The Tip of the Iceberg

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Only a fraction of an iceberg is visible while 80-90% remains hidden under the waterline.

The Titanic crew discovered this when frantic orders for a hard turn to veer away from an ill-fated ice mass came moments too late. While she barely missed the protruding peak, Titanic still collided with the iceberg’s enormous bulk below sea level, ripping up the side of the ship and puncturing its water-tight compartments.

Icebergs: it’s what you can’t see that can hurt you.

I remember getting a sinking feeling that something was going on with my husband of 20 years. Upon confronting him, he confessed to an affair sparked during an out-of-town business trip. I suspected that it merely scratched the surface of the truth. I knew that he’d had what he called an “emotional affair” with a different colleague 10 years previous, but he went to counselling and recommitted to our marriage. If he had been remorseful about this latest fling, I would have been willing to work it out too.

But, of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg.

What it really was (at least to the best of my knowledge) added up to numerous one night stands, short-lived flings and at least one multi-year affair, along with an online porn addiction, regular visits to a gentlemen’s club and an overall inability to remain faithful to any woman since the age of 14. He was a serial cheater and, in his own words, “not a good husband.”

I’m certain that he admitted only to an abbreviated version of events in order to appease his guilt – which makes the unedited story simply unknowable. I believe that the total iceberg is even larger, darker and more sordid. I will never get to the bottom of it. The unexplained trips, strange hours and manipulative behavior – it all remains beyond my grasp, still floating around in my subconscious like menacing chunks of ice.

The infidelity iceberg will ram your hull, buckle your equilibrium and leave you feeling foolish as you decode what was real and what was deception (“How could I have been so stupid?”). It scrapes your ego, distorts your perspective and punctures your water-tight, unconditional trust – not only in the individual who wronged you, but in almost everyone around you: past, present and especially future. And yet, you fight your way back to recover from it.

A seasoned ship captain offered his advice about avoiding disaster at sea. “The thing you need most in iceberg-infested waters is fear,” he said, adding, “and don’t talk about the fact that you’ve been lucky. When you do that, you become vulnerable.”

While I don’t believe fear should navigate our life’s voyage after infidelity, it certainly forces us to wake up and become more vigilant. Icebergs tend to sneak up on us when we fail to pay attention.

The upside to icebergs is that they prompt us to shore up our defenses – in a good way. We build stronger, more resilient vessels equipped with enhanced radar technology (our instinct) and ample life preservers (our support system). They also ensure we never allow ourselves to become complacent or lulled into a false sense of security believing that nothing and no one can ever sink us. 

Perhaps most important, we can use what we’ve learned about past icebergs to avoid future ones. I now know that icebergs make themselves look the way we want them to while being secretly composed of something entirely different. They can shape-shift over time to keep their underlying nature concealed. And they should never be underestimated; after all, you can sail alongside an iceberg for years – decades even – and have no clue about what they’re hiding.

At the same time, I don’t suspect that everything on the horizon is a threat. Just the opposite. By trusting that I am now better able to spot the dangers, I can relax, take in the scenery and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me. I also don’t need to worry about my ship capsizing, because I have been through it before. It showed me that I have the ability to tread water and stay afloat. I can keep my head above water. I can swim. I can do more than I ever knew I was capable of doing.

Even after hitting an iceberg, there is no way to guarantee it won’t ever happen again. Nor is there any way to prevent others from making the same misjudgment (Oh, if only we could plant red flags on people to give fair warning!). But what we can do is chart a new course for ourselves. After all we’ve been through, we have certainly earned a stretch of smooth sailing.

Advice from a Divorcee to a New Bride

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My daughter is getting married in two weeks, and I’ve been feeling a tug to share some motherly pearls of wisdom as the big day approaches.

Having a failed marriage behind me, it seems hypocritical to be offering advice (other than don’t marry a duplicitous louse capable of deceiving you for the duration of your marriage, ahem). I know my daughter doesn’t need any no-shit-Sherlock nuggets like “marriage isn’t always 50/50” because she is smart and self-assured and I have no reason to doubt that will continue into her married life.

Still, I’m hoping she can benefit from a bit of what I’ve picked up in my experience. So, instead of marital counsel, I’m simply offering some real-world, been-there-done-that relationship wisdom: woman to woman. Taking a page out of Oprah’s “What I Know For Sure,” here’s what I’ve learned over time about…

Forgiving on a daily basis. Some people think it’s only the big hurts that require the act of forgiveness, but the truth is, it’s the little things that you need to forgive quickly and frequently. I’m talking about the irritants that get under your skin but in the big scheme of things, are merely tiny nuisances resulting from the daily friction of two humans cohabitating. Are there socks on the floor or nail clippings in the sink (again)? Did he eat the last of the leftovers you were saving for lunch? Before it sets you off, take a deep breath and forgive. By all means, mention how it makes you feel, but don’t let it get the best of you, escalate into a fight, or hold it over his head. So let it go, let it goooo. Here’s a tip: instead of focusing on the laundry list of why he bugs you, focus only on his BEST – what you love most about him.

