As a young woman whenever I heard that word, storybook images of a loving husband and a country home filled with cherubic-like children danced before me. Marriage was a word that elicited feelings of joy and hope for a life I aspired, even craved, to lead. And for a while my wish was granted. For a time I was happy. Content. At peace.
Following my divorce, the word marriage magically transformed, as if by evil spell, into a term that today incites in me conflicted emotion: feelings of security, intimacy, warmth, anger, and disappointment all wrapped up into one cryptic cautionary threat of uncertainty and fear—fear of an institution that once upon a time brought me incredible happiness followed by incredible pain, and fear of a life without the prospect of marriage in its future.
Immediately after separating I began dating with an eye for finding my next betrothed. I had a specific goal. A timeline. I wanted everything—a new husband who was warm and attentive, and an emotionally intimate and meaningful relationship, both of which I had lived without for what felt like an eternity. I was also open to the prospect of having another child, and promoted my fertility proudly and openly to any suitor feigning even the mildest interest in starting a family. I wanted all of this and fast. After all, my ex husband had already found someone (albeit while we were still married and while I was unaware), so how difficult could it be for me to find that perfect someone who fit the bill?
As it turns out, finding Mr. Right is a pretty tall order, especially for the impatient, which I am. And I know all too well whenever I rush I make mistakes. From misplacing my car keys to spending too many months with the wrong man, I know when I do not pay attention to my surroundings, read the signs, heed the red flags, I run into trouble. I also know that in my haste I fail to enjoy the moment and appreciate the beauty of the unknown, the reality that things are not always as they seem, and that life is far from the predictability we anticipate, crave, and foolishly expect.
After a 16-year marriage (24 years spent together) that ended in divorce nearly one year ago, a redefined partnership with my ex husband and father to my three children that is still fluid in its development, and interactions and romances of varying degrees of depth with the men I have dated post-separation, I have developed a new conception of marriage—one that reminds me it is not the be-all and end-all of a healthy, fulfilling, and enriching relationship.
I am not free of the error of my ways just yet. It is still very much a conscious effort to stop the, “Where is this leading?” train of thought, and to hold at bay those comments from onlookers who unmercifully judge and who advise with unsolicited abandon. Now that I discriminate which advice I welcome, I am better able to live in the moment, and to wait and see how things develop in a new relationship. I am no longer in such a rush. That is not to say I no longer have an ending to my fairytale in sight. I most certainly do. But instead of that fairytale necessarily culminating in a white dress with a full train and my Prince Charming standing at the end of a long aisle, I know it can subsist with a man who is capable of being devoted to me, a man who does not hedge his bet by keeping other women waiting in the wings—girlfriends, flings, an estranged wife.
My life largely remains a lonely one. As I write these words I sit in the emergency room only weeks after the last visit, my son resting comfortably in bed only a few feet away following an asthma attack that ranks as his worst one to date. At this moment his father is on a plane unreachable. My instinct would have been to immediately call him. His son is in trouble. He could bring comfort.
That is my cover.
I, too, need comforting, though I know he is no longer mine to lean on. Our history tells me he never was, yet I still grasp for what I know is unattainable. He cannot give me what I need. He never could. My son calls out for me.
“Mommy, can you hold my hand?”
He extends his little hand from the hospital bed and I place it gently in my own. We sit together like that until the doctor returns. He is still afraid, recalling the difficulty he had breathing only hours earlier. I am worn down. Exhausted. Drained from the morning’s events, tired of being the sole caretaker but never the one cared for. I am guilty for my thoughts, and quickly suppress them. I am selfish. I do not believe I deserve more. My thoughts return to my son, as they should. I comfort him, reassuring him he will be okay.
And he will.
It has been over two years that I have behaved as a blind woman struggling to find my way. For so long I fruitlessly grabbed at the empty air before me, aimlessly flailing my arms with reckless abandon as I looked for The One. I suffered, felt my pain, and internalized it with every disappointment as I inevitably ran into obstacle after obstacle in my path. But I continue to press on anyway into the unknown, though much slower now and with much more caution. I am gradually getting my bearings, understanding what it is I want in and from a future partner, and am more realistic about what I can expect from another. I remain confident one day someone will emerge from that darkness, reach out for me, too, and I will finally hear the words I have been waiting for: “I’ve got you now.”
In the meantime, I am doing okay. I’ve got me. I always have.