November 14, 2013 § 3 Comments
These three little words were some of the harshest — and most helpful — words that my ex-husband said to me.
Let’s set something straight before we get started. This statement is not meant to disparage Sam. (And if he’s reading this, I hope he doesn’t hear it that way either.) He spoke a lot of truth into my life and I’m grateful for that. A lot more truth than I wanted to hear at times. We’re a sort of friends (probably to the chagrin or surprise of friends and family) now — the sort that wish each other happy birthday, and have tea once a year to catch up on what’s happening in our respective families — because they used to be our families. And let me also be clear that it took me a good long while before I could get to this point: to be friends and to be thankful.
It was near the end of our marriage when he said this to me. We didn’t do a lot of things together. I didn’t want to do any of the things that he wanted to do and he didn’t want to do any of the things I wanted to do, but I wanted him to want me to do the things he did. Sounds frustrating and exhausting and unhealthy, right? Yeah, it led to lot of fighting. Until one day he said: Get a life.
You feel a little gut-punched don’t you? You remember when your older brother said that to you when you wanted to play football with his friends, or when your best friend said that to you in 8th grade when you couldn’t stop following her around like a lost puppy. It hurts.
I don’t think Sam said it to hurt me. I think he was sick of seeing me diminish myself to nothing more than a carbon copy of himself. I think he was sick and tired of not seeing (and living with) a whole person with her own desires and dreams.
A month later we were divorced and I started living life on my own. But his words would come back to me: get a life. I wanted to feel defensive, but I honestly didn’t do much outside of work. So I started going to book clubs (three different ones!), I took writing classes and met with a writing group. I signed up for a community ed Swahili class. I started going to church. I volunteered to teach English to Somali refugees. I swam and ran and started competing for the first time in my life. I said yes to every pretty much everything, and grasped for more. Part of my busyness was in efforts not to come home to an empty house, and in part I was escaping and grieving. So I got a cat. And I still wanted to do all of the things. For the first time in my 27 years of life (and I’m not exaggerating), I truly enjoyed being single. I got to come home to an empty house. I could do whatever I wanted! I could go places and sign up for stuff without conferring with another person. It was a gift. Or more accurately, I was able to receive it as a gift.
It’s been my experience this this is inherently a female problem. I see it in some men too, but mostly in women. The problem being is that we have such a hard time believing that life without a partner is not a life worth living. Or that our own life is not (as) valuable. We rarely dine on our own, go to movies alone, or cook for ourselves. We take cues from our spouses to plan our next move. I’m not saying that single life is better than coupled life, or that we should be autonomous beings for all of our lives. No, I don’t think that’s healthy either. But I think we ought to practice being alone. Being by ourselves. Becoming comfortable in our own skin. (Side note: I took myself out to dinner once. However, I did bring a book, so I wasn’t totally alone. It felt weird but good. Try it.)
But I’m married again. What of it?
I love being married. I love being married to Ben. We have a lot of the same dreams and interests and lifestyle habits. We both like Thai food! And we’re really good friends. I will admit that that’s pretty freaking awesome. And yet sometimes I’m still tempted to align myself to him in where we differ. Hmm, perhaps I should care about football after all, I think. I mean, last year I signed up for a Fantasy Football league just because I thought it would either impress Ben or that I would be able to understand him better. It did neither, and I realized it was kind of a dumb. (Not inherently dumb, just dumb that I did it without my self really wanting to.) I would not trade being married for being single, but it takes a lot of intentional work to make space for oneself.
After all that, I have two things I want to say:
- You are worthy. Just you. Because you are you.
- If you’re unhappy, uneasy, or downright depressed: take up a hobby. Start running. Go to Grand Marais all by yourself. Or call me up for coffee.