Envision any female-centered post divorce plot and you’ll likely see some variation of the following:
ACT I: Woman sets out to forget all her worries; letting loose by getting out on the town, sleeping with simple, beautiful, younger men, drinking and having the most frivolous time of their life. In an attempt to fill the void, she desperately clings on to the first male who glances in her direction, convincing herself that it’s the real deal.
ACT II: Woman gets heart shattered by young, sexy boyfriend [SHOCKER] and comes to realization that she can’t run from her pain and fear. Slows down and vows to “find herself”. Soul-searching commences.
ACT III: After struggling and extensive soul-searching, woman finds inner-peace and confidence in herself, feels content on her own for the first time. Realizes she does not need a man to complete her. Then meets perfect man, falls in love and lives happily ever after.
I somehow missed the first act entirely (okay, maybe not entirely, but I’ll get to that). I haven’t really figured out exactly why I don’t fit into this cliche, but the truth is I have NO desire to get out, let loose and hook up,or even to do the whole mature dating thing. NONE. Nada. Zilch. Perhaps it’s because I already lived that life, right up until my late 20’s and going back to it is entirely unappealing. Maybe I’m afraid of getting hurt. Maybe I just don’t have the time. Perhaps I don’t feel that my current appearance is quite “market-ready” and just don’t care enough right now to hit the gym hard, get Botox, facials and whatever other fancy treatments single women in their 30’s and 40’s are doing to land a guy. But more than likely, it’s because I have preformed “Act I” far too many times after numerous breakups and I know exactly how it ends. Why not save the time, money and energy and skip right past the train-wreck.
And while wisdom from past experiences has definitely helped me move past the “need to jump into next/any relationship NOW” phase, the truth is that I know that I’m just not emotionally, psychologically or physically ready. When this all went down this past Spring, during a time when I was completely weak, desperate and quite delusional, I met someone and jumped in head first for a couple of weeks [DOH! Hits herself in forehead]. Those few disastrous weeks were just enough to make me wince and shudder at the idea, like giving a sip of whiskey to a curious 10 year old just to show him that, See? You’re just not quite ready for this stuff, little guy. Looking back I can see that the universe was not so discretely demonstrating for me just how rusty my d-bag radar was and convinced me that it will be a while until it’s in working order again. And you know what? I’m completely fine with that.
So I do feel grateful for that lesson and that I managed to basically skip past Act I and jumped right into the Soul Searching Act. But let me tell you – this part is fricken tough. In Brene Brown’s new book, Rising Strong, she identifies three basic steps to the “Rising Strong” process for picking yourself up when you’ve fallen (ironically, I started this post weeks before picking up this book). She demonstrates that the second step is the toughest, but also where the magic happens. I have yet to experience any “magic”, but I do know that someday I will look back and say, “YES! THAT’S what I was suffering through. God that was awful, but I’m so glad I went through it. It made me the woman I am today.”
But I’m not there yet. I’m definitely still in the dark, messy, brutal part. Recently I have had more than several instances where it feels that I’m not getting anywhere, that there’s no point in trying and I’m ready say “F it” and just throw in the towel. In a conversation with a great friend in the midst of a very dark week, I asked her why I don’t seem to be snapping out of it.
“Why do I seem to be stuck in these trenches of pain and fear and uncertainty and why is it not getting any better? I’ve always bounced back so quickly. I’m doing all the right things and life still sucks. What the F is going on??”
Pause. Silence. She does this and it’s a little annoying, but I always know she’s going to say something that makes perfect sense. She is, after all, a licensed therapist.
“I know. It sucks. But you’re growing, Mel. For the first time you’re really digging in and figuring it out instead of jumping right into the next thing to fill the void. You’re doing the work to grow. Real growth is hard and it hurts. And it takes time. But you are going to come out stronger and such a better mom, partner and person when you get to the other side.”
Well, shit. That’s what I was afraid of. No shortcuts. I just have to keep going and have faith and hope that it WILL get better and it will all someday pay off.
Admittedly, there’s a part of me that actually thought this phase would only last a few months. I knew it would be a tough and rocky climb, but somehow I figured I would have reached the summit (or at least some sort of plateau) in my quest to find my footing on the new, solid foundation of life by now. But as my friend alluted to, this dark, murky, uncertain, climbing, growing, learning, soul-searching phase is definitely going to take quite a bit longer than I originally anticipated. And I’m completely fine with this as well. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve learned from my past that the only way out is through it. So if you need me, climbing my way “through it” is where I’ll be.
After picking up the kids from daycare the other day, I was pulling out of the parking lot onto the a road which has been completely torn up leaving nothing but a giant gaping hole of dirt and pipes. Noticing the overwhelming mess and inconvenience caused by the construction, my four year old complained, “Ugh, Mama! Why did they have to ruin this street? It was fine and now it’s all a mess! How are we supposed to get anywhere?? Fixing it is going to take FOREVER.”
Completely missing the metaphorical correlation, I responded, “Well honey, the street looked okay from the outside, but underneath it needed a lot of work. It’s going to be a pretty big mess for a while, but when they’re done it will be all fixed up and even better than it was before.”
She accepted my explanation and I grinned silently as the correlation of what I had just said and what my friend had told me about growth and change set in. I can do this, I thought. I can wait. Because when I’m all done with my Act II, however long this might take, I’ll be all fixed up and even better than I was before.
And then maybe…I will finally get the chance to live out my Act III.