I am the product of a divorce.
Those were the words that haunted me for years. The words that seeped into my skin every time I allowed someone close enough to touch mine. The words that hung in my rearview mirror every time I left home. And most recently the words that my newlywed friends remind me of every time I offer love advice.
I believe in love. I believe in true love. I believe in marriage. I believe having the over-the-top big white wedding doesn’t discount the power of someone’s marriage. And I believe two people who gather in secrecy and intimacy and commit themselves to each other for life are equally as extravagant and spectacular as the latter.
I am the product of a divorce, and yet I’ve had amazing relationships. Some of which have lasted two months, others a few months and one for three years.
I met my ex-boyfriend when I was a senior in college. I truly was not looking to date or even do the whole, “Hey, you awake? I’m bored,” text, until someone fell asleep or gave in and lugged themselves across campus. But my ex-boyfriend walked through the front door of my dorm room one night, wearing the ugliest shirt I had ever seen, and he made me laugh.
We began dating a few months later.
When our relationship began, it was good. He was a musician who traveled … a lot, and I was a recent college graduate trying to figure out what the hell I was doing with my life. We were each other’s best friends and I genuinely loved his mom. We had a few small fights, which usually revolved around what we were eating for dinner. I always wanted Thai and he lived off a diet of chicken tenders and fries, so we usually compromised with pizza and beer.
We learned a lot about each other during our time together. We learned a lot about ourselves. We learned that we both love documentaries, and going to baseball games and $3 movies. We learned that we both hated waking up early, saying goodbyes and cats. But I learned those small things, those things that everyone tells you are the be all, end all of relationships don’t sustain you when your guy chooses playing a gig over coming to your college graduation ceremony. Or when your grandmother dies and all you want to do is call him crying, but you’re worried he’ll be uncomfortable and not know what to say, so instead you just crawl into bed and fall asleep, and tell him the next morning.
Our relationship was good, but it survived three years. I say survived because that’s what it felt like at times. Like trying to mend a broken arm with a band-aid and Neosporin, when what you really needed was a professional to step in, take over and let you sit in the waiting room until the pain went away. But when we skip the pain, we skip the lesson. So, I did my best to sit with the pain, but I often found myself looking for him in that hospital room, only to find more pain from his absence. And in his absence, I slowly began to fill his void with lessons, and those lessons became my practice and that practice became my strength, and that strength is what let me leave that hospital room.
But, truth be told, that hospital room saved me. In that room I learned the greatest gift a relationship can ever give us, is the ability to be our worst self with someone. We’re allowed as women and men to not be shiny. We’re allowed to be real and ugly. We’re allowed to call our partner when our grandmother dies and cry. We’re allowed to scream and laugh and tell them how amazing she was and how you wish you could have said goodbye in person, and cooked dinner with her one more time.
I learned that a healthy relationship can dissolve shame. I learned that shame is worse than pain. Shame is the sugar-coated topping we place on top of our pain to remind us every day of why we should be hurting, and a healthy relationship gives us the strength to break off that coating. I learned that I was allowed to show up to our relationship with my shame and not a sugar-coated excuse for why I had it.
On my last day in that hospital room, I reminded myself that my boyfriend of three years was an extraordinary person. He was kind, genuine, authentic and someone who deserves to be loved fiercely. But, I learned that relationships are hard and they require work, and I learned by showing up to that hospital room every single day, I was working harder. So, when I felt strong enough to leave that hospital room, I did.
Our three-year relationship ended with one of the longest conversations the two of us had ever had. We acknowledged the good and the bad. We acknowledged that we worked well together, but that we work well with everyone, so maybe that is why we held on for so long. We also acknowledged that we loved each other the way we came, and in that love we received the joy of watching each other transform into our best possible selves, and there is no failure in that, only a raging success. Even if our success stories paint a different picture.
I entered my three-year relationship as the product of a divorce, but I left it realizing that I am also the product of a 20-year long marriage that my parents shared. I learned that sometimes it’s healthier to break something than expend all your resources mending what can’t be put back together. I learned that I can put up with a lot and not complain, but I also learned I’m allowed to complain. I’m allowed to speak up when I’m not happy. We’re all allowed to speak up when we’re not happy. I learned that eye contact is the sexiest thing a man can give. I learned that I need someone who values their health on the same level as I do. I learned I feel everything deeply. I learned that I need someone who is cool with that. I learned that being a strong woman isn’t defined by the load I carry, but by the way I carry my load.
My three-year relationship that ended, re-introduced me to myself and you better believe I’m going to take care of her.
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