Realizing that resentment has a snowball effect. While the dangers of something small growing into something big might sound contrary to the above, my point is actually about communication. Resentment stems from unmet expectations. If there’s something you want badly but aren’t getting – maybe it’s feeling appreciated, accepted or adored – it can leave you unfulfilled. This is where snowballing resentment picks up steam and leads to feeling hurt, drawing negative conclusions and finally, bitterness and lashing out. Before it reaches that stage, try to think about the source of your resentment and if any (unrealistic, perhaps?) expectations contributed to that snowball.

Owning your emotions. You are responsible for your own happiness. Read and re-read those words. It means that how you respond to situations is completely within your control. It’s no one’s job to make you happy and no one has the total power to make you sad or mad – so stop blaming others (ahem, your significant other) for the way you are feeling. Sometimes you’ll be sad just because you’re feeling sad, and sometimes it’s because you’ve read or heard something depressing, you’re worried about work or family or money, you’re stuck in a dark place in your head, or shark week is in its final approach and the despair, anxiety and chocolate cravings are welling up inside. None of that is your partner’s fault. All emotions have value (remember Inside Out?), but they aren’t merely triggered by another person but how we choose to respond to the situation. When you’re tempted to take your anger or frustration out on your significant other, stop and consider its source before you snap at him.

Putting your partner first* in the bedroom (*most of the time). As we get older, our relationships progress, our bodies change and our lives grow more complex. Sex evolves too, and because the stars will rarely align perfectly and spontaneously the way they used to, you have to make your physical relationship a priority. It won’t always be easy to fall into your lover’s arms, especially when he wants to make love and you are nowhere close to being in the mood, but it’s important to shut the world off and let yourself give in sometimes. Even when (especially when) you don’t feel like it. Here’s something that’s always resonated with me: as much as women need to feel loved to have sex, men need sex to feel loved. So on those days it’s difficult to turn off that busy, multitasking mind, get out of your head and instead, focus on your lover and the sensations of your own body. A few minutes of pleasure will do wonders for your relationship and your personal well being the other 23.5 hours of the day.

Not losing the “me” behind the “we”. Always cherish the things that make you special, including your unique interests. It’s great that you and your beloved share so many things in common and love spending time together, but keep personal space for the hobbies, activities and interests that rejuvenate your love for life. Never let anyone tell you that you’re selfish for wanting to take time for yourself. Separate interests make you more interesting individuals. The only caveat I would add is that your hobbies should bring you joy, enhance your life and your relationship. They should not cause a rift, veer into obsession, be an excuse to get away from one another and worst and most painful of all, used to cover up nefarious activity. Keep doing what you love, and it will help you not to lose sight of who you are. You’re worth it.

Finding your way back to your love story. After eight years together, my daughter and future son-in-law already understand relationships have its ups and downs. But there will be deeper ruts later on; times when you stall out and start to question whether you made the right choice or if you’re with the right person. Heck, you might wonder if you even like that person. That’s the time when you need to make a trip into your mental library and check out the Story of How We Met. Re-read its pages as a reminder of why you chose each other in the first place. There is a reason you have worked hard and invested so much to get to where you are today. Good memories will spark more positive things about one another and those little bricks that laid the groundwork for your relationship. Use it as a path to find your way back together and you’ll realize that you don’t fall in love only once, but in fact, you need to fall in love with each other over and over again.

Being vulnerable. My last and maybe most valuable piece of advice comes from what I’ve learned most not in marriage, but divorce and the years that have followed it. True intimacy with your partner comes only by being emotionally vulnerable. No two ways about it, being honest about the way you feel, your fears and your needs is the glue that will hold it all together. On the flip side, shame and secrets are silent saboteurs that close us off from one another and put up the walls that prevent us from closeness.

Looking back, my marriage always lacked true connection, and as a result of missing out on that level of intimacy, I wasted years feeling lonely, inadequate and unfulfilled. You deserve so much better than this. My advice is to work at being vulnerable as a way of connecting with each other. Be brave and put yourself out there first. Start by realizing that inside, we each want to belong and to feel worthy of love and acceptance. If you and your partner can meet somewhere in the middle with the understanding that we all come from the same place, you can create a safe space to open up and let love in.

 

From the Unthinkable to the Unsinkable

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I like to think of myself as a composed individual. When I am stressed, rattled or anxious, I keep it quietly to myself, hoping no one will notice or pay much attention. So it threw me for a loop when my divorce counsellor said: you are exhibiting signs of PTSD.

I was in disbelief. Surely post-traumatic stress disorder was a diagnosis only for soldiers and survivors who had lived through much worse ordeals. That’s when she explained PTSD is a normal reaction to a painful, distressing or shocking event that exists outside of our typical life experiences and beyond our control. When we have been through the unthinkable.

The symptoms, including nightmares, irritability, sleeplessness, fear, dread and being on edge, are disruptive to everyday life. We carry around the trauma with us. The tendency to relive the painful event over and over, a hair trigger reaction to the most innocent, harmless situations, was especially difficult for me to manage. After finding out I’d spent two decades married to someone leading a double life, my broken heart and injured ego had plenty of real and imagined fodder to sort out.

Only 15% of people develop long-lasting PTSD; for the majority of us, the common emotional and physiological reactions to trauma will gradually fade with time.

