I spent more than $400 at the grocery store last week. Not just on a weeks’ worth of food for a small-but-hungry army, but on all the other stuff you’d expect to find in the cupboards:
Sugar. Flour. Oil. Foil. Press ’n Seal. Ziplock bags. Spices, from cumin to vanilla to kosher salt, and lots in between. Dish soap and sponges. A can opener. Every damn condiment imaginable.
“Somebody setting up a new kitchen?” the cashier asked.
“My husband,” I replied.
She didn’t say a word back. She didn’t have to. The kind and knowing look in her eyes held me from the other side of the conveyer belt.
If you’ve been here for any length of time, you know that these last couple years have been a challenging time for me, Mr. You Are Not Stuck (aka, Dave) and our 12-year marriage.
We’ve been working our way through — and I do mean *working* — an up-and-down journey that’s included sobriety, depression, anger, resentment, forgiveness, guilt, questioning, counseling — and, ultimately, coming to grips with the fact that the love we once had was gone, and the love that remained is enough to make us good friends but not enough to keep us husband and wife.
So with honesty and good intentions and an unrelenting focus on the kids, we’ve decided it’s time to call the marriage.
But we do not call the family. Or the friendship. Those bonds are still strong — and, I hope, able to grow stronger without the heavy pressure of trying to live up to something we’re simply not meant to be anymore.
During the months I wrestled with this decision, it was an agonizing stay in a painful purgatory. I felt as though I was standing still. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s the feeling of standing still.
But I wasn’t just loitering in Fear. I was processing it.
As Glennon Doyle Melton asked when writing about her own marital struggles: “Does a Love Warrior go? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Does a Love Warrior stay? YES. If that’s what her deepest wisdom tells her to do. Both roads are hard.”
Each day for weeks and months and years I asked my deepest wisdom if it knew yet what the next right step was. Because I desperately didn’t want to give up prematurely or rob my girls of one of the things I value most — stability — but I also didn’t want to surrender to a marriage that suffered from a lack of love.
For the longest time, my deepest wisdom told me she didn’t yet know. So we kept processing.
And then one day she did. With crystal clarity. Dave’s wisdom knew it, too, so we agreed it was time to rip off the band aid and move together toward being apart.
I was a teenager when my parents (finally) called it quits. “It’s about time,” I remember thinking.
Their divorce was anything but cordial. They couldn’t be in the same room with one another. And, actually, they weren’t for a good long time — from the day I graduated high school to the day I graduated college.
I always swore that if my marriage didn’t work, I’d bend over backwards to do it any other way than that. With compassion. With grace. With an attitude of friendliness.
And, thankfully, I’ve got a partner who’s committed to the same.
If I have to have an ex-husband, then I’m blessed that it’s Dave. Because I know he’s gonna keep on being the clever, patient, kind, generous friend and partner that he’s always been. Because I know his integrity’s not going anywhere. Nor is his commitment to being a 50-50 parent.
As you’d expect, telling the kids — the moment we’d dreaded and avoided for so long — was hard. But we prepared well, following the advice we’d gotten from an organization focused on helping children through the transition of divorce, and it showed.
There was shock at first, because they had no reason to see this coming. But once they understood that Mommy and Daddy were still going to be good friends… and that their school wouldn’t change and their friends wouldn’t change and their schedule wouldn’t change… and that they would still have to do their homework and eat their vegetables and clean under their fingernails… they were okay. Dave and I high-fived over a job well done.
And the next morning, when we encouraged the girls to share the news with their friends, reminding them that there was nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about, my nine-year-old responded with a puzzled look. “Why would I be embarrassed?” she asked.
Another high-five moment. Thank goodness that stigma is shifting.
So now here we are. Dave moved a week ago, into an adorable little bungalow that has a bright kitchen window and stained glass in the living room and an excellent space for the girls that they fell in instant love with. I moved him in my minivan, and helped the girls handpick which of their favorite clothes and stuffed animals they wanted to take over there.
In the week he’s been gone, we’ve all been to a soccer game together and eaten white chicken chili together and even run a 5K together. We’ve laughed and hugged more in seven days than in the 700 before that. He’s fixed the garbage disposal at my place and I delivered my best house plants to his.
Compassion. Grace. Friendliness. This is what it looks like.
We are still a family. We just have different expectations and a different truth, which is liberating beyond measure.
Because isn’t living in truth and freedom is what living is all about?
I tell you all this not to air my personal laundry, but because I know there are so many of us living in circumstances that aren’t ideal but we’re too filled with fear to make the changes we know we need to create the lives we want.
Isn’t living in truth and freedom is what living is all about?
I’m not just talking about relationships we’ve outgrown, of course, but also jobs that suck our souls and mindsets that rob us of hope and habits that mask the best parts of ourselves. Fear is the bastard that keeps us feeling stuck in all those places.
It takes time to process that fear, to be still enough to give our deepest wisdom the space it needs to know for certain what the next right move is. It may take far more time and space than we’re comfortable giving. But, eventually, we do know and that is when we need to be brave — so very brave, darling — so we can carry out the will of our heart.
If I’ve learned anything these last couple years, it’s that there’s something paralyzingly scary about letting go of what’s anchored you for so long — UNTIL YOU REALIZE THAT YOU ARE YOUR OWN ANCHOR, and that you can indeed keep yourself afloat. And you realize that the end of things can also be a beautiful beginning.
Here is to fresh starts, my friends, in any and all ways that we need to find them. Let us not fear all that which we can’t control, but let us live in the closest way possible to our ever-emerging truths. We owe that not just to ourselves, but to the ones we love.
I love you all, that’s for sure. Thank you for keeping me — and each other — so close.