There are so many befores and afters in a lifetime. I find it overwhelming to consider the implications of so many beginnings following endings.
Before and after:
- My parents’ divorce
- My step-father
- Graduating high school
- Graduating college
- Meeting my best friend
- Moving into my own place
- Getting first real job
- Having sex for the first time
- Buying my first house
- Moving to Minneapolis from NY
- Receiving big promotions at work
- Having gastric by-pass surgery
- Loosing my job after 16 years
- Getting married
- Getting divorced
- Moving back to NY
- Moving to Costa Rica
- Traveling around the world
- Moving to Berlin
- And now, moving away from Berlin into a new unknown AFTER
When I look at all these events, I know each of them had a significant impact on my life in one way or another, how could they not? But there is one that had the biggest impact. The one that literally changed the trajectory of my life, spun it out in a new direction, gave me new perspectives, and a freedom of choice unrealized up to that point.
Meeting and subsequently divorcing my husband.
Today is the anniversary of the day we met, eight years ago. We have a total “meet cute” story involving an empty bar stool, laughing, joking, and romantic kisses that caused me to feel like he was “the one” within just a few weeks. But looking back, was he really “the one?” Or was he the one that was there, right then, just when I had decided it was time to get married, have a baby, and finally fulfill the life plan I was sure I had to follow? We’ll not explore those themes here, (I’m writing a whole book that has plenty of space for these explorations), but the short answer is, possibly.
Regardless of dubious but romantic beginnings, I did marry him. During our four short years together, (two dating and two married) I learned much about love and life, fighting and making up, loosing autonomy and not knowing how to get it back, alcohol abuse, emotional and verbal abuse, even occasional physical abuse. I learned how important it was to really like the man you are with. I liked him so much sometimes that it sustained us probably a lot longer than it should have. Even in the midst of terrible days, our enjoyment of each other’s company would often trump the bad feelings happening under the surface.
But the biggest lesson of all: I am amazingly strong even when I feel incredibly weak.
Leaving was hard, but it didn’t feel like I was doing such a difficult thing. I was doing what I had to do to survive, to save myself, to be me again. Of course, I wept, and I went to therapy, and I learned to be single again. But it felt only like the thing I was doing at the time, the next steps in the journey, another plan to follow. I felt good, but not especially so. I felt strong, but not especially so. I often felt like I was just… doing. It was good work, sometimes hard work, but I didn’t feel special or strong. I felt average. People get divorced all the time, this didn’t make me special.
As a matter of fact, in my circle of friends and the ones in which I had grown up, I was actually quite a failure. My friends from church couldn’t understand why I would leave such a great guy. They asked, “How can you not even try to do counseling or work on your marriage?” My family was more understanding, but there was still an underlying current of Christian shame that I couldn’t make my marriage work. When I told my mother, an alcoholic herself, that one of the reasons I left was because he was an alcoholic, she asked, “Well, didn’t you know that when you married him?” As if I had made my bed, I now had no choice but to lie in it.
But I did have a choice. Somehow, I knew I didn’t have to stay. Somehow, I knew I could choose my path. I knew I could change my life. So, I did. It was a new revelation. Before this, I made choices that were constantly leading towards that goal of ‘Married with Children,’ the expected life trajectory I had been told my whole life to follow. I thought that was who I had to become. Yet, now that I had “failed” at that plan, that dream, I was free to choose a path or even many paths, that would please me, and choose I did.
Each step I took proactively creating a new reality for myself, proved the main lesson again and again; “I am strong, even when I feel weak.” I left him and moved back to NY. I visited Costa Rica to take care of my heart and lick my wounds but loved it so much I stayed for more than a year. I decided to travel around the world for six months, and that turned into another year. I moved to Berlin, where my understanding of different possibilities in relationships had first begun the year before. During that year of traveling the world, I decided to join a six-week trip on safari camping in five different African countries. The idea scared me so much, I knew I had to do it.
