I’m just about to hit the one-year mark of leaving New Hampshire to embark on this Portland experiment. It’s been a year of non-stop stretching, transformation, growth, discomfort. A year of both agony and elation even more than most years. I’ve shared really openly about the challenges of this year — which you know very well if we’re friends on Facebook.
There’s one more story that I want to share, though, before I close this chapter and begin my second year here.
I left a year ago because I wasn’t happy in my marriage, and I’ve spent this year exploring what that meant.
To be more accurate, I wasn’t happy with my life as a whole, and that oozed over into being unhappy with my marriage — but I had no way of knowing that at the time. That was the point, actually: I needed some space (apparently 3,000 miles) to figure out where my unhappiness came from, and where it ended.
The truth is, lot of it was me. A lot of it was boredom and stagnation. A lot of it was (is!) my own inability to accept love as an imperfect person. Some of it, though, was a disconnect between my husband and I, and what we wanted, and where our lives were headed.
It was, of course, a really uncomfortable place to spend the better part of a year. I’m a chronic over-sharer (I love that about me!) but the potential end of your relationship isn’t something you navigate publicly.
The issues were almost entirely mine. I struggled quietly for awhile, only sharing my surface-level concerns with him occasionally. Eventually, though, I realized that I was struggling alone with what should have been a shared issue. (This was before I read Conscious Uncoupling, but it’s a concept Katherine Woodward Thomas talks about in her book, which I highly recommend.)
So, one ordinary Tuesday — via text message, of all things — I admitted to him that I was close to asking for a divorce, and I asked him to help me deal with that.
I expected him to hate me. I know that I would have been angry and defensive and hurt. Instead, he said, “Let’s work on this. We are not finished yet.”
I got really honest with him. Over the course of that week, we spent about twenty hours on video chat. Talking. Crying. I felt really hopeless. I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t cut out for long-term commitment. I thought it was too late to fix things.
Then, one night he said off-handedly, “I’ll still visit you in Portland. You’ll still be my best friend.”
In that moment, all of the guilt and resistance and sadness and fear that I’d been carrying crumbled around me. There he was, basically being slapped in the face with all of my failures as a person and a partner, saying that he’d love me even if I left him.
That changed everything. I remembered that we were on the same team, and what that meant. I decided that, if he could love me as I left him, it wasn’t so crazy for me to ask him to love me while I struggled with being a restless and imperfect partner. We could do the work. He was right — we weren’t finished yet.
For us, it wasn’t just that we were capable of conscious uncoupling — it was that we were capable of getting through this tough stuff. We could hold hands and intentionally tromp through the muck together.
Even though it was my muck. Even though it sucked that I had to ask that of him.
I imagine it’s close to impossible to be in that situation without feeling guilt and shame, but I worked really hard at reframing that. I remembered a slightly-older-but-much-wiser friend telling me in my twenties that she started every day asking herself if the life she had with her partner was worth the effort, and that every morning so far, it had been. I was startled by that at the time, but I understand now.
Being committed (to our partners, to ourselves, to our businesses and jobs and families) isn’t a choice we make once. We want to believe it is. We want that day — the white dress photo opp party day — to be the day. But it isn’t. It’s not the first day we make that commitment and it’s certainly not the last.
There’s power in that — in choosing to do the work, even when it’s messy and hard. In acknowledging that it will be imperfect far more often than it’s easy. In recognizing that there is always more to be done — there’s always some amount of rounding up.
I’m telling you this because I didn’t read a lot of these stories last year. I read a lot of happily-ever-after stories, written by a variety of people in a variety of life stages. I love to love the happy Instagram families with beautiful cookware who seem like they must never have an argument resulting in one person sleeping on the couch (let alone moving across the country).
The happy divorce stories were plentiful, too. The “I ended my marriage and I’m free and I’ve found myself and thank god I had the courage to leave” stories. And those are good, important stories.
But neither is my story.
This is my story. I found myself by being unhappy in my marriage and honest about that.
Maybe you’ve never loved someone so much that you felt trapped by that love. Maybe you’ve never looked at your partner and thought, “You fucking astound me, but you also make me want to run away to the woods forever, and I don’t know if I can do this for another day or month or year.”
But I have.
I find it easier to be alone, but so, so much more fulfilling to be in partnership.
So, every day, I begin with a good, hard look, and I think:
No. We are not finished yet.
I’m grateful for that, and for the ability to apply it to all of the other areas of my life, and adjust accordingly.
Discontentedness is a message, and I urge you to listen.
(But I also urge you to do the work.)
PS. The title of this post comes from the song of the same name by The Mountain Goats.