In her book Option B (which I highly recommend!), Sheryl Sandberg devotes a chapter to bouncing forward after a traumatic event alters the path of our life. In Sheryl’s case, it was the sudden death of her husband; in my case, it was the sudden death of my marriage. The chapter discusses trauma and its two possible outcomes: either we can develop PTSD along with debilitating anger, anxiety or depression – or we can bounce forward, a term the book calls post-traumatic growth.

I learned that post-traumatic growth takes five different forms: finding personal strength, gaining appreciation, forming deeper relationships, discovering more meaning in life, and seeing new possibilities. We may experience one, a few, or all of these as we take the necessary steps to move forward after an unwanted event leaves us grieving and shaken to the core.

Thinking about my own post-divorce journey since 2011, I recognized passing through each of these areas as if driving by signposts. Finding personal strength came from realizing that I could fly on my own after depending on another person for 20 years. I could continue to run my business, hold our family together and still manage to keep a roof over our heads by myself. I learned to not only cope but to keep living life despite the constant, painful reminders of what I’d been through. And every day, things got better and I grew more resilient. As Sheryl puts it, “I had gained strength just by surviving.”

Gaining appreciation is one of the most apparent areas of post-traumatic growth following the rawness of divorce. It is only when you are at your most vulnerable that you realize how strong you are. It is only after you experience pain that you are able to gain empathy for others’ suffering. And it is only through betrayal that you learn the value of loyalty and trust. Many of the friends I’ve met over the past six years have shared these insights as well as this: divorce has made them more compassionate and appreciative of all the good things in their lives. It’s true that there seems to be so much more to be grateful for now. Only when it is dark enough are you able to see the stars.

Divorce brought me closer to my children, my parents and my sister. It deepened our relationships and formed an intimacy we had not experienced up until then. It also was the catalyst for new friendships I formed with people who had been through similar losses; particularly with the divorce support group that I joined. “When people endure the same tragedy, it can fortify the bonds between them. They learn to trust each other, be vulnerable with each other, depend on each other,” Sheryl writes. I felt that from the first meeting I attended, and I don’t doubt that members of other support groups share similar bonds. Adversity drives us to build stronger connections with one another.

The fourth form of post-traumatic growth is finding greater meaning and a stronger sense of purpose. For many people, divorce or death deepens their faith or at least, puts them in touch with their spiritual side. I know that this was the case for me. I am not a religious person, but I believe there is a higher power looking out for me and even if I don’t understand all the reasons bad things have to happen – I am assured knowing that there’s a greater purpose. Having faith in something bigger than you provides a calm steadiness in times when things are out of your control. It gives you hope. And it helps you to remember that eventually, this too shall pass. Little wonder that I found comfort in the mantra: ALL WILL BE WELL. Even if I didn’t know exactly how or when, I had faith that everything was going to work out just fine.

On the nightly news, we see parents who have tragically lost a child become powerful advocates for the rights and protection of children. They turn their grief into action, giving greater meaning to a senseless event. In a way, embracing this opportunity fulfills their child’s legacy of making an impact on the world. The same is said of those who survive natural disasters, mass shootings and plane crashes – they transform something negative into something that brings positivity and awareness so that others do not suffer needlessly. Think of the number of new firefighters, police officers and military recruits that signed up to serve after 9/11. From tragedy, they were able to see new possibilities and answer the call to do something to make a difference. No, we don’t have to buckle under the weight of unthinkable trauma. We can keep swimming, propelling ourselves forward and getting stronger until we are unsinkable.

Having gone through divorce, I now appreciate how this traumatic experience cleared the way for me to imagine new possibilities. It was an opportunity to clean out my emotional closets and drawers, rearrange priorities and rediscover who I am and perhaps was always meant to be. After a trauma, we can’t help but change. As one of Sheryl’s friends confided in her, “It’s like you’ve been through a portal. You can’t go back. You’re going to change – the only question is how.”

So much has changed in me and in my life since D-Day. I certainly never imagined that I’d be writing a blog about what I’d been through, but here I am, turning grief into action. When readers reach out to share their own stories or simply to say something I wrote resonated with them, it still reminds me that even our worst life-changing events can be a change for the better.

 

 

The Ghost Light

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Superstition has long been part of the theatre world. While it’s bad luck for an actor to whistle backstage, it’s good luck to wish them to “break a leg.” And no one dares utter the name “Macbeth” lest they summon a curse on the entire production.

There is yet another supernatural narrative: the ghost light. This lone, bare-bulb lamp is left burning all night in theatres believed to be inhabited by the souls of dead performers, production or building maintenance staff so that the ghosts don’t get mischievous while the theatre is empty. The ghost light’s mythical glow is said to allow spirits to perform onstage in the wee hours, appeasing them and preventing any negative energy from haunting the venue.

This reminds me of the ghosts of the past that haunt us after divorce and what we can do to keep their unwelcome existence at bay.

In the week leading up to my daughter’s recent college graduation, I began having nightly dreams about my ex-husband as a result of feeling anxious about encountering him at the convocation. In some of the dreams, we are still married although something feels “off” about the situation, likely disillusionment simmering just below the surface; in others, I am churning with fury and raw humiliation, openly confrontational about his betrayal and the grief it caused.