I allowed myself the freedom to have sex, whenever I wanted and with whomever I wanted. I enjoyed the freedom of Tindering my way around the world. I started relearning what made me tick sexually, enjoying my gradually aging body in the most sensual of ways. Learning to love it again under an ever-changing flow of stranger’s hands. It started with the sexual pulses of every street I walked on in Berlin and continued to the stranger I met in a bar in Hungary, the stoic German and sensual Spaniard I met in China, the sweet Brits I met in Thailand and Bali, and continued with the random men I can barely remember now, in every country along the way. They all helped me to grow, to become new, to feel alive again, to become the woman who loves sex and sensuality and is comfortable being that woman.
I also started to open my heart again. Free from the goal of marriage and children, each new man I opened my heart to taught me something about love and myself. I decided that love was worth the possibility of pain, and I allowed myself to jump quickly into beautiful and different relationships. A Costa Rican man I only loved because he loved me. A much older American man who I played house with because we both missed that companionate relationship in our lives. I met Stefan**, one of my current partners, and even though I left again less than four weeks later, we stayed in touch and have been together, either long distance or in person, ever since. In Bali, I met a British man who promised to come back east and travel with me in two months but ghosted me the next week. There was an American GI in Seoul, who let me stay in his apartment on base where I could enjoy many of the comforts of “home,” like my usual brand of cough medicine, Apothic wine, and American Pizza Hut. I settled in Chiang Mai Thailand but fell in love with a man in Malaysia and moved there, only for him to leave me a week later. I fell for a tiny Colombian man with a big motorcycle and an even bigger heart who doesn’t speak any English, and would still love me today, had I stayed.
I learned my heart could be open again. I also learned that my heart was big enough to love them all. Maybe even at the same time. I cared for Stefan the whole time I was falling in and out of love with the other men after him. It never diminished my regard, my love, for him. There was simply another love.
He had introduced me to the concept of Polyamory way back on our first date and in subsequent dates had answered questions and shown me how his brand of polyam works. For the next nine months while I continued on my travels, we maintained a relationship long distance. There was never a question of me having to stay close to him for him to care for me. He expected me to stay true to myself, and if I cared for him while I did it, even better. There was so much joy and freedom in that. After a marriage in which every single thing I did was tied up in being with my husband, taking care of him, or being part of a couple, it felt so new and I felt so strong to be able to love Stefan and still be me, an autonomous individual.
While I was traveling and falling in and out of love with other men, I was mulling over the whole idea of polyamory. (Only I didn’t have a word for it yet, he only ever described how he lived and did relationships, but never used the word Polyamory. He simply said, “I don’t do monogamy.”) I knew when I settled down again, I wanted to have a “harem.” I wanted to be able to love who I wanted, when I wanted. I wanted to have the kind of sex that suited me in each moment, not just the kind of sex one partner offered me. I wanted options and choices.
Moving back to Berlin allowed me to immediately pick up my relationship with Stefan again. It has grown to be one of the easiest, least complicated, most sexy relationships of my life. Loving him and working out how polyamory works for me with his support and advice has given me a beautiful home-base from which to grow and learn.
Being polyamorous has required me to call again and again on the lesson I learned from the divorce, “I am amazingly strong even when I feel incredibly weak.” It takes a lot of heart and soul to be able to give your heart to more than one person at a time. Being madly in love with one guy, while your heart is breaking over another, communicating your most vulnerable needs and desires all the time, is not for the weak.
But I am not weak. I am strong. I am. I never knew how strong- until I met, married, and divorced my husband. He is my turning point. The place my Before meets my After. He is the curve of the boomerang, the point at which my life trajectory changed. He changed my life in so many ways. I still mourn the bright beautiful possibilities our marriage once held. He was my very good friend and my lover. We had a good thing, until we didn’t. I learned my own strength, because of him. I learned to look at my life in a new way, because of him. I learned to love in new open and beautiful ways, because of him. I will always be grateful for that empty bar stool and a “meet cute” eight years ago today.
(**If you read my other blog, you may recognize Stefan as the “Sex Scientist.” Yes, THAT Stefan.)
This post is a direct result of this week’s Wicked Wednesday prompt. Check out more amazing, possibly sexy stories about Before and After from other terrific bloggers!