breakup and come out loving each other. I also know of families, where one person can’t get past the breakup, and can actually hurt children or others in the process of trying to hurt the ex-partner. Be a grown up. Call out others if they aren’t being mature and respectful. You don’t need that kind of negativity when you are working to make positive changes in your life.
- I learned that I was STRONG! The decision took years. The action took minutes. I remember being in therapy with the most amazing counselor. As I sat with her, and rattled off every new excuse as to why I was still there, she listened. My daughter was pregnant, my son was having trouble in school, it was almost Christmas…on and on and on…. She looked me straight in the eye and said “So what is your next excuse going to be?”. I decided there were no more excuses. Just me being strong enough to do what needed to be done.
I walked out of that session and started moving things to the apartment. This space above my yoga studio that was suddenly and mysteriously empty. That two weeks on Craigslist had not filled, when typically I had 20 calls to rent it in an hour. It was a sign. It was a clear sign that I was to live there. The time had come and I left. As I said in the beginning, me, clothes, some food and a computer. I slept on a twin air mattress for 4 months. I ate free food, drank cheap wine and felt free.
Other women asked me how I had done it? I couldn’t explain, other than “it was time” to make the change. It was time to take my life back. After 25 years of marriage, I finally felt whole, calm and at peace with decisions. There were a couple of moments where I doubted my decision. Interestingly, it wasn’t because I wasn’t happy, but because he was unhappy. Even at the juncture of leaving, I felt responsible for him being sad. I had to force myself to keep listening to my inner voice. That voice that said “this is right and good”, and stop listening to the outside world noises. I have a favorite quote these days. “SHE THOUGHT SHE COULD SO SHE DID”. I am glad I did.