While the ghosts of marriage past do not make appearances as often as they once did, they are nevertheless still lurking in my psyche. I found that blogger D.A. Wolf experiences a very similar kind of haunting, as she writes on Divorce Whirlwind:

“The ghost of my ex has reared his (fill-in-the-blank) head once again. Not so much in my conscious daily life, but surprisingly frequently of late – like a shadowy presence trying to steal my happiness – in my dreams,” she writes.

“We delight in scaring ourselves with traditional tales of haunted spaces or, for that matter, haunted hearts. But ghosts in real life – especially when they’re alive – are far less entertaining than a two-hour film or a series of hair-raising stories. Ghosts in real life pop up when we least expect. They frighten us from their shadows. They remind us of harm that was done. To my annoyance, they dare to make their presence felt when I am asleep, and my consciousness puts up fewer barriers to fear.”

One good thing about the bad dreams is that they do not occur as often as they once did, but when they do, I am able to link them to feelings of anxiety or inadequacy in my waking life. It certainly helps to brush them off more quickly.

I don’t think of my ex very much. Our divorce was settled years ago and since our children have reached early adulthood, we have had very little interaction. Personal distance has allowed me to let go of a certain degree of anger and move on. Of course, some things still come up now and then – a memory surfaces or his name is mentioned in passing – but even those moments don’t stab me in the heart the way they used to.

In fact, it didn’t occur to me until three days after it passed that it was just the sixth anniversary of D-Day. The date didn’t loom darkly as it had in previous years, nor did I sink into self-pity on the occasion itself. It simply came and went like any other weekday and I didn’t bat an eye. Yep, I’m pretty proud of myself.

Some subscribe to the idea that only time helps pain to subside, but I think it has to be more purposeful than that. It just might be about what we do to keep our protective ghost light burning. It’s very much within our control to keep our stage lit to chase the apparitions away, and when that light isn’t on, we give whatever creeps in the shadows of our mind permission to haunt.

My ghost light is love. I have a great deal of love flowing through my life, and it powers every aspect of who I am. Whenever possible, I choose to have a positive attitude. I look for the best in people and always try to be kind to others as well as to myself (it’s hard but I’m getting there). Love fuels the pride I have in caring for my family, my home and my business. Love even reminds me to stop now and then to take stock of everything I have to be grateful for – including my divorce.

Yes, I am grateful even for that painful experience because it not only woke me up, it brought new and unexpected gifts into my life. It helped me to discover how resilient and resourceful I am. It brought me greater peace, greater happiness and most importantly, greater love. How can I not be thankful?

The more I focus on all of the good, the stronger I become. I choose to bask in that kind of radiance and keep my ghost light burning day and night, knowing that it is only light that can chase away the darkness.

Find Your Tribe #1: Sharon

I’m excited to introduce a new series called “Find Your Tribe” – a reflection of the amazing people we meet and who resonate with us following divorce. We find a deep connection and sense of acceptance among those who have lived similar emotional experiences as us. By sharing our stories and learning from one another, we are able to heal, grow and be inspired to become better versions of ourselves.

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I’d like you to meet Sharon, who instantly became one of my favorite people the first time I met her. Sharon is a business owner, IT consultant, Integral Master Coach™, brilliant artist and an all-around inspiring, dynamic lady who embodies the words “feisty” and “fierce.” I truly admire her beautiful heart, resilient spirit and the empowering way Sharon chooses to live her life. I think you will too.     

Can you please share a little bit about your situation?

I’m in the process of divorcing my second husband, who is a really nice guy, but who never really challenged me. He is supportive, but what I really need is someone who can inspire and shake me up from time to time. We were two very different people who met when we both needed some company and we really enjoyed each other for several years. Yet, at least for me, it wasn’t very passionate. I mean I loved him and cared about him, but I felt I was living life doing my own thing alongside someone without any of his own friends or interests. For the past five years, I have been telling him, “You really need a hobby,” and he’d say, “You are my hobby.” That put a tremendous amount of pressure on me. Ultimately, we shared some good times, travelling and having fun together, but there never really was a deep emotional connection between us. Or more accurately, for me.

In what ways is your second divorce different from your first?

My first husband and I had a really incredible love affair. Our relationship resulted in the birth of our daughter and we still have a deep connection mainly because of her. The marriage ended because I found out he was having an affair. Two months later, I moved out of the house and soon after, learned his girlfriend was pregnant. I was devastated and heartbroken and suddenly found myself a single mom to a four-year-old. Emotionally, I wasn’t prepared to deal with the end of my first marriage.

This time around, I knew in my heart that things just weren’t right for me, so my decision feels almost peaceful, though I realize and acknowledge the heartache I caused leaving my second husband.

There are people I know who believed I was lucky to live the life I had – and I really was. I still am. But there’s just no “juice” in that relationship for me. To stay with someone another 30 years just to live a comfortable life makes no sense. I also couldn’t live a lie and look my now 26-year-old daughter in the eye. She knows her mom and knows this relationship wasn’t right for me. I want to show her that love relationships need to be healthy and that people need to be true to themselves.

