It was February 14th, 2021, Valentine’s Day. My husband and I had taken our 10-month-old and three-year-old to a playground and ordered takeout from our favorite restaurant. To a social media follower, it was a lovely day.
When the kids went down for their afternoon naps, my husband took me aside and informed me he had filed for a divorce with an attorney he hired, sent a deposit for a rental home, and declared the move-in date for the rental home was within the next month. I could tell he had carefully rehearsed his words — he was trying the best way he knew how. We were both so emotionally starved by that point, I don’t even think he knew what day it was.
The pain I felt was beyond miserable. Oh hell, feeling miserable would have been a step up for me — I felt worse than miserable. In one year I had been pregnant, given birth to a second daughter, juggled a demanding full-time job, gotten COVID, and now I was steeped in a divorce … all in the era of a pandemic. I wished this roller coaster of hell on no one.
While I felt blindsided and betrayed in the moment, the Valentine’s Day announcement wasn’t a surprise. I had been asking for a separation and flagrantly tossing around the D-word for over a year. Last year I was angry and mad. Maybe it was the pregnancy and postpartum; maybe it was the anxiety of catching COVID; maybe it was the pressure and demands of raising two small children; maybe it was work; maybe it was living in a small place that our family had outgrown; maybe it was the isolation of the stay-at-home orders; maybe it was our well-intentioned in-laws that resulted in the fanning of flames between us; maybe it was the challenges of navigating an interracial marriage in the background of BLM or having differing views in an increasingly polarized political era; maybe it was him; maybe it was me … or maybe the marriage just wasn’t meant to be, and it took these experiences to make it abundantly clear this was the end of a chapter for us.
I had so much visceral anger toward him well before his planned announcement, to the point I found myself openly joking if he was worth more dead or alive (to be clear, I do not wish any ill will on him).
In the height of my anger, I began to seek resources on the topic of divorce. I was most concerned about my children and minimizing the impact on them. There was also a small part of me that wanted to “win,” as if life was a grand measuring stick and I wanted the bigger half. And in an era of too much information, dramatized depictions of divorce in Hollywood, custom ads served to individuals based on emotional late night online searches, and a whole industry dedicated to making money off the backs of couples getting divorced, it’s easy to get in a dark place … especially online, especially during COVID.
In the most haphazard way, I began to expand beyond the online divorce forums — I began to read books, I took advantage of county resources that offered free webinars on divorce, I listened to divorce podcasts, I spoke with a therapist, I enrolled in a Zoom-based therapy group, I sought guidance from other divorced people over the phone, and I leaned on family and trusted friends for support. Over time, after having started on a journey to educate myself on divorce with the small secret intention of winning, I began to turn inward. I felt like I had metaphorically thrown up, was marinating in my own smelly vomit, and was forced to take a mirror to myself.
It didn’t matter what my husband did, it didn’t matter how wrong I thought he was, or how right I thought I was … I could only control my side of the equation. And if I sat in my stinky vomit just long enough, maybe I could find some light and solace within myself. Maybe I could shine outward from within instead of constantly feeling the need to be externally chasing a light—it was time to stop chasing the fireflies and create my own magnificent fire from within.
My decision to stay or leave the marriage had to come from a rooted place, and if I were honest with myself, when I was asking for a separation (more like declaring it), I was not in a place of rootedness. I was red-hot angry for months, and blaming him was a mask to make myself feel better. I also saw this behavior in the women and men I spoke with who were also knee deep in their divorces or stuck in miserable marriages. I heard too many cis hetero men conclude their soon-to-be ex-wives had a borderline personality disorder while cis hetero women concluded their soon-to-be ex-husbands were narcissists. Surely there couldn’t be that many BPDs and narcissists walking around. Where were they when people were getting married?
I ultimately decided I wasn’t ready for a divorce and needed to focus my energies on bettering myself within the marriage. Fortunately or unfortunately, the decision to divorce was made for me in the most ironic way, on a day that celebrated love. And maybe this choice will end up being the greatest act of love for me. As part of my own journey, and in picking up the pieces of my own broken heart that I helped break, I needed to learn to let go.
Letting go is taking accountability for my actions, grieving for the loss of the expectation I had for my marriage, and putting one foot in front of the other toward a brighter future, in service of myself and my children. It doesn’t matter if I was 5% or 95% at fault. There is no magical measuring stick. We all lose in some way. My accountability for the downfall of the marriage were the following:
I did not know how to establish and communicate clear emotional boundaries. And then I got upset when my boundaries were crossed. This left me chasing and reacting.
I continued to feed the anxiety and fear of me not being able to control the future. This took time away from me being present in the moment and reflective of the past.
I found myself getting competitive, and instead of turning toward my partner, that competition turned into avoidance, resentment, anger, and bitterness.
I thought I could change my partner. The idea that I will somehow make another person see what I see, that they will finally understand, and change for me was 100% my ego. My ego was so large, it was blinding.
I fought to win fights, not for the marriage.
I used anger and blame as a way to deflect from my own painful insecurities.
I was a poor communicator of my insecurities.
When adversity did not bring us closer, I thought I needed to try harder. I ran two marathons to the left when I really should have taken a few steps to the right. And then I went ahead and ran another marathon to the left … over and over again. And now I am tired. I am so, so tired.
Now that I see these things, I can no longer unsee them. These are behaviors that I need to work on and change, not only for myself, but for my kids. And it will take time. I wished I could have been able to do it hand-in-hand with my spouse, and I accept that I will be taking this journey on my own, with the help of a community I inadvertently built to support me through this.
While I have a lot to be thankful for and recognize my privilege as a self-sufficient soon-to-be single mother, I wish the pain that accompanies divorce on no one. And in the moments when I feel small, I will inch my way toward living large. Living large for me is to lean into the vulnerability with intention, honesty, and kindness. To continue down the path of further self-actualization. To show compassion to myself as much as I am capable of being compassionate to others — big and wildly.
And, to let go.