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)

Things Will Be Different Next Time

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Harry: You ever miss being married? I bet you were great at it.

Erica: Sometimes. At night. But not that much anymore.

That’s a scene from the lovable Something’s Gotta Give. If you’ve never seen the movie, put down your phone or step away from the computer and do yourself a favor: go watch it. Right. Now. If you’ve already seen it, then you know that the question Harry poses to Erica is one that nearly all divorced people ponder at one time or another: you ever miss being married?

Yes, I do miss it. And yes, I thought I was pretty great at it.

First of all, let me make it perfectly clear that I do not miss being married to my ex. Secondly, I am in a loving and fulfilling relationship with my partner. Living together as a “we” certainly satisfies the things I craved when it was just “me.” We truly enjoy one another, even if we’re doing yard work or pushing a cart through the supermarket, and it’s wonderful to have someone who just gets when you need a hand, a hug or a back scratch. Life is good and I am grateful for every moment.

But we are not married.

One day, God willing, we will be and I get excited just thinking about calling this man my husband. Although we are monogamous and have merged our lives, I’m looking forward to the day we will make our commitment permanent. So how can I be sure that my second marriage will be any different than the first? A lot of it has to do with how much I’ve changed and learned and grown.

I’m older and wiser.

Humorist Helen Rowland once quipped, “A bride at her second marriage doesn’t wear a veil because she wants to see what she’s getting.” Ain’t that the truth! Remarriage is not a decision to be taken lightly, especially considering that I already took a huge leap of faith once and fell flat. But back then, I was young and foolish – I barely knew who I was, let alone who I was marrying. I am now 26 years older and I’ve been through that stage. The next time I make vows, I know it will be in the voice of the person I am, not the person I want to become someday.

I realize that romance doesn’t come automatically.

Here’s a major difference between my love partner and my ex-husband. In the wake of the divorce, my parents helped to redecorate my house to celebrate my new life. Part of that included stringing beautiful blue twinkle lights around the outside deck and pergola. When my ex spotted them, he immediately questioned why the “silly” lights were there since it wasn’t Christmas (that was the last time he stepped foot in my house, btw). Yet, when my partner saw them, he loved how romantic they looked and to this day, we switch them on nearly every evening to bask in their glow.

Like roses, romance will die unless you tend to it regularly. I thank my lucky stars that my partner is a romantic like me because not only does he put in the effort, he recognizes when I do the same. No, every day is not Valentine’s Day around here, but we do make a point of doing tender things for one another: text messages, date nights, holding hands, taking turns bringing coffee to bed and looking forward to just being together at the end of the day. We work at keeping a spark because we know how cold life can be without it.

I can recognize and respond to my emotional triggers.

We all have baggage that we bring to relationships. The late, great Nora Ephron, bless her heart, had a brilliant perspective on it. “One good thing I’d like to say about divorce,” she wrote, “is that it sometimes makes it possible for you to be a much better wife to your next husband because you have a place for your anger; it’s not directed at the person you are currently with.”

I am the first to admit that there are times I let residual issues affect me emotionally. Early in my current relationship, I put our future in serious jeopardy by aiming my ire and insecurities at the wrong person. Since then I have learned to identify my negative triggers and know when it’s time to grab them by the horns and drop kick them to the curb. They don’t have a place here and certainly aren’t a genuine reflection of how I feel about my partner or even how I feel about myself.

I view time as a precious commodity.

This summer, my partner and I joined his family in celebrating his aunt and uncle’s 50th anniversary. It was a joyous occasion in every regard but one: I realized that he and I will never reach the same milestone. When you get married at 20 as I did, your whole life is ahead of you. You walk down the aisle into this big, blissful unknown with much to look forward to. While there are no guarantees in life, for most young newlyweds, ‘til death do us part is still a long way away.

When you find love later in life, things are different. You both come into it with the realization that it’s important to cherish the number of years you get together, whether it’s three or thirty. That eliminates the carelessness that comes from taking time for granted.

I’m in a much better place.

Without a doubt, this is my most deep, meaningful and honest relationship. Know what else is great? After 40, life looks and feels different; there is a new mindfulness and maturity present. We both know we’ve grown into the people we want to be and know we have chosen the mate we want to enjoy life alongside. With that comes mutual respect, along with acceptance, appreciation, affection and kindness. We both feel blessed. I’ve never been so sure that a high-level marriage isn’t about a gold band or a piece of paper, it’s in the way you treat each other every day. We’ve already got a head start.

In the year after my divorce, I was sure I’d never want to get married again. Like Erica in Something’s Gotta Give, there wasn’t much about it that I missed and I enjoyed most things about my new life as an independent, single woman. Much of that bravado was likely my ego talking, a defense mechanism to protect myself from getting hurt again.

