Love Without End, Amen

Dad and Me

When my sister and I each got married, in 1991 and 1994 respectively, our dad chose the same song for our Father-Daughter dances: George Strait’s “Love Without End, Amen.” It’s a song that he would often sing to us and it perfectly conveyed the bond that we shared with him.

Let me tell you a secret about a father’s love

A secret that my daddy said was just between us

He said, “Daddies don’t just love their children every now and then

It’s a love without end, amen.”

A few days before I got married, I remember Dad standing in front of our living room window, silently staring out at the yard. I stopped in my tracks, seeing him deep in thought, and something told me to take a picture of that moment in my mind. It hit me hard that this would be one of the last times that we would be together in a room like this, just a daddy and his little girl. He turned to look at me and I saw something in his eyes that made me realize he was feeling the same thing. I went to him, put my arms around him and sobbed into his shoulder for a very long time. I missed him so much already.

My dad died this month. It was sudden and unexpected and the loss is so deep and cavernous that it’s difficult to believe we will ever reach the bottom of it. The days since he passed, as my sister so eloquently puts it, have been filled with heartbreaking lows and breathtaking highs. There are many signs that he is close by, comforting us and still walking beside us in a very real way.

In our grief, the love of our close-knit family has been a continual source of strength. When we are all together, we feel Dad with us and it’s impossible not to remember that he was the one who first taught us love and is still teaching us about love from the Other Side. Only in this case, it is a lesson we aren’t quite ready to be taught – how love grows stronger even when one of us is physically absent from our day to day lives.

My mom recently found a letter I’d written to Dad in 1994. I guess he’d been saving it all these years. Part of it reads:

 “I can’t imagine what our family would have been like without you. Our home certainly wouldn’t have been filled with as much laughter and love without such a special man at the centre of it all.

I (have) a difficult time listening to women talking about their fathers in the past tense. I, too, can hardly imagine surviving without knowing you are so nearby. Even now, when we have to go our separate ways, like when I had to catch a bus to return to work after we met for lunch, I still feel a sense of loss. I guess that’s why I felt the need to call you later that same afternoon.

I wish, sometimes, that I would have stayed little forever and we could spend all the time together that we wanted to.”

It’s impossible to sum up what a wonderful father and grandfather we had in Dad. As my sister so aptly says, “We really won the parent lottery with Mom and Dad.” Dad was our hero, our mentor, our compass and our biggest fan. And, just when we thought the love he gave so freely couldn’t get much bigger or better, his enormous capacity to love grew exponentially when he became a grandpa.

So many memories and stories have flooded into and through us this month that it’s difficult to mention only one without adding in at least four or five more. Yet the one that has come up most frequently is a real example of the man our dad was.

After retiring from full-time work, Dad landed his dream job volunteering as a high school football coach. He loved to encourage young talent and nurture the love of the game in others. Every year at training camp, when he was given a group of offensive line or defensive line recruits to work with, he would ask them, “What’s my job?”

Naturally, they’d answer: “coach us” or “teach us how to play football” or “develop plays for us.”

But inevitably, he’d say: “No. My job is to love you. And do you know what your job is?”

Realizing how off-base they were with their initial responses, most players would keep quiet at this point.

“Your job is to love one another and to love yourself,” he’d tell them.

Love was the first thing he taught these young men and it was the main rule he insisted that they live and play by. Now imagine what it was like having this remarkable man as your father and you get an idea of the legacy of love he has left our family.

I miss you so much, Dad, but I love you even more. I am so grateful to have been born into a family that always told one another how much we loved and were loved in return.  Whenever I feel my heart starting to ache with sadness, you still put your arms around me and I am instantly surrounded by your love. And you remind me in your own way that it’s a love without end, amen.

Advice from a Divorcee to a New Bride

cq5dam.resized.HIGH.1.0

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.

 

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.

Sharon 1

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

IMG_4417

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

greeting-cards-3

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?

Nevena Uzurov - Three Roses 8433150319_1cc2b1d4c5_c

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.

Happily Ever After Marriage: Q&A with Author Sarah Hampson (Part 2)

Credit: The Globe and Mail (Photographer: John Ortner)

“Earlier in my post-divorce life, I thought marriage would never happen again for me. Having exited a painful one, I had no desire to enter another. Why would anyone want to repeat a difficult experience? I felt that my heart would never be as trusting as it once was. I had lost my faith in marriage. I wasn’t sure it was the best custodian of love. And I still feared how the wife identity could sabotage me. I was content to sit to the side and let others have their turn at giving the institution a whirl.”   – Sarah Hampson

In the first part of my interview with award-winning columnist and author Sarah Hampson, we chatted about the origins of her Generation Ex divorce column in The Globe and Mail and how she openly shared her personal experiences to write Happily Ever After Marriage: A Reinvention in Mid-Life.

