Sometime at the end of December in 2015, my spouse and I went to see the third Hunger Games movie at our local theater. I love the book series, and I was excited because we usually waited to see things until we could get them from Redbox. That outing was anything but carefree, though. As J and I sat in the coffee shop by the mall fountain, the D word came up again. We had been working to save our relationship for some time (at least, I had – J had superficially been trying, but she had been slipping further away no matter what I did). I don’t remember our words in the coffee shop anymore. I remember holding a hot cider and not drinking it, crying and not really caring who saw. In the theater I laid my head on her shoulder and cried some more. The loss of what we had built over a decade together felt huge and terrible.
J moved out of our townhome and in with her new girlfriend just after the new year. She continued to help financially support me and our son, and she was commited to being part of his life. I know worse stories. She was also distant and occasionally unpleasant, and I wondered what had happened to my best friend of so many years.
Moving in to a new apartment was a relief. I was not able to shut out the grief by closing my new front door, but I liked my new space, and incrementally I began to feel a degree of peace there. The windows were large and screened by trees. I could listen to anything I wanted – audio books, podcasts, music – without having to consider another person’s tastes. My son and I danced in the living room. I decorated my walls with pictures and maps. Even while I grieved, I was able to appreciate not being stuck with a moody partner who blamed other people for her troubles, who didn’t enjoy doing things with me, and who didn’t seem to value the same things as me anymore.
I made an effort to get out socially. Between work and parenting it was hard, but I joined a community garden for the summer. I hosted the occasional hike with Hikeit Baby. I took my son to the park and we went swimming. J and I had spent so much time in the past with only one another, and though we’d been on innumerable adventures and I had many beautiful memories of our time together, I wanted to build more connections for myself. This was the time to do it. Some weeks I felt like I was making progress; some weeks I felt very alone. Over time I was able to scrape together company a little more easily. There were people I could do things with! Little by little I felt more connected with the world. My ties still feel tenuous, even now, but I am thankful for each new experience and interaction. There are a lot of really interesting, cool, caring people out there, and my life is more interesting because of them.
My divorce was finalized near the end of summer 2016. J was easier to interact with by that time and had apologized for many of the things that were not working in our relationship. I was still sad about the broken ties, but less so.
Around the same time I began working as a substitute teacher, mainly at the elementary school level. I had been a volunteer coordinator before that and at times I missed the work. Teaching was hard and could be tedious. The worksheets I was given to work on with the kids were painfully boring. I missed the connection I used to have with my volunteers. And yet, teaching was active. I was no longer sitting in a chair for 8 to 10 hours a day. And sometimes it could be fun – leading a class discussion or reading to the kids. The work was challenging in a way that was new to me. I was stretching my people skills again. I didn’t know if I would ever be GOOD at the job… But I wanted to see if I could improve. And I really wanted to find a career that would allow me to have summers off to spend with my son. I signed up for the alternate route to a teaching certificate. It was a risk… And a new leaf.
In December I took another new risk and met up with a guy from an online dating site. It was the first really active step I had taken away from my marriage. Everything before that, from the separation to the actual divorce, had been a simple response to circumstances. This was different, because it was something I chose based on what I wanted in my life. That first date was simply an hour’s conversation over coffee, and I was both alarmed and excited when I felt a little spark with the person sitting by me. It made me feel sad all over again for the past, because I knew that I would, at some point, not be able to retrace that emotional connection I’d had with my ex.
And it true: A couple weeks later I met up with Coffee Guy for a short and wildly ridiculous roadtrip to Utah. It was beautiful, it was awkward, and it was something new – and I have not felt the same way about my ex since then. It is a freeing feeling, even though I am also currently feeling a little sad and disappointed that Coffee Guy is apparently uninterested in continuing the acquaintance. I don’t think I will move so fast with future people I date, but I am in a generally happy place right now. I never dated anybody before my ex. This is – all of it – very new to me. I am ready to meet new people, to get hurt – and to LIVE.
(Above) Even an illogical and impractical roadtrip adventure makes sense when this is what you see out your car window.