On Reality Shaping

“So now I have started living my own life. Imperfect and clumsy as it may look, it is resembling me now, thoroughly.” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.

This seems like as good a place as any to start. The thing about sitting down to tell a story that began nine years ago, and still isn’t really fully done, is that it’s hard to understand where to begin. There is no clear and logical arc, and I could probably start from multiple places and end up at the exact same point. Since the end point is the one I’m most certain of, let’s just start there: I’m divorcing my husband.

The other thing about telling a story that began nine years ago, and still isn’t really fully done, is that you have to decide what you want the story to actually *be about.* Because it could be about a lot of things: it could be about his mistakes, or it could be about my mistakes, or it could be about anger, or sadness, or pure, unbridled terror. And all of these things would be perfectly appropriate, and perfectly relevant to this stage in my life. But I think I want it to be about joy. Not to spoil anything, I guess, because there is more here to read, but if you stop reading now I’d like you to know that this is actually going to be about joy.

The last thing about telling a story that began nine years ago, and still isn’t really fully done, is that once I get the story down, that part is over. This is the pretty phenomenal part, in my opinion. In thinking about the story, and in talking about the story, it’s easy to continually replay certain scenes and try to force them in to submission – to try to muscle them into telling a different truth, or to beat yourself up about why you didn’t see things the correct way the first time around. In writing it, though, it’s out there. And once it’s out there, it can be released. This can be the truth, or at least my truth, and I can begin to move on from it.

I spent a lot of years in the reality shaping business, and it was only recently that I gave up. Because here is what I know: I can discern the truths that I want from my own reality, certainly, and I can even attempt to shape other people’s perception of reality, but it’s all just so futile. Life happens, and that is the reality of it.

The most common question that I get asked when I tell someone that I’m leaving my husband is one that you might guess: “What happened?”. Here is the thing about that question – it is dumb. There is no way to answer that with any sort of coherent thought. Nothing happened. Everything happened. I don’t know what happened, but it happened, and here we fucking are.

Here is a brief synopsis of the things that have happened over the last year that have stretched me, and pained me, and straight up FORCED me to accept reality: I’ve had a lot of experiences with truth tellers, some expected and some not.

I’ve had people on airplanes who don’t know me and have not talked to me tell me that they’re praying for me, and make profound proclamations about fulfillment in life. I’ve had a TSA agent look me full in the eye while I was in the process of extracting my life from my husband’s and say “Be strong, ok?” while winking at me. I’ve had an old friend unexpectedly hold up a mirror I didn’t want held up but I had no choice but to look into. I’ve had my best friend sit on the floor with me for hours and help me make plans while I laid there and sobbed like my life was ending. I’ve had countless hours spent flying, listening to music, gazing out the window, to think.

Brené Brown happened. Elizabeth Gilbert happened (again. And this time I was ready for her.) This article happened. (Brief aside: I am not an expert on marriage, clearly, but I think when it’s done correctly it can be beautiful and maybe downright miraculous, and I think that everyone who is ever going to be married should be forced to read that article, because he boils the entire concept of picking someone to marry down to the most perfect and simple thing.)

None of that is incredibly coherent, but here is the gist of it: too many things happened to stop pretending like everything was ok. And the absolutely mind-boggling, inconceivable thing about all of it is this: once I stopped rejecting these things, and stopped attempting to shape reality, it was all just ok. It was all just great, actually. I spent so many years willfully crafting this reality that I wanted to put out in the world. I cultivated the way I dressed. I bought a large house in one of the best towns to raise a family in America. I made that house look like it was in an Anthropologie catalogue. I learned how to roast a turkey, and set a table that my mother-in-law would die over, and then I hosted the most unbelievably perfect Thanksgivings ever. I looked put together all the time. I laughed at the right jokes. I got promotions, and more promotions, and my husband and I took trips to Europe, and Wine Country, and Mexico, and took perfect Instagram pictures of our perfectly Instagrammable life.

And I was absolutely, without a doubt, 100% completely miserable. I want to pause here and note that this is not an indictment of my husband, or an attempt to insinuate that he was responsible for that misery. He was not. I was responsible for making the decisions that led directly to that misery, and once I stopped trying to blame him, and change him to prevent my further misery, things just got significantly clearer.

I spent a lot of time over the course of my marriage (it was 5 years long) going to Target. Here is why I mention that: I feel strongly that everyone should have something they want to do when they’re not doing “something else.” Everyone will spend a large percentage of their time hanging out with their friends, or spending time with their significant other, or going on trips, or working, or doing all of the stuff that everyone does. Then there will be another part of their life where they’ll have nothing to do, and they should have a thing they want to do when they have no other obligations. My “thing” was to go to Target. Are you understanding just a little bit how ridiculous I was? Target was a safe place for me. I could buy paper towels, and new rugs for the kitchen, and new adorable things to set on my coffee table. And I could do all of this under the guise of “running errands,” so no one ever thought anything of it.

