Life after divorce has been full of reflection for me. I’m 40 years old and on my own for the first time. I left a relationship I’ve been in since I was 20.
How did I get here? Well…
My story isn’t unique. Dysfunctional family, low self esteem, lack of self worth…
I moved in with a friend right after high school. We thought we were so grown up renting our own two bedroom place with a Jack and Jill bathroom. It lacked central AC in Florida and included a creepy landlord who let himself in while we were sleeping.
We quickly found adulting was way harder than we expected and we were forced to move back in with our parents before summer ended.
This was devastation for me. My family life was depression. My mother resented me, making it clear she was trapped in an awful marriage because she got pregnant with me. My father was volatile and highly toxic. We had no money because he spent it all on weed. I wanted to take care of my little sister, but couldn’t and felt like I was failing her.
I didn’t have the funds or support to go away to college. Living on my own hadn’t worked out and living with my family was miserable. Life seemed pretty hopeless.
I’d started going to church with a friend as an escape from my home when I was 11. A couple I’d gotten close to there stepped in and moved me to their apartment. They saw I’d graduated high school and was floundering. I was starting to make some bad choices. They saw my potential. They saw me.
They were my very own rescue squad. They encouraged me and also kicked my butt. I got a job. I started thinking about the future. Because of them, I started to believe just maybe I wasn’t totally trapped.
But I couldn’t relax because I wasn’t able to accept this living arrangement as anything more than temporary.
I started dating. Partly because my best friend met someone and wasn’t available to hang out as much. He’d been my family. My substitute everything. My other friends had mostly all moved away for college or to pursue a bigger life than our little county offered. I felt so alone.
And though I thought it was a long shot, I hoped to find someone to marry.
Yup, marry. I was 20 and had barely even dated, but I was ready to get married.
I didn’t date at all in high school. I had some moments with a couple of Navy guys while visiting a friend the year after graduation. I went on a few dates with a bowling teammate of the couple who moved me into their apartment. I was in a brief long distance relationship with a much older man who said all the things I wanted to hear, but didn’t mean any of them.
So with very limited experience, I jumped into the new world of online dating in 1998, hoping to find someone to rescue me permanently.
I went out twice with a guy who worked at Dunkin Donuts. The first time was right after he got off work and he smelled so very yeasty. I wasn’t sure if this was pleasant or not. I realized he had a girlfriend on the second – and final – date.
Then I dated a guy named Toby for a bit. We had some super steamy makeout sessions. On the beach. On my bedroom floor. In a hammock. In his truck. Good times. Good memories.
But Toby had already been married and divorced three times at age 26. He made it clear he wasn’t looking for anything serious.
Desperate for security, I kept looking for someone who wanted to settle down while having fun with Toby.
I accepted a date with someone else. We were supposed to go to the movies.
Then Toby wanted to hang out and I stood up the other guy.
Then Toby stood me up.
The new guy gave me another chance the next weekend and that time I went.
We saw “I Still Know What You Did Last Summer.” My best friend and his boyfriend were there spying, sitting behind us. I didn’t spot them until after the movie.
I followed my date back to his house and we awkwardly chatted on his couch for a little while. Then I left.
I stopped by my neighbor’s apartment when I got home.
“I’m going to marry this guy,” I told her.
“You’re so stupid,” she replied.
Like Toby, he was 26. Unlike Toby, he’d never been married. Toby lived with his parents, following his most recent divorce. This guy owned his own house and car and had a full time job. He didn’t make my toes curl in the sand. But he was security.
Also, I knew he liked me. I didn’t think anyone else would.
I never saw Toby again.
The friend who called me stupid was a bridesmaid in our wedding 364 days later.
She was right- It was stupid of me to get married.
My biggest after divorce reflection: I got married for the wrong reasons.
I knew I was going to marry him. Not because there was a spark, but simply because I knew I could. Because he was stable. Because my self esteem was so low I didn’t think I could stand on my own two feet or find anyone else who would like me.
He didn’t pursue me. There was no romance, no chemistry. There was no reason for a hot pursuit. I accepted I was going to marry him on day 1, as if it was my only option in life.
He didn’t even propose. I told him I thought we should get married and he said ok. As if I’d suggested we go to the grocery store.
And I stayed for almost 20 years because I still didn’t see any other options.
I started getting stronger over the years. I began having my own ideas and opinions. I started finding my own voice.
I was changing and growing.
Yet I felt trapped, just like I did living at home with my parents.
I was still convinced I wasn’t enough on my own.
And then I finally found the line in the sand and stepped over it.
I wanted to be myself. I was desperate to live my own life.
Once I decided I was done, I was so very done. I found a rental and packed up my car.
The only tether causing me to pause was my daughter.
But I knew I’d been setting a bad example for her, staying in a marriage that was unhealthy and unhappy for me.
I got married because he had a job and a car.
I stayed because I didn’t think I could handle life on my own.
I was wrong.
I wonder what happened to Toby and how many more wives he’s had since 1998.