What has divorce taught you about yourself?

I’ve learned a deeper level of kindness, not only for my partners, but for myself. I’ve also learned that some people change while others, even if they know it’s the one thing that will help you stay together, don’t have the capability, capacity or desire to do so. Some people evolve and some get left behind and I no longer feel responsible for driving and sustaining another person’s happiness or social connections.

I’ve realized that I have been deeply loved in my life, but only when I started to connect to self-love did I really “know” what I am all about at the core and what type of partner will feed that.

Where are you at this point in your life?

I think I’m at a place of transition as there’s really a major shift happening. I feel more honest with myself. I feel lighter. I’m also feeling embodied in self-realization: this is who I am and these are the things I want to do. From now on, I can pick what to do with my time and choose who I spend that time with. As I get older, I realize that my sensibilities and the list of things I refuse to compromise on gets shorter but becomes more critical. In the past two and a half months, I’ve had three people in my life pass away. It sounds so cliché, but life really is short, and that’s why I want to wake up every morning and feel that my heart is full. There’s a lot of people and situations you cannot change, but you can choose your attitude and choose how you get through them.

Fill in the blanks: “Divorce has made me less ____ and more _____.”

Divorce has made me less bitchy (laughs) and also less manic, as I reached a point where I was trying to keep myself busy to avoid emotional or physical interaction in my marriage. And I would say that divorce has made me more grounded and certainly, more peaceful.

Do you think you’ll ever get married again?

I’m not in that head space yet. While I’m not putting my energy into finding a new relationship in the immediate future, I am looking forward to building more connections with people, including men, but not necessarily in the romantic sense.

What do you do to lift your spirits when you’re feeling sad or alone?

It’s funny, but I think for the first time, I’m embracing the solitude. Even when I spent time alone before, I always felt this tug of obligation that I should be doing something with my husband instead. This cloud was always hovering. But now when I come home, I feel more relaxed. Don’t get me wrong, solitude has its downsides too, but what keeps me going is the tenderness of the people who really care about me. I honestly did not realize how big and sincere of a fan club I had, and I’m really buoyed and energized by them. It’s almost like they’re holding me up in some way. Even when I’m by myself, I feel them and know they’ve always got my back.

What are you looking forward to in the year ahead?

I’m in the process of opening a new studio with an office for my coaching clients as well as an inspiring art space where I can paint and create and invite my friends to do the same. I’m looking forward to having a warm, welcoming space where people can feel safe and comfortable to express themselves in ways they’re not accustomed to. I have some travel plans in the year ahead, too – a road trip with my daughter as well as some getaways with friends to Florida, New York and Cancun for a yoga retreat.

But I think the thing I’m looking forward to most is the unknown and to the possibility of things. I have no idea what’s around the corner. I’m one of these people who doesn’t fear change or surprises. There really are no guarantees so you have to keep moving forward.

What three pieces of advice would you give to others going through divorce?

One: Make space and time to rest and just “be” in the emotions that you’re experiencing because they’re all valid. You need an opportunity to connect to them and own them.

Two: Relationships are hard; we all do our best every day, but sometimes things still fall apart. Don’t blame yourself. A lot of people fall into the “woe is me” trap, but that doesn’t help anyone. You’ve got to move forward. You’ve got to get up in the morning, wash your face, have a cup of coffee and get on with your day. At the same time, if you need to cry, even in front of your kids, that’s okay too. They will see that you’re human and that life isn’t always easy. There’s an authenticity that comes from being true to yourself and to your feelings.

Three: Lastly, I’d say be kind to yourself. It’s one of the hardest things for us to do, but it’s so important to remember that you are enough and that you are worthy.

A Letter to My Son on his 19th Birthday

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Nineteen years ago, we had a moment together, you and I. There was a gentle hush of pre-dawn silence in the hospital nursery and we slowly glided back and forth in a rocking chair in the corner of the room. I spoke softly as I nursed you, marveling at your sweet, tiny perfection. Your blue eyes widened with a sparkle as you looked up at me, and then suddenly stopped suckling to smile. Hi Mommy.

My heart clenched. Time stood still in that precious moment of soul-to-soul connection – the two of us gazing upon one other with awe, adoration and love. I remember feeling blanketed by this warm, haloed glow of joy, knowing with every fibre of my being that you were an extraordinary gift.

You have celebrated 19 birthdays since that morning, and I can’t help but think back on the journey we have been on together. It has not been easy, not by a long shot, and you and I were given more to handle than I ever dreamed we could manage. But we never had to manage alone; we always had each other to get through it.

We’ve faced our share of challenges from the very beginning, starting when they whisked you away to the neonatal intensive care unit on your birth day. All the medical professionals reassured me you’d be fine, yet the only thing I could comprehend was that I couldn’t hold you. And then, three years later, delving head first into an autism diagnosis. No medical professional would reassure me that you’d be fine, yet the only thing I could comprehend was that I would move heaven and earth to give you everything you needed to thrive and succeed.

