The year I turned 40 my husband left me for a woman twenty years younger than me.
My god, it hit hard. Not just the fact that I was left (that was excruciating enough) – but that it was for someone so much younger, brighter and more glamorous than me. How did I know that this stranger was younger, brighter and more dazzling than me? Well, I stalked her online of course.
I found out who she was after she inadvertently sent me a friend request through Facebook. I already knew her first name and I guess she knew mine. The friend request was promptly retracted by her, but not before I caught sight of her full name.
So armed with the newfound knowledge of who the other woman was, on to good old Facebook I went. What I saw there only compounded the pain that was already threatening to overtake me. She was gorgeous. She was young (obviously) and fit and beautiful with a mane of long blonde hair that fell effortlessly over one of her perfect, bronzed shoulders.
The image of her tormented me. I soon started dreaming of her. I dreamed of her and my husband together, tucked away in his new bed, at his new place. In my waking hours, I questioned and criticized myself relentlessly. I questioned what it was about me that was so horrible and unbearable that he felt the need to upgrade. I criticized my looks, my thighs, and my stretchy wobbly stomach.
I left my dignity at the door and bombarded him with questions – I asked him if he loved her, if he was planning on building a future with her, if he was planning on introducing our kids to her. I all but convinced myself that she would soon be pregnant with his child and claiming a stake of the marital house. I thought I was going crazy. I was actually knee-deep in grief.
I assumed that I would never feel normal or ‘right’ again.
Yet time passed, as it does, and the grief that I was certain would eat me alive slowly began to ease its grip. Winter became spring. I met new people and gained new perspectives. I spent a lot of time alone and read a lot of self-help. I learned to accept that my marriage was over and that there was no hope of reconciliation. The day I realized that I no longer wanted reconciliation was one of the most liberating days of my life.
The thing between my husband and the other woman eventually came to an end, as I guess it was always going to. A relationship with a twenty-five year age gap was, in all likelihood, eventually going to end. And by the time it did, I no longer cared. The day I realized that my hate had turned to indifference was the day I knew that I’d healed.
And the healed me saw things a whole lot clearer than the broken me:
I no longer felt paralyzed by jealousy and anger. It occurred to me that, in all likelihood, the other woman – girl – also struggled with self-love and esteem. Maybe she had a shit childhood. Maybe latching on to middle-aged married men made her feel better about herself. (I somehow have the feeling that my husband was not the first, nor the last).
Yet, I don’t judge her. Especially not now, four years on. Not now that at the age of forty-four I finally know and understand my worth. Not now that I’ve finally learned how to be alone, how to self-partner and self-soothe. Not now that I have a partner who tells me regularly that he has ‘waited his whole life for me’.
What I Learned About Self-Love from ‘The Other Woman’
I now know that it was never about her. It was about me. It was about my fears and insecurities and long-buried wounds. She (very unwittingly I’m sure) made me confront my wounds. She put her hands deep inside of me and pulled them from me. For all to see. For me to see. For me to examine, dissect and ultimately and eventually heal.
Without her – without the idea of her and what she represented – I would still be a self-doubting woman living a half-life. A life consumed by the fear that she was not ‘good’ or ‘lovable’ enough, a life in which she was too afraid to live as her authentic self.
I now know that the other woman was not necessarily more desirable or lovable than me. I also know that she was not necessarily an evil villain. I know now that most of us are doing our best to feel wanted, accepted and desirable to others. Some of us go about it in the wrong way; some of us are able to find what we need within ourselves.
Those of us who are willing to do the deep inner work – to spend time alone, to learn how to self-soothe and self-partner, to face our heartbreak and sit with the pain and the shitty feelings without constantly looking for distractions to make ourselves feel better – knowing that the pain and shitty feelings will not last forever – will probably fare better than those of us who never teach ourselves to do this.
It may surprise some to know that today, I am friends with my ex-husband. He is on his own journey, and I hope that he someday finds what it is he’s looking for. I’m grateful for the lessons he and ‘the other woman’ delivered me. How could I not be? I wouldn’t be half the woman I am today without them.
I now know how to love me.