Soon after I met my partner, I knew I had been wrong. Like Harry says in When Harry Met Sally, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.” medium_p1010240

While divorce may break you, it also makes you stronger in the places that were broken. That includes your heart and your capacity to give someone your all.

Having been married before, I’m certain that I want to do it again. I know that I deserve real love, lasting happiness, and another chance to get things right.

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.

My Ex is Getting Remarried. Yippee.

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I would have celebrated my 25th wedding anniversary this week. Instead, my ex-husband is getting married to one of several women he had affairs with during the years we were together.

As much as I have been trying to grin and bear it in preparation of this moment, the truth is, it sucks. I guess you never really know how you’re going to weather the storm until you’re in the midst of it.

To be totally honest with you friends, I’m dealing with a little angst this week. Okay, so maybe it’s more of an Alanis-sized “you told me you’d hold me ‘til you died, ‘til you died, but you’re still alive!” kind of angst, but it suits the occasion. This wedding has been a jagged little pill to swallow.

It’s unfair that infidelity gets a big party. Putting a ring on it does not pardon unacceptable behavior (“See? It really was true love after all.”). Marriage is something that I honor and value as sacred, so yeah, it  aggravates me to see a serial cheater who blatantly disregards the meaning of commitment be celebrated for making more empty promises. Unless he has miraculously undergone a scruples transplant recently, he is the same phony I discovered when our marriage finally buckled under the weight of his deception.

That being said, when it comes to my ex, most days I am contentedly floating in a state of “meh.” It’s not quite forgiveness, but basically an acceptance of yes, this happened to me; yes, I now see him for who he really is; and now I’m going to put the focus back on me, my healing and my new life. It means I don’t think of him much.

Yet, when something this momentous happens, it’s hard not to feel like your emotional Band-Aids are being scraped off with a cheese grater, opening up old wounds and causing anger and resentment to ooze out. It’s hard not to hurt or to feel self-pity.

So I’m making a “vow” of another kind, right here and right now. Whatever comes at me this week, my job is to accept what I am feeling, then let it go. I know that when I am down, the best thing I can do is to refocus. Refocus. Refocus. Refocus. So this week, I am going to try to take a deep breath, surrender my angst and put energy into finding gratitude.

I am grateful for perspective. After all, their wedding has nothing to do with me. I must remember that these people are in my past and have zero impact on my future. I have my own hopes and dreams to look forward to. I am responsible for creating my own happiness and I am successful at doing that.

I am grateful for having moved on. I am completely in love with my partner and our life together. In fact, he and I are taking a well-deserved beach vacation this week in a place that makes us feel wonderfully relaxed. He knows just what I need.

I am grateful that my kids’ circle of love has expanded to include new people in their lives who adore and appreciate them the way their biological parents do. And yes, I am grateful that my kids are able to see their parents happy.

I am also grateful for having been able to connect with others who have experienced (and survived) hard things like this before me and have words of wisdom to pass along so that I, too, can find acceptance. One example is this blog excerpt from First Wives World titled “How Will You Feel When Your Ex-Husband Remarries”:

It has taken years to re-establish my life with confidence and courage, on a journey to find and accept and love myself, for all my strengths and weaknesses.

I can honestly now wish my ex-husband’s “new marriage” well. Good luck to both of them! I hope they find their way! But I can do that now because I became proactive and took the time to truly learn and understand why and how relationships happen at all. It’s because of that understanding that I started to see the BIGGER PICTURE. From there, I began a true spiritual journey for myself. I gained clarity and insight into human nature. It also became a task about learning to see others in a new light. I began respecting people in a whole new way.

I am not the same person I was while I was married to my ex-husband. I have personally grown and matured, and if the ex and I met today, I probably wouldn’t like nor be attracted to him. He’s no longer my “type.” My personal interests and goals have changed. I am different. I enjoy my freedom and love all the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for myself.

I can’t say I’d be happy for the newlyweds, as I don’t believe they are happy with themselves as individuals. They are starting off a partnership together that is built upon a desperate and weak foundation. I’ve gained wisdom here – that guy was stealing my light. I am equally grateful for the lessons I learned while being married, as I am for the lesson I learned through divorce. I’ve gained far more than I’ve lost.

Actually, upon hearing the news about “their” wedding day, I know I will feel peaceful and almost relieved as that will finally “close the door” on that chapter of my life. I expect a few tears, based upon sentimentality and the sadness for what “should have been” a good marriage for me. I was a willing and able wife. But the reality is, the man I chose CHOSE not to be a committed and faithful man. That said, maybe just maybe, there won’t be any tears. Maybe I will actually enjoy the moment when I remind myself of just how free I am and how strong I am!

This week marks a big milestone. It is a relief to know that it will come and go and then I will never have to pass this way again. I am already looking forward to the kids returning home next week so that life can get back to normal and I can resume my state of meh.