“Nice people don’t necessarily fall in love with nice people.”
― Jonathan Franzen,
When I was divorced, for a second time, in my late 40s I actually thought that I might meet someone new, and I tried. Oh I tried. There were parties thrown by other single friends. There were dinners out at restaurants where older singles frequented. There were even some short day trips that promised a mingling of older adults. I spent almost 10 years striving for what most women think is the best thing that can happen to her – finding a man to validate her with his love.
Here is what I discovered. After being married my entire life, I wasn’t interested. I could be and have become, my own validation. I love myself enough. I am successful. I have survived. I can be whole on my own. I can let go of the fear that because I’m not married I am somehow less. I am perfect just the way I am. Unmarried. I like to check the box on forms that says “single” not “divorced” – my own little bit of silent protest for a system that demand I should have to choose a box for an event that happened almost 15 years ago now to identify myself. I am not what happened more than 15 years ago. I am a single, 60+ woman, living on her own. I went back to my maiden name, but I also took my mother’s maiden name when I did, because she is as much a part of me being here as my dad.
I was first married when I was 20 and that marriage lasted 18 years. I married again, way too soon after my first marriage to a man younger than me, who I thought held the promise of a kind, loving, artistic, and interesting soulmate. But he was not. That marriage ended after 12 years, and probably shouldn’t have happened at all. I was 48 when my second marriage ended. When friends were bragging about having been married for 25 years, I’d say: “I was married for almost 30 years – Just not to the same man.” I’m happy for people who have been able to make their relationships last for a lifetime, truth be told I’m a little jealous.
In those early years after my second divorce, when I was thinking that I needed to find another relationship, another man to make me an “honest woman” a “socialized woman” a “partner woman”, I realized pretty early on that it wouldn’t happen. So perhaps that’s why it didn’t. The one thing that always seemed to me to be just below the surface of any new relationship was the implication that if I wanted to be with this person or that person I’d have to do a lot of changing, or sacrificing, or adjusting of my daily routine that I had fallen into. I realized early on I didn’t want to do any of those things. I liked the life that I had built for myself.
When my first husband and I split, the heartache did not seem so bad. After all, I had three sons, two of whom were teenagers at the time. The boys were my heartache shield. I was busy with them; too busy to think very much about myself. But when my second husband left while I was in graduate school, to have an affair with a student, I was devastated. Two of my boys were grown and married, and my youngest son was away at college. My boys were no longer the heartache shield they had been before. They had their own grown up lives.
I took to my bed and slept for probably a week. I realized that the constant drama my second husband put me through had not allowed me to really sleep in a long time. When I look back at pictures of myself from that time, I’m taken by how sick I look. I was sick. Sick from not living my true life. When I finally came out of my initial stupor, I felt more relaxed and free than I had felt in my entire adult life. I did things that I hadn’t done since I was a teenager. I slept in till noon – more than once. I stayed in my pajamas all day. I did things that I didn’t feel free to do when I was married: I grew my hair long. I cut my hair short. I let my hair go grey. I colored my hair. I changed jobs. Stayed up till dawn drinking and talking with friends. I did whatever I wanted. Whatever. I. Wanted. It was amazing.
This was a freedom that I had never really experienced as an adult. I had met my first husband when I was 19, and we were married by the time I was 20, our first son was born when I was barely 21 years old. I had never lived on my own. Never. I went from being a child in my parents’ home, being told when to come in at night and how much money I could have, and mostly being sheltered from the world, to being married. No college to help me develop into an adult. Just bam! Married. My first husband worked and I stayed home for many years with my kids. I accepted the fact that my movements and plans I could make were limited by kids’ schedules and my husband’s schedule. I was always last. Always. I didn’t feel bad about being last. After all, I was the mom and the wife. I had responsibilities. Right?
As my second marriage ended, I realized that, even though I was lonely, and there seemed to be a big hole in my life, there was something positive about it all. I could now do whatever I wanted. There was no one to answer to. Now I was first.
I didn’t know how to react to this new way of life. I felt a little unmoored. But so free at the same time. It was a dichotomy that took some getting used to.
I remember the first grocery store trip after my second divorce. I wandered aimlessly around the grocery store wondering just what I liked to eat. My food purchases had always been geared towards what my husbands preferred to eat, or kids’ lunches and what they would eat for dinner. I drank the beer and wine my husbands preferred. I ate the meals I knew they would eat. But what did I like? That first trip ended in the purchase of a nice bottle of Chardonnay, some lettuce and a chicken breast. I have never enjoyed a meal so much. I ate it on my front porch – a lovely big old porch that I had outfitted with some wicker chairs and a glass table that my mother had given to me. I lit candles and sat there the whole night, enjoying my wine and watching the traffic. I remember that night so vividly, like a person remembers any significant event in their lives. I was free. That was my freedom meal.
Now that I’ve just turned 61, not only have I given up looking for someone to share my time with, I no longer need this activity. Not one little bit. I have too many things I want to accomplish, and I don’t want to share any of my time answering someone else’s demands. This giving up of men feels like my third divorce. I’ve divorced myself from the need for another body in the house. I’ve divorced myself from the need of another person to shop with, or go out to eat with, or to sleep with. I feel absolutely liberated. It is a feeling of absolute happiness that I find a little hard to explain.
I have friends. I’m not saying that I’ve become a hermit, but I am more comfortable with being myself, in my own life, than I have ever been. I feel like a weight of enormous magnitude has been lifted from me. The weight of longing for another person to complete my life. It is so wonderful.
I am so blessed to have three grown children who are married and five lovely, smart, witty grandchildren. They visit. I visit. We talk on the phone. They have their own lives though, and I have mine. I know this time in my life is for me. Having time for me is what I have always wanted, and now it’s here, and I don’t intend to waste one minute of it.