If we were to turn the clock back to five years ago, you might need to avert your eyes instead of seeing what I was doing to myself. It was a year after my divorce, a relationship I decided to end, and then decided to torture myself over for hurting a person and people I cared about.
This was around the time when more than one friend told me, "It's tough to watch you like this."
One year out, I was also desperately hanging onto another relationship that was the worst possible thing for me: unhealthy, unstable and, more important, something I was using so I could avoid the scary stuff – figuring out my life.
I was lying to myself, and others.
I was a mess, and one year out of my marriage was about the time I started to get an inkling of how messy I was.
On the other side of all of that, I can see why there is an unspoken rule about not dating for two years after a divorce. I didn’t follow it, and I don’t see a lot of people following it either, but it is a good idea. You don’t even know where you are right now, but take it from experience the choices you are making are not the same ones you will in another year.
Case in point: it took me nearly two years after my divorce to buy myself a new bed, sheets, a couch, and pots and pans. Up until then I was using stuff that had emotional ties to someone else, so every day I was putting myself face to face with a former life…and giving myself more fodder for beating myself up about what happened.
If it feels like you’re never getting out of where you are now, or that this is the best you can do, let me flash forward for you.
Last Monday, six years after my divorce, I finally decided to email my ex-husband to settle the rest of our divorce agreement.
There were things on there – like selling our wedding rings – that I didn’t think I had a right to even mention to him before now, because I was the one who ended our marriage. Even though we aren’t often in touch, I was still regularly, and without realizing it, handing him all of the control over how we ended, and how I treat myself about it.
My email was short, friendly, open. I wished him well on a few of the updates I had heard about him through our mutual friends. I offered my assistance to take care of the last items on the list. I provided my new mailing address so he could send a check for the sales I knew he must have made since the last time we spoke.
I felt lighter after writing, in the way I do after checking something off my to-do list. I didn’t question like I once did if I was doing the right thing, or if he would be mad hearing from me.
Two days later, he wrote back.
There wasn’t a word that set me off in his response. Either there wasn’t an undertone of anger to it, or I wasn’t reading it that way anymore.
He said he wanted to have our remaining things sorted out too, and then he attached photos of his family.
I was taken by surprise to receive photos from him, so I had a momentary stumble asking myself: How do I feel about this? Am I upset?
Then it hit me that this was confirmation that I unequivocally received everything I wanted from the divorce. He was fine. I didn't ruin his life – in fact he got the life I said I wanted him to have. He didn't hate me, or never did, or didn't anymore. We could be amicable.
I had felt glimpses of this years ago when I first heard that he was dating someone. If he’s moving on, that must mean I didn’t ruin him forever.
Now I had more proof if I needed it. Luckily I didn’t need it as much as I used to, and could almost instantly be happy for him as I would for any old and dear friend who I had lost touch with.
Five years ago when I was divorced for only a year, I really wasn't sure any of that was possible.
It feels freeing on the other side. I like myself a lot better.
There will come a point when you are really good.
It may take you by surprise one day when you're talking to someone else who is recently divorced, and you're giving them advice, and then suddenly you realize that a weight got lifted along the way. You're no longer where you were at the end of your marriage, or right after when you were picking up the pieces, or the period after when you thought you had it mostly together and then found more you needed to figure out.
You'll know you're there when you realize there will always be more to be working on, that's life, and you are fine with all of it. Right here is good.
I will admit that if someone told me this at the time, I wouldn’t have believed them.
Actually at least two divorced friends did, and I remember not being comforted by their words. I wanted to be over the divorce hump immediately, I didn’t want to wait, I didn’t want to be messy anymore, and I really, really didn’t want anyone to think I was messy.
If any of that feels true for you right now, I have two pieces of advice with love from one divorced person to another.
- Believe whatever you can to keep inching closer. Sort out one drawer or bank account at a time. Someday the rest will fall into place.
- Go to therapy.
It’s going to come together. It will not always be pretty, or make sense, but you’re going to feel awesome on the other end of it.