Immediately following my divorce, I sat on my couch and gazed at the ceiling for hours.
No one knew I did this.
The television was off, the stereo silenced. Nothing could interfere with the happily married memories flooding my mind — twelve years of twinkle-light holidays, the smell of his cologne, gregarious family celebrations, teasing inside jokes, seeing his car in the driveway, whispered terms of endearment and our smiling son in the middle of this beautiful, colorful world we created. These images moved across the backdrop of a white ceiling, like a movie reel, as I forgot to eat, forgot to breathe, forgot who I was.
I wanted to remember, remember, remember, the world that made sense once. Even though it wasn’t perfect, that world allowed my son to say the words “mommy and daddy” without bifurcating our existence.
Remembering was more than a simple visualization of my ex-husband’s smile, the sound of his laughter or seeing his arms wrapped protectively around our child — it was that palpable feeling of wholeness, contentment and security I gleaned from being married. When happily married, I felt loved, so very loved, and held onto that feeling even though our love was long gone and I was holding onto nothing but an intangible dream.
While living in the past, I grew numb to the present and passively moved through a life that couldn’t possibly belong to me. I worried if I stopped remembering what once was, the comfortable life I knew would slip away forever, never to be found or felt again. How could I recreate that feeling of wholeness and security in the present? How could I reconstruct a world where my son was going to thrive?
I’d find a new husband!
If I remarried, my son wouldn’t grow-up in a broken home with a single mom who stared at the walls. It made perfect sense! And if I found someone fast, my son wouldn’t remember a mommy who was lonely and alone. And this is precisely how I arrived at the altar a second time — broken, clinically depressed and desperate for a world that resembled that movie reel of what once was.
The single most important quality the new husband had to possess was a love for my child. And the second man I married had just that. He had a childlike spirit, was someone I’d known for many years and would never hurt me, or more importantly, my child. After dating men who couldn’t be bothered with my son, someone loving Connor was more important than my own happiness.
When that little voice inside my head (the one I no longer trusted since it had a bad track record) told me something wasn’t right, I argued with it. But he’s a nice guy. But he’s so good with Connor. But…
This is why so many of us make terrible mistakes after divorce. I’m sure there are many more reasons, but mine materialized from a frantic desire to create stability for myself and my young son, even if it meant marrying a man I didn’t love. And when I say “stability” I don’t mean financial. Stability, for me, came in the form of a ring on my finger and a “real family” that included a man by my side.
How very wrong I was.
It turned out, a piece of paper stamped “Marriage License” didn’t magically endow me with feelings of wholeness or love. It took just over a year for this man and I to part ways (another amicable divorce!) and for humiliation and embarrassment to rush over me, once again, like napalm.
I’ve had four different last names in my life, worn three wedding rings, three wedding dresses, walked down three aisles while carrying three bridal bouquets and eaten three of my own wedding cakes (my last one, carrot cake, was my favorite.) It turns out, I’m very good at planning weddings. I handled this, all of this, with humor as I sheepishly explained I was on the “Elizabeth Taylor Plan.” Meanwhile, the voice in my head was screaming as I choked back tears, incredibly ashamed.
Never underestimate a broken heart.
I understand why some make terrible choices after divorce and recognize my old self in the emptiness behind a newly divorced woman’s eyes, her feigned smile, the sinking of her chest as she struggles to breathe. I so want to hug her and transfer my experience and wisdom as if by osmosis, if only to imbue her with one clarifying moment that could save her from my humiliation.
Marrying a man I didn’t love (and subsequently divorcing him) came with the embarrassment of another disappointing failure. But it was precisely this experience that helped me realize love can not be contrived or forced, and life was meant to be lived and embraced even if it meant being alone. From this experience, I gained the clarity and courage to turn on the television, to play loud music, to dance, to laugh, to feel and to embrace the present where the promise of a new life existed.