Like most little boys, my son loved toy cars – playing with them, collecting them and discovering what made those little diecast beauties go. He’d take them apart piece by piece and put their tiny components to the test by crushing, bending and burning them. He didn’t do it to be destructive; he did it because they mattered so deeply to him that he wanted to understand them to the fullest.
While I am not a tinkerer by nature, I certainly understand the inclination to pick something apart to figure out how it works. Or why it didn’t.
I spent a lot of time taking the wheels off my marriage to understand why it failed. According to the statistics, we were supposed to beat the odds. We didn’t live together before we got married. We were both college educated with successful careers. While his parents divorced when he was young, mine were still together (I figured one should effectively cancel out the other). And besides, the highest risk of divorce occurs in the first 10 years of marriage. We’d made it over that hump long ago and yet, things derailed.
Naturally, I wanted to know why. Why did this happen? Why did I invest myself over and over again in a 20-year relationship only to end up with a handful of nothing? Why did I trust my heart to someone who would willingly cause me so much pain? Surely, there was an explanation for the world of hurt I was in.
I searched for reason and where there was none, I filled it in with dangerous self-blame: What did I miss? What should I have done more/less of? What’s wrong with me? I badly wanted answers so that I could rationalize what happened. Aha! Here’s why he did that. If I had only done this, then maybe that wouldn’t have happened.
If I could only explain it, then maybe I’d be able to get closure or at least, exercise some control over an uncontrollable situation. Enlightenment would surely protect me from ever repeating the same mistake again, right?
Five years out, I am still looking for clues as to why things happened the way they did. Sometimes I’ll trip over an article about divorce and scan it for clues to see if I recognize any familiar patterns and pitfalls. Sometimes I’ll seek out others who have taken the time to dissect their divorce in case I can mine any nuggets of clarity from what they’ve unearthed.
This summer, I was deeply immersed in a collection of Nora Ephron’s writing. Although she is best known for When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail (the last being among my Top 5 all-time favorites), the reason I was compelled to read the book was because it contained a full-length novel: a thinly-veiled, fictionalized version of her marriage to, betrayal by and divorce from Watergate journalist Carl Bernstein. Heartburn later became a 1986 movie starring Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson (which I have never seen but intend to get around to it).
Through her pregnant-and-dumped character Rachel, Nora deconstructs a marital structure from the inside out. She even breaks down the possible reasons why a straying husband is unable to remain faithful: a dysfunctional childhood without boundaries, degenerate friends without boundaries, and deplorable women without boundaries (see what I mean about patterns?).
“Ephron used her Heartburn protagonist to expose the heartbreak and the dark humor of his affair and their subsequent divorce,” wrote the Huffington Post. “Ephron’s willingness to write candidly about her experiences make Heartburn especially poignant. Intentionally or not, her book encouraged other women to share their own stories.”
Nora dismantled and exposed the inner workings of her broken relationship to put it all out there. It not only made good copy, it was like her way of saying, “Here. Take from this what you will. I learned from it and I hope you can too.”
Despite the amount of soul searching she does in Heartburn, our heroine Rachel (aka Nora) still does not find hard answers. The takeaway, at least for me, is that maybe there are none to be had. Perhaps it’s time to grasp that there are things that simply cannot be explained – because they are meant only to be accepted.
“From the time I was a young child through my late thirties, I believed that growing up was about finding certainty and solving the mysteries of life,” writes the amazing Brené Brown. “It seemed to me that the end game was answers and control – especially control over important outcomes and what people think. The formula was pretty clear: vulnerability is weakness, self-worth is based on what you achieve, and accomplishments and acquisitions bring joy and meaning.”
That certainly hits close to home for me. Brown goes on to say that when she turned 47, she came to the realization that the prime of our lives is NOT about answers.
“It starts when we finally allow ourselves to soften into the mysteries and live in the questions. For me, the softening came after a long, painful midlife unraveling; fueled by the exhaustion that comes from too much pretending, pleasing and perfecting. For me, midlife was not a crisis, it was an unraveling. By definition, you can’t control or manage an unraveling.”
Although the need to pick things apart may be instinctive, I am trusting that I will soon be able to let go of searching for answers I may never find. In its place, allowing myself to unravel, to soften into the mysteries and to finally live comfortably in the questions sounds mighty good.