That included giving you a home you could feel safe and secure in. I tried my best, I really did. When Dad left, my primary concern was for you and your sister and how we would get through the heartbreak. One day, our family was intact and the next, the only life we’d known was shattered. It was so unfair. In that first year, I did everything to the best of my ability to reassure your stability, but I know that I am not your father. Boys need their dads, and as much as he disappointed you when you needed him the most, I know you looked up to yours. I am sorry I could not protect you from experiencing that kind of confusion and pain. I am sorry that I could not give you the family you deserved.

I’m not sure you fully comprehend what happened that day or understand why your whole world was suddenly turned upside down, and that’s okay. In a way, that may have safeguarded your good-heartedness. Whether or not you know it, your innocence and your resilience in that time gave me strength too.

All you knew was that I was very sad for a time (you still don’t like to see me cry, even if only happy tears) and you gave me extra love, care and protection. You amazed me with your capacity for compassion and for that I am ever grateful. When I was in my darkest place, imagining horrible means of retaliation to express how much hurt your dad caused, it was thinking of you that brought me back from those depths. I would remember the two of us in that nursery rocking chair, your gurgly smile and shining eyes looking up at me, and I immediately knew I couldn’t possibly do anything to myself that would cause you additional pain.

Children are the anchors that hold a mother to life wrote the Greek playwright Sophocles. It’s so true. Being reminded of the special connection that tethers us has saved me and kept me grounded on many occasions. It is a testament to the gift you are.

You may no longer be the curly-haired little boy who wanted to bring a mountain of stuffed animals into my bed to watch cartoons and snuggle, but I love that from time to time, you still choose to go someplace or do something with me. Just the two of us. I cherish these days more than you realize.

I see you growing in confidence and braving newfound independence while remaining the remarkably kind, considerate person you were born to be. You are so helpful, thoughtful and witty, and nothing makes you happier than making others smile. While we will have more challenges ahead, know that I will be by your side to help you get through them.

You have made me laugh and you have made me think, but most of all, you have made me proud and grateful to be your mom. Surely, it’s no coincidence that your birthday and Mother’s Day fall in the same week.

You are simply awesome to me in every way, my bright, beautiful son. I still marvel in awe, adoration and love when I look at you, and you will always fill my heart with joy.

Happy Birthday with Love, 

Mom

Love That Defies Labels

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A couple of years ago, we attended a funeral for a neighbor; a woman with whom, coincidentally, my partner used to work. Several of his co-workers were also in attendance, and although I’d heard about them I hadn’t yet met any in person.

After the service, we were standing in the front vestibule when one of the company managers walked toward us, his hand extended in greeting. “And who’s this?” he asked my partner, expecting our imminent introduction.

Awkward pause. My partner looked like a stunned deer in headlights. “Uh… this is my gal.”

His gal? It sounded as if we were a vaudeville team. Or maybe wagon train sweethearts. “Have you met this little gal? She’s one heck of a rodeo trick rider!”

Yeah, okay, he kicked himself all the way home afterwards, although it wasn’t really his fault. We’d never formally introduced one another by anything but our names and it hadn’t dawned on us to rehearse such an encounter. Of course, we fumbled having to come up with a label for our relationship on the spot. Luckily, it’s a moment we laugh about now.

Being in an unmarried romantic/domestic partnership is still cause for pause and it’s all because of labels. The term “significant other” is a jumbled mouthful and there’s no way I’m introducing the man in my life as my “lover” (ew!). There’s always the fallback to “boyfriend,” although it harkens back to “going around” in junior high or that scene in Sex and the City when Carrie and Big go apartment shopping.

Realtor 1 (to Big): Your wife has quite a sense of humor.

Realtor 2 (in a cool, hushed tone): They’re not married.

Carrie: He’s my boyfriend.

Big: Aren’t I a little old to be introduced as your boyfriend?

Carrie: Point taken. From now, on you’ll be my man-friend.

Big: That sounds like a dog.

Carrie: Well if the shoe fits…

Aside from awkward small talk at funerals, occasions that really drive home a lack of socially-acceptable labels for couples like us is Valentine’s Day and anniversaries. Every department store has an island of greeting cards organized by defining relationship. Each year, I hunt for the perfect Hallmark sentiment to express my love and adoration for the one person who means the world and yet, can’t be compartmentalized into either “boyfriend” or “husband.” Ultimately, I settle on one of those generically sweet “To the Man That I Love” cards. Sigh. Well, we are Facebook official. Close enough.

Since I can remember, I have named everything that is important to me, from stuffed animals to cars I have owned. Even our goldfish have names for crying out loud. Labels mean a lot and I guess that’s why I am stuck on trying to find what we call “us.”

We’re no longer dating and we’re not exactly courting. That may be why I bristle at being called his girlfriend after nearly five years because it sounds like we’re in a casual arrangement and not a committed relationship. It implies that I’m merely a “friend” who’s a “girl,” and also that I’m 14. At our age, that’s illegal.

Over time, we have slipped into using “partner” – acceptable in most social circles and palatable on family occasions, even though we could be mistaken for either briefcase-in-hand business associates or TV cops. It’ll have to do for now. But if anyone out there has any other suggestions for a label we can slap on this thing, let me know. I’ll be out in the corral working on my one-legged saddle stand.

