“Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everyone can see you're blown apart.”
-- Paul Simon
A few months ago, I underwent an enormous existential transition. In a trifecta of life changing events, I went from being a married woman in her 30s, working full time and unsure of what the future held, to being pregnant, 40, and separated from my mate.
The same week I turned 40, my husband and I celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. It was on our country weekend getaway that we mutually decided to part. We agreed that the best thing we could do was to sacrifice our marriage to save our friendship. As noble as that sounds, it felt a bit like Sophie's choice as we walked through the autumn woods together with our little dog and our baby growing inside of me. Life is strange. That much is clear. And hard. That much is even clearer.
Bittersweet seems to be the flavor of my relationship with John. We are best friends. We have been each other's staunch companion for ten years. There has never been a question about whether we love each other. That goes without saying. But, when it comes to marriage, I guess the cliche really does apply. Love is not enough. A marriage is a partnership, a business deal, a collaboration -- and as collaborators, we were not well aligned. Think about all the bands you ever liked that broke up, all the new businesses that fail, all the entrepreneurial ventures that launch spectacularly and then fizzle out due to the asymmetrical visions of the leadership. Well, in keeping with this, it is a wonder that any marriages ever last. And, I guess the statistics say at least half don't.
But I don't really want to talk about all of the reasons why my marriage didn't work or how it fell apart before my eyes with nothing I could do to stop it. I want to talk more about the difficult aftermath of a separation like mine.
I don't know what my expectations were when John and I parted. I imagined, I suppose, that I would be sad and lonely. And indeed, I was and am. I just don't think I ever comprehended what true sadness and loneliness were before. Since our split, I have been embroiled in a maelstrom of emotions bandying me quickly and fiercely from one passionate perspective to another. In a moment, I might experience heady feelings of liberation and be drunk on the possibility of a future mercifully not beset by struggle, before being plummeted into a k-hole filled with the despair and regret brought on by heartbreaking memories of happy times past.
The thing is, I say this and I know most of you won't get it. I know this from experience because I didn't get it. I like to think of myself as a pretty empathetic person, but when people I've known have lost their relationships in the past, I thought I knew how they felt and it is now abundantly clear to me that I hadn't a clue as to the measure of their loss. The dissolution of a long relationship is like a death. Certainly all the therapy literature says as much. One is always warned of the 5 stages of grieving they must experience before they will fully mourn and move on from a relationship. But still, it all feels like so much hyperbole when this advice is the result of an internet search or the topic of a novel or a sappy movie. There is nothing to ground it in reality for the person who has not had to go through it. And good for them.
Despite the terrible realization that nobody around you understands what you are going through, there is another, almost contradictory feeling that accompanies that awareness. And that is the new and horrible understanding that you are transparent.
I have never felt so vulnerable and see-through in all my life. The arduous and awkward task of explaining that you are single (and in my case, also pregnant!), the visceral pain every mundane experience supplies because it was once a shared experience and now is not, the new meaning that being alone now brings with it, the socially inappropriate emotional overwhelm that comes on so suddenly, the feeling of (very public) failure you carry with you. All of these things are unique humiliations that I have never contended with in any area of my life before the breakup. And these feelings are what set a divorce, separation or breakup apart from a death. In this way, it feels less like you are crying over the fatefully departed and more like you are guilty of manslaughter.
And so, a separation is not just a separation from your mate, but also a separation from your community, family, friends and social sphere. It is an alienation. You become a cellophane outsider with missing pieces walking amongst the whole and integrated members of society trying, half heartedly, to masquerade as one of them.
It is a marvel to me that so many people get divorced in America now that I know what it is. Perhaps it is like childbirth in that nobody knows what to expect until it happens, and then one day, when new love enters, they mercifully forget the pain. I hope that is so.
It is a double marvel that anyone ever gets married knowing what I now know. But, having said that, I don't regret my choice to do so. My marriage was a gift to me in so many ways, which is why the peeling away of it is so painful. And now, in spite of the suffering of this disintegration, I am one of the lucky casualties of the broken and divided because I have two things so many in my situation do not: I can call my ex on the phone and cry, be angry, lash out and commiserate because I know he is the one person who knows exactly what I am talking about. And, I have this baby, a little girl, coming to join me soon. She is not only the best distraction from the agony of marital defeat, but she is also the best thing John and I did together and will be a lifelong reminder of all that was good, sweet and sacrosanct about our relationship.
Amen to that.