The book’s final chapter ends with Sarah peering wistfully out an airplane window, pondering romantic love while thinking of those she has both loved and has yet to love. It’s a poignant moment, given the emotional journey she takes her readers on, but without a postscript, it does leave one wondering if she found love again.

As it turns out, about a month before the release of her book, Sarah met British-born, Toronto-based artist, designer and photographer Mark Raynes Roberts. But I’ll let her tell the rest of the story.

What events led up to meeting Mark?

I was in the final throes of writing the book in the early part of 2010. I’d revamped my career to become more financially secure and stable, going from freelance to being on staff at The Globe and Mail. And by then I had been on my own for almost nine years, with a couple of relationships and a few dating skirmishes here and there. But I’d been pretty much celibate for four years and was at the point that I wondered if I’d ever have sex again, let alone meet anyone and fall in love.

A very good friend of mine said, “I’ve been collaborating on a project with this British artist and I think you might enjoy meeting him.” I said, well okay, but not right now because I’m too busy with the book.

Weeks later, I was throwing a dinner party for someone I knew who was retiring and as I was putting together the guest list, realized that I needed to add single men. So my friend said, “Come on, just invite Mark. It’ll be fun. No obligation, just meet him.” So I said fine, fine, fine and I invited him to come.

What do you remember about your first meeting?

When Mark arrived at the door, this little voice in my head said, “Pay attention. He’s interesting.” And he was interesting, and also a very thoughtful, lovely human being. We had a few moments to chat, but because I was hosting and looking after guests, we didn’t get much chance for conversation. At one point during the party, my friends followed me into the kitchen and joked “Gee, do you want us all to leave?” They were so funny, the way they were giggling, but they could see the attraction was there.

The next day, Mark phoned to thank me and invited me to his place for dinner. I had to go out of town on business that week, but we made a date for the following weekend. Just before I left to go to his house, I took a look in the mirror and that little voice in my head said, “Your life is going to change.”

What made Mark different from the other men you’d dated?

I responded very much to his gentle humanity and I think I was just struck by his goodness. Previously, I had been hurt by the feeling that I’d given my life over to someone who didn’t treasure it enough to want to do the fair emotional thing with me. So I know I could never have married again if I couldn’t on some very deep level trust his goodness.

Mark and I got married almost two years after we met and we’re coming up to our fifth wedding anniversary in December. When we decided to get married, I said to my father, “If I think too much about it, I can think of a million reasons why I don’t feel ready to do this, but if I listen to my heart, this is the right thing to do.” And my father simply said, “Now is the time to follow your heart.”

Why did you decide to get married again and not just “shack up?”

I suppose it’s because we both believe in marriage. We wanted the institution of marriage because we both respect it and had been disappointed by it. I think part of it, too, was that I wanted it for my sons. I’m not saying I got married for the sake of my children, but I do think that I wanted to demonstrate to them that it’s not that I don’t believe in marriage, but sometimes you get married to the wrong person. And you can survive that. I think I wanted to prove that to myself too.

I remember telling myself that I didn’t want to get to the end of my life and not know what it’s really liked to be loved in a marriage. Of course, I was loved by my family growing up and I know that my children love me, but I remember envying people who had marriages with a calmness and a serenity about being together, of understanding each other really well. I remember feeling that I didn’t not want to know what that was like.

How is marriage different this time around?

Sometimes I say to Mark that one of the ways I know our marriage is so good is that there’s no double-think. I never have to analyze “Why is he saying that? Where’s he going? Why did he do that?” My first marriage was often like that and privately, I’d think there must have been something wrong with me. Double-think knocks you off your centre; it’s is like being in the middle of a knot trying to untangle the threads of it and never reaching the end. That’s one of the things that makes a marriage work; you just trust that the other person will do the right thing.

It’s not as though we don’t have little worries now and then, but I can say that after five years of marriage to Mark, I have never been happier. And it’s a calm, domestic happiness. Part of it may be the stage of life we are in. Being in our fifties, we have a different perspective of what we look for in a partner and how we define what makes us happy.

Do you have any dating advice to offer the newly-divorced?

One of the things that helped me most was being more self-aware. At times I felt as if I needed somebody else to anchor my life to make it better when what I actually needed was to take the time make things better for myself first.

After my divorce, I had an on-off relationship for 18 months that wasn’t so great. Looking back now, I can see that he was totally the wrong person for me, but at the time, part of me felt like I needed to be with someone in order to feel more secure. I remember thinking that I needed to take a step back from a relationship and start fixing what was not quite right in my own life. For me, that meant going from freelance to a salaried on-staff job that provided more financial security and helped me to rebuild. Once I did that, I felt more at ease with the whole dating thing.