Do You Believe in Three Great Loves?

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This week, The Bachelor’s Nick Viall finally put a ring on it after being rejected twice at the near-proposal stage on national television. This “loser in love” theme plagued Nick throughout the season, as the show’s producers teased he might get jilted a third time. Nope. The Bachelor is engaged.

Like everyone else, I’m skeptical of made-for-TV love, but I do hope the engagement works out for Nick and his intended, Vanessa.

If it is indeed happily ever after, Nick’s storyline fits into the idea that we only fall in love with three people during the course of our lifetime, a theory I recently came across that I found intriguing but also feel a little skeptical about. So I thought I’d bounce it off you.

Of course, I’m a believer in the The Power of Three, so the premise seems reasonable, and yet, there are people in my circle who have been in love only once, while others have been in a much higher number of love relationships (you know who you are). At the same time, the theory seems to be eerily accurate with my own life story, so it is difficult for me to dispute. Anyway, here goes:

The theory states that we only fall in love three times during our lifetime. Each of these great loves happens under different circumstances from the one before – and each one serves a different purpose. Over time, they may continue to influence our lives or make unexpected appearances along the journey.

The First Love: Call it puppy love, but this first love experience occurs while we are quite young, often still in high school. It’s a heart-shaped-cupid’s-arrow-and-butterfly-in-the-tummy kind of love, fulfilling our expectations of what we’ve always imagined love feels like. “This is it! This is what they write love songs about!” we think.

Even if deep down we know it isn’t right, we continue daydreaming about future wedding bells and believe this love is meant to last forever. In reality, we are still in the process of learning about ourselves and how to express our feelings. It’s exciting to be noticed and admired by someone of the opposite sex. This is why the first love focuses more on how others see us versus how we actually feel.

The Second Love: This is the hard love that arrives to teach us major lessons about ourselves and what we need to feel loved. It’s the love we cling to, desperately trying to hold on even though things do not progressing in a healthy or well-balanced manner. Because we want it to last a lifetime, it is marked by the strong need to make things work versus focusing on if the relationship is working (“Hey, everyone goes through their ups and downs, right?”). Not surprisingly, this love brings with it deep emotional pain tied to loss, deceit and lies.

On the upside, the pain we experience is the lesson that leads to our awakening. It is where we realize what we truly need from our next relationship.

Third Love (My favorite!): Although we may not have been looking for it or expecting to fall in love at the time, the third love is a game-changer that alters any previous notion of what we always believed love should be. This is an easy love that makes us wonder how a relationship could be so simple and uncomplicated (“Where have you been all my life?”). There are no expectations and no preconceived notions as we finally find ourselves content in our lives and in our relationship. Everything falls into place. The third love teaches us that we are worthy and deserving of true love – and are free to share our full capacity to love with our partner.

So, that’s it. I’m interested to find out what you think. Do you believe in the Theory of Three Great Loves? Of course, not everyone will experience only three loves and some will have many more or many less, but it is interesting to compare these descriptions with the love relationships that have shaped who you are today.

Even if the theory proves to be as phony as a three-dollar bill, it cannot be disputed that each type of love we experience is designed to teach us something and leads us to fine-tune our ability to seek out and recognize the next level of love meant for us.

What’s a Name Got to Do With It?

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His dress shirts are gone. His golf clubs are history. Any remnants of my ex have long been removed and yet, there is one thing I can’t seem to get rid of: his name.

I’ve never been particularly fond of my married name. It’s only a short word and yet, most people find it impossible to pronounce correctly. Nearly everyone who reads it asks from what nationality it is derived as if they’ve never come across such a curious arrangement of letters before. And because it’s so uncommon, I’ve been asked twice by new acquaintances if I happen to know so-and-so. And then I have to explain that, yes, I do. I used to be married to him.

Add to that a layer of embarrassment of having the same name as the person you divorced under humiliating circumstances. When we got married 26 years ago, I was thrilled to take his name and to pass it on to our children when we started a family. But immediately after our separation, all I wanted was to distance myself from it and from him as fast and as far as possible. How was I ever going to get a fresh start when I was reminded of this colossal failure every time I signed a check?

Of course, I’ve thought long and hard about going back to my pre-marital name, but the problem is, my married name has been associated with me for more years than not. I graduated college and started working only a year before I got hitched – so nearly every person I have ever met professionally over the past quarter century knows me only by this name. Changing it now could be career suicide.

My kids and I share the same last name. Keeping this consistency seems to mean the most to my son, who once flopped on the floor in tears worrying that he too would have to change his last name if I remarried the person I was dating at the time. I didn’t.

To complicate matters, my name is inextricably linked to my business. Twelve years ago, I was advised that using my unique name would ensure that my company would not get confused with  others. Today, my brand is well established; if I change it, I risk losing clients – not to mention that my business name will no longer makes sense.

Like a legal tattoo, it’s the name that appears on my driver’s license, mortgage and passport. It’s the only name that banking institutions, utility companies, health services and all levels of government identify me by. It would be a huge tangle of red tape to change it this point; I already went through enough hassle convincing the cable company to extract my ex and print my name alone on the monthly bill.

