That cloud of sharp-edged honesty hovered in the air as we tried to carry on our festivities with our usual giddiness. Even in the midst of all of us wearing our traditional matching “family pajamilies”, decorating the tree, opening presents and squealing in delight, he and I shot knowing glances, absorbing the gravity of the moment that this would be our last Christmas together.
We would catch ourselves slipping into familiar planning for the future using the word “We” and then quickly changing the plural to the singular, for there would be no “we” by next Christmas.
“We should look into getting a real tree next year”…followed by a moment of mournful silence laden with the weight of reality.
We decided to walk each other through this next part of marriage together in amicable support. We did the hard work to “earn” a divorce. We talked, we analyzed, we argued and cried endlessly, we promised change on the horizon, and to be honest he would fight to the day he dies to keep us together, and I am the one walking away from a good man.
Even before we got married, I had reservations about our differences and made a pro/con list, but I always went back to scolding myself for having doubts about such a good man.
This past year, I have literally prayed that I could feel more for this good man and hated myself for being such a picky judgmental woman.
You don’t leave a man who makes you coffee in bed.
You don’t leave a man who takes care of you so tenderly when you have a migraine.
You don’t leave a man who watches with tears in his eyes as you do a reading at your grandmother’s funeral and stop to choke on your words.
He recently simply said to me, “If it’s not there, it’s not there,” referring to the inexplicable chemistry and connection that comes with love. I flatly answered back, “It’s not there for me.”
The overwhelming outpouring of love I have for my children never seemed to be mirrored in his eyes, and I believe that’s when my flame began to be completely extinguished. I understood step-parenting is difficult and no non-biological parent could possibly have the same level of love I have, so I tried to be patient, but as my children voiced their wishes of it being just the three of us again, I found it hard not to hear them.
Love was there and always has been, but I never felt like I moved this man to overwhelming joy. In fact, I felt nothing moved him to overwhelming joy, and I so wanted to see that. I longed to hear an outburst of laughter but there never was. It was always my children and I snorting out in laughter with a quiet man who continued to feel like a stranger.
I found his quiet ways mysterious and intriguing at first, but I always had a voice in my head reminding me I would miss the laughter. I pushed aside my fears, telling myself I was being much too picky as usual and to be open to someone who was different—after all my partner doesn’t have to be an exact replica of me, right?
With the years, the intrigue of his quiet personality has turned to discomfort and a longing for a house full of conversation and laughter.
At first I just assumed I will of course never feel the deep connection I felt with my first husband who is the father of my children. Then I realized I’m in my 40s and surely this is just how love must feel for that lackluster time in my life when hormones aren’t making me see stars.
Love takes on a pragmatic cadence of paying bills and walking the dog, so I assumed a lack of joy was just par for the course.
But with all these self-induced pep talks came the undercurrent of truth that kept tugging and tugging and tugging at me. I am just not in love with this man, and I do not want to keep working hard to convince myself I will eventually grow to feel I haven’t settled or that I’m giving my children less than they deserve. And to be fair, I feel it’s my duty to set him free from the lack of love I have, so he can be open to a more deserving person.
The talk of divorce had been discussed between us before, but I quickly pushed it away, confusing familiarity with love. After all, this man knows so many layers to me, and isn’t that alone enough to build forever on? Shouldn’t hope live within those layers of familiarity and comfort he and I sewed together?
This man knows I fall asleep at 8:30 sometimes reading mindless Amish fiction.
This man knows I can’t watch my children sing on stage without crying.
This man knows I love sloths and brown cows so much I have to giggle whenever I see a picture of one.
Surely that should be a starting point and a deeper connection could follow. That is what I told myself because the scariest, most risky thing is to walk away from something comfortable, but what’s scarier to me is to stay in it, in all its gray lukewarm tones and look back on it years down the road and know I should have jumped, to know I should have listened to my stupid heart, as annoying as it is.
So this past Christmas, the mystery, joy and hope of the season was not lost on me. In fact, it engulfed me and overwhelmed me at times with its parallels to love and its intricacies. Love is a mystery to me in how you can only do what you believe to be the truth at that time in your life. I truly believed this would be a person I could share my life with and find deep joy and only 3 years of marriage later, I know that is not the truth.
The truth of what I need in my life and what I need for my children was tucked away within me this whole time, but I pushed it aside, convincing myself I could grow to be the person I wish I was—a person who didn’t need laughter and outwardly expressed joy.
So now I take this next step with a man I do love, but I realize now that the love I have is a mere comfort because of time shared. We will walk each other down the path until our paths separate and we find the courage to let each other go, blown away at the mysteries of love and the eerie hole it leaves when it is gone.
By next Christmas we will have at least started the path to becoming strangers to each other and that thought alone makes my fingers stop typing at the enormity of it, but that thought cannot scare me into inaction. Enough truths have been spoken between us for me to know I can no longer hide from what my heart wants, as annoying and nagging as the stupid thing is.
The hard work of listening—truly listening—and not wishing for a different heart or an easier heart waits ahead for me, and I know I can listen better for my sake and my children’s.
Is there a truth in your heart you should be tuning into today? Are you spending time hoping to be a different person because that would be easier, or are you doing the hard work of facing who you are–lovely flaws and weird quirks and all?