Now that you have remarried, can we expect a sequel to Happily Ever After Married?

I don’t think there will be a follow-up, but you never know. There was a period in my life when writing the column and the book felt like it could be helpful to others and I didn’t mind using my personal experiences as a leaping-off point because the details were generic enough to resonate with a larger audience. It was about me and yet, it wasn’t about me, so that gave me the freedom to write about it. It’s funny, but now I have a sense of privacy and protectiveness about the happiness I’ve found. I’m not sure I want to mine my own experience again for a book, but as I said, you just never know.

Grow Old With Me

FullSizeRender

My partner and I love to fantasize about what the next chapter in our life will be like.

It’s become a favourite pastime to dream about our idyllic retirement in a lakeside cottage. We have it all planned out: sipping morning coffee out on the sundeck, taking our future dogs (a Golden Retriever we’ve named Charlie and his brother Max, a German Shepherd) for games of fetch-the-stick at the shore, enjoying hammock naps listening to the waves roll in. When the grandkids come to visit, we will do arts and crafts, explore the beach for treasures and spoil them with ice cream before dinner.

For the first time in my life, I can clearly picture myself and my partner in our twilight years. Whether it was merely a factor of youth or a symptom of a more deep-seated issue, it was never an image I was able to conjure with my ex. Despite having known him for more years than I didn’t know him, I’d never been able to see our future together.

It was one of the first things that flooded into my mind amidst a swirling vortex of questions and emotions the day he left. As I watched him pack his bags, I thought to myself how strange it was that I’d never pictured us growing old together. All along, that’s because we wouldn’t.

************

IM_A0002 (3)

This is a photo of my mom and dad in their courtship. In October, they will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary. Even in the third act of their marriage, they are a beautiful example of the relationship I’ve always wanted to have.

They are partners and friends who genuinely like one another. They have grown together and know each other’s rhythms and moods intimately. While some of their interests intersect, they also have their own independent pursuits and give each other the space and support to enjoy them. As the John Lennon song goes, they are two branches of one tree. There is respect, there is trust, there is appreciation, and there is still playfulness and affection. Most of all, there is a deep love that leaves no doubt that they are soulmates. This is how “grow old with me” should be, I think.

Growing up, my parents’ relationship was one to aspire to, but tough to live up to. Don’t get me wrong, no one put any expectations on me other than the burden I placed upon myself by yearning for the kind of love they shared. I foolishly thought that if you invested yourself in your marriage, the reward would be the love of a mate who would be by your side for better, for worse, for richer, for poor, in sickness and in health. Someone to grow old with until we both simply fell asleep and slipped away in a Notebook-like ending.

Did a wonderful childhood in a happy home with two loving parents become a liability as an adult? That sounds preposterous to even consider, but I do admit to sometimes wondering if being the product of a good marriage meant I went into my own with rose-coloured glasses.

My parents’ relationship is by no means perfect, but it did define marriage in my eyes. Maybe that lead me to assume that my marriage would simply follow their example. As our 5th wedding anniversary passed, followed by our 10th and then our 15th, I thought, hey, maybe we had the hang of this marriage thing after all. We were making it work like Mom and Dad did.

But when it all came to a crashing halt just shy of the 20-year benchmark, I was deeply disappointed that I fell short of the marital standard Mom and Dad had set. They had given me the blueprints to follow and I still couldn’t replicate what they had built.

Thankfully, another thing about being the product of a good marriage is that it gives you an unshakable foundation of love. Although I had to take time to heal my heart after the marriage ended, I never grew disillusioned about my capacity to love and to be loved – and that is a direct result of my parents’ influence. Whether they beat the odds or just got lucky, the fact is, it’s because of their enduring marriage that I never stopped believing in love and never lost hope that it was not too late to live happily ever after.

************

My partner and I found love in mid-life. Our love narrative is our own yet, it is reminiscent of what I have witnessed in my parents’ marriage. There is mutual respect and kindness, genuine interest and support for one another and a soulful connection that includes playful and lighthearted aspects of intimacy.

One of the joys of our relationship, I think, is a deeper appreciation for what we have at this stage in our lives. It’s a reality that there are more grey hairs and wrinkles, not to mention aches and ailments, and that making a commitment to love and cherish one another until death is a lot closer to fulfillment in our late 40s than it would have been in our 20s.

My partner’s love is like a serendipitous affirmation that hey, bad things happen in life but that’s only to prepare you for something much better. It’s helped me to move on from my first marriage by accepting that it was never meant to be more than what it was.

When something in your life is this good, you can’t help but be excited for what comes next. It’s no wonder I like to dream about growing old with this man. When I look at him, I can imagine our future and know the best is yet to be.