That’s probably not a very popular thing to say…maybe don’t show this to my ex-husband, ok? Actually, on second thought, I think he would probably agree.
I met my ex-husband when I was 23. I was a late bloomer in terms of relationships, and I had only been in a couple before him – none of which I would call serious. I had never spent much time thinking about what I wanted my relationships to look like. I took it for granted that my marriage would look pretty much like what my parents’ looked like. I didn’t really know there was any other way to do it.
While it’s a little bit embarrassing to admit that as a self-professed critical thinker, I wasn’t doing much critical thinking about myself and my relationships, it’s true. It wasn’t until I was sitting across from my ex-husband four months into couples counseling that I started to see how much I had been running on autopilot, more interested in ease and comfort than what was true or what I wanted. In fact, I had the startling (not to mention shameful) epiphany that I had lived most of my life without ever asking myself what it was that I wanted. I was making decisions based on “shoulds” and what everyone else around me was doing. Right then and there in that therapy session, I committed to myself to become the person I wanted to be, regardless of whether that meant I stayed married to this man or not.
It became clear shortly after that that I couldn’t control the outcome of my marriage, but I could control what I did next. And holy shit, that was scary.
When there’s no one else so enmeshed in your life, you get to decide. You decide how you spend your time, who you spend it with, what music you like, what you want to eat, when you go to bed, how you spend your money – the list is endless. All the things that were seemingly set in stone before were now totally up for grabs. (And those are just the surface questions; the layers of discovery go on forever.) And boy, I discovered that there was so much I didn’t know about myself.
At first, I spent a lot of time getting to know myself alone. And I felt so solid. I was so confident. I got used to handling things for myself. I didn’t ever have to show weakness or vulnerability in front of another person. I didn’t feel so impacted by other people because I always had a way out – I could just go home.
But that’s kind of like knowing yourself in a vacuum. There were so many things that I couldn’t know about myself in isolation. And as I started dating again, I noticed how easy it was to want to retreat back into alone mode. Was it easier? For sure. Was it fulfilling? No. Not because I didn’t know how to be alone or that I was trying to feel completed by someone else, but because there were all these parts of me that didn’t get stretched when I was by myself. One of the things I discovered was that I really wanted to share myself fully with another person.
Eventually, dating and relationships became a place where I got to see who I really was. A place where I allowed another person see all of me. Raw. Unscripted. Vulnerable. Honest. And in order to do that, I had to shed all the baggage of my prior relationships and a lot of what I thought about who and how I was supposed to be in the world.
Those aren’t things I could see about myself alone. And they sure as hell aren’t things I would have sought out if I hadn’t had to confront my changing identity in the face of my divorce. And while divorce can be painful and hard, I’m eternally grateful for what mine has granted me: a chance to really know myself.
Share in the comments below what you’ve learned about yourself (or reminded yourself of) in the face of a significant breakup. Let’s celebrate together how far we’ve come!