So, thinking that since I’m stuck with it, I figured I might as well try to relate to this name in a new way.

I did some research and found a whole list of incredible women who chose to keep their married names after divorce (and often plural remarriages) and went on to accomplish some pretty fabulous things after they were no longer Mrs. So-and-So.

  • Tina Turner (divorced Ike Turner in 1978; remarried in 2013)
  • Susan Sarandon (divorced Chris Sarandon in 1979)
  • Demi Moore (divorced Freddy Moore in 1985; remarried twice)
  • Suzanne Somers (divorced Bruce Somers in 1968; remarried to Alan Hamel since 1977)
  • Pat Benatar (divorced Dennis Benatar; remarried to Neil Giraldo since 1982)
  • Ivana Trump (divorced The Donald in 1992; remarried twice)
  • Joy Behar (divorced Joe Behar in 1981; remarried in 2011)
  • Raquel Welch (divorced James Welch in 1964; remarried three times)
  • Camille Grammer (divorced Kelsey Grammer in 2011)
  • Faith Hill (divorced Daniel Hill in 1994; remarried to Tim McGraw since 1996)
  • Joni Mitchell (divorced Chuck Mitchell in 1967; remarried in 1982)

A few names on the list really jumped out at me, especially the tough mamas who went through famously contentious divorces. Tina Turner, for instance. Drug abuse, bloody fights and financial disputes plagued her 18-year relationship with Ike and in the end, she parted ways with him with little more than her name. It was the name she had built a career and staked her reputation on. After all she’d been through, Tina kept her married name knowing it belonged to no one else but her. There is only one Tina Turner.

And there is only one me. While it can’t open doors with its star power, the name I have (like it or not) is the one I am known by. It no longer means I am someone’s wife, but it does reflect the identity of a remarkable woman. A survivor of hardship and heartbreak. A professional with a strong worth ethic and keen sense of integrity. A mother who is joyful and generous with her love. A human being who always tries her best to be kind.

Like Tina and Susan and Demi and the rest, I intend to continue doing great things with my life after divorce too. And like them, I know my name does not give me value; I choose to add value to my name.

Other People’s Husbands

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Image from “Barbie Wedding” by TheKristenGabs

“I finally married my own husband,” said thrice-wed Maya Angelou in 1975. “My mother has a theory that most people marry other people’s husbands. But I finally have my own.”

What did she mean by “other people’s husbands?” Are 50 percent of marriages doomed to fail before they even start? Are these unions meant to be nothing more than temporary arrangements because the person vowing “til death do us part” is merely borrowed until the real thing comes along?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the idea of marrying “other people’s husbands” could either be an admonishment or a message of acceptance.

On one hand, it could mean that I should’ve recognized inconsistency or incompatibility before getting married (shame on me); that perhaps we rushed into things out of immaturity, foolish love and blind optimism. On the other, it could signal that I must let go of what was never rightfully mine to keep in the first place. Maybe it’s a little of both. Maybe…

Falling in love does not equal finding the right person. (Wow. That’s huge.)

I believe that regret is a waste of time. There’s no point spending valuable energy dwelling on what could’ve happened if I’d only zigged instead of zagged. I also believe that some people come into your life as blessings and others come into your life as lessons. If I reflect on my divorce with this in mind, it helps to put more distance between me and negative feelings of bitterness-slash-resentment.

And by accepting that my ex and I were never meant to last, it helps release the pain of saying goodbye to the dream of how I thought my life would play out. No, I am not getting what I thought was in store for me or even what I may have believed I deserved.

When I go one step further and put him into a nameless, faceless category of “other people’s husbands,” it doesn’t dismiss what he did, but it does take power away from my own victim narrative of “my husband/wife cheated on me” or “my husband/wife left me.” The truth is, if he never truly belonged to me, I must stop leaning on the crutch of having been robbed of something. And by removing the possessive, I can start working on not taking divorce personally. Girl, he just wasn’t meant for you.

Maya Angelou had her share of hurt. Before she married her third husband, she’d had two previous marriages that ended so badly she refused to publicly discuss her first two husbands in interviews. And yet, she knew that a broken heart made you into the person you were meant to be and that it was important to move forward with that heart wide open, trusting that life had something better in mind.

That was the attitude I chose to take when I started dating again after my divorce. It took some time, but eventually, it led me to finding my partner. The first time we met, there was a connection, a familiarity, a realization that our lives were meant to intersect. I can’t explain it other than to say my heart knew that this was the tender, generous, good-humored love I was always meant to have.

So you’re the one I’ve been looking for.

Early in our relationship, I found myself lamenting how unfair it was that we’d met in our 40s and not our 20s. He gently reminded me that had the opportunity presented itself, we wouldn’t have been ready for it. We would not have been able to recognize what we see and appreciate in one another now. We would’ve been the right people at the wrong time.

Instead, we needed to go through our own ups and downs and learn from our relationships with others to really understand ourselves and what we were looking for. The twists and turns of my past, including marrying someone else’s husband, has brought me exactly to the person and to the place where I was always meant to be.  I finally have my own.

In all the world, there is no heart for me like yours. 

In all the world, there is no love for you like mine.  

(Maya Angelou)