Here is what I wanted my “thing” to be: I wanted to get on a bike, with a basket on it, and I wanted to ride that bike to a park. Then I wanted to lay out a blanket, and lie down on it, and read a book. Then I wanted to get back on my bike to head home. On the way home I’d stop for a coffee maybe, or a bottle of wine, and I’d go sit on my patio and watch the sun setting. But this did not jive with my reality. One might say it was completely contradictory to my reality, as a matter of fact, so I rejected it. I rejected absolutely everything that in any way required me to change my life. Because changing a life is fundamentally hard. It is the exact opposite of existing in a life that might not be the one you want but is one that is easy, and safe. Easy and Safe had become my way of life, and I would kick and scream at anyone who wanted to change that way of life. I spent a lot of time kicking and screaming at people and things and situations over the course of my marriage.

It’s so odd to me, looking at all of the things that happened over the course of the last year or so, that my breaking point happened in a really generic chain restaurant in suburban America. Such a seemingly innocuous place for a total life shift, right? I didn’t even understand fully that this was my breaking point until I forced myself to sit down and work through all of this. A slight backstory is that I had been out of town for a solid week the week prior. I’d never been away from my husband for that long. And the most succinct way to put this is that I’d had a lot of thoughts that week. My husband and I were in the process of making some life choices that were going to ensure that he and I were in it for the long haul – namely, we were trying to have a baby. So, anyway, I’d been away for a week, and I had been having a lot of thoughts that week, and various serendipitous things had occurred that had forced me to be real, and honest, and authentic. And I was sitting at a chain restaurant in suburban America on a Sunday afternoon having lunch with my mom, and my two sisters. And here is what happened:

We were having a seemingly normal lunch date, and chatting, and I had noticed a family in my periphery. They seemed relatively unoffensive, I guess; they looked like every other family in suburban America. Mom, Dad, son, daughter. The daughter and mom had on matching neon shirts emblazoned with the daughter’s cheerleading program, and the father and son had on wrestling shirts. They were all very tan, and clearly very involved in extracurricular activities. I began to hate this family. Bear with me, here, because I understand this is veering quickly into illogical territory. I’m certain this family was perfectly lovely. But it happened nonetheless. Anyway, so my mom says, after a few minutes, “Look at that family. They’re adorable.” And I muttered something to her about how everyone in the suburbs was so homogenous, and disingenuous, and that I absolutely hated when people wore matching shirts, or some variation of that – whatever I said was completely insufferable and really pretentious, and a little bit crazy. She gave me an odd look but attempted to ignore me. This was strike one. I didn’t stop there, though. I began to talk about how bored I was with my existing life in the suburbs.

Well, luckily, said my mom and sisters, my husband and I were getting ready to relocate closer in to the city, and were also going to have a baby! Two birds with one stone, yes? No more suburbs and no more boredom! You can NOT be bored with a baby. Here’s strike three, henceforth known as “The Time I Completely Lost My Shit In A Chain Restaurant.” I looked directly in my sister’s face, and said, with full conviction, “Oh my God. I don’t WANT to HAVE A BABY.” You should know, I guess, that this baby was *exactly* what I wanted, according to everything I’d been telling absolutely everyone who would listen for the last year. I had it all – I had the perfect life, my husband and I had firmly established careers, now it was time for the Pièce de résistance ! The baby!

In the effort of being kind, and not delving too much into the specifics of what happened between my husband and myself from that point forward, I’ll summarize the next few bits – there was a lot of shock at the table, we paid our bill and left, and I told my husband and mother both the next day that I was going to be separating from him. Then began all of the crying and wailing and general terror that I mentioned earlier.

And…here we are. This blog is not going to be about the divorce, though. This will (hopefully) be one of the only stories about that. Because here is the unbelievably amazing part of all this: in between the fear, and the sadness, and the not sleeping, and total and absolute sheer terror, I am beginning to experience these snippets of what my new life is going to be like. Those snippets are completely overwhelming to me in the amount of joy they contain. There’s been far too little joy in my life for the past few years. I’ve exerted a lot of energy dampening my feelings, and my thoughts, and making my authentic self generally smaller to force myself into this construct that I thought was more appropriate. And that was a pretty shitty way to live, to put it as mildly as possible.

This new thing I do is just laugh, all the time. There is so much laughing it verges on annoying. I truly can’t get it together and friends and family have been forced to just sit across from me in public places and wait while I try to stop giggling. It’s like I just shoved all of these things deep inside for so long — sadness, and anger, and pain, and every other emotion in the spectrum, and now it’s all just bubbling up as total mirth. And it is so amazing.

I want this blog to be about that mirth. And hopefully a collection of those snippets I keep seeing, so the next time I sit down to tell my story, I’ll have a logical starting point.