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.

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.