Maybe the truth is that I
am a broken miracle, something
you never wanted, weightless
and unimportant, a cut-out heart
that still manages to take up
too much space.
Maybe what you call life
is merely survival, and who
hasn’t been in that lion’s mouth?
But I’ve got the scars to prove
I wasn’t martyred, and whenever
it was offered I drank the wine –
but this missing has gotten so big
that I’m lost in it, and what I want
is to lose this fear of heights
and fall without falling down.
Maybe my heart is just black ice
and it’s always the middle of the night,
maybe I fear I am that ordinary,
a pretty face, your worst mistake,
not worth taking a stand for –
sometimes, betrayal feels a lot like indecision.
Maybe I’m the Patron Saint
of Bad Choices, a hand-me-down heart
too stubborn to put up any walls,
or close the windows,
or stop standing out in the middle
of the street – I play emotional chicken
at the worst times, daring disaster
like a champion – only, my bravery
is a hard-won parlor trick,
clockwork blood, years
of choosing love over reason.
there’s too much soul
in my sin, and this
is the price I pay for wanting,
but I’m glad that you
can pretend not to notice
this howling absence:
at least one of us
is good at lying to ourselves –
but you forget, love
has its own way of praying.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. ~Mary Oliver
Let’s just get this out in the open: I’ve never been divorced. I’ve never been married. I can’t say with definitive wisdom what either thing is like – then again, no one really can. Because all relationships – all marriages and separations – are different. Why? People are different.
But while I don’t know marriage, I do know relationships. They are always hard work, and they’re never 100% easy. Everyone argues, disagrees, and has unhappy moments. The key is that those unhappy bits are just moments, not the status quo. Also important is that the relationship is healthy. (That goes for any relationship, really.)
Now that’s out of the way, let me get to the point. There seems to be a current opinion going around that divorce is going to ruin your children. It’s backlash to the whole “kids are resilient” statement that I’ve heard, now and then. Today, I was also treated to the notion that a person’s happiness doesn’t really matter – and staying together for the children is exactly what everyone should do.
But I have to wonder, honestly, what that teaches kids – does it tell them not to value themselves and that it’s wise to continue living in misery?
For the record, I’m not talking about a situation in which one’s spouse has run off on a whim. You’re not a magpie chasing a shiny object. You’re a person. For the hypothetical situation, let’s say we’re dealing with a couple who have children, but who are miserable. There’s little common ground. There are lots of arguments. You’ve tried, time and again, to fix things – to do the ‘right’ thing. But nobody’s happy. No one is even close to happy. Happy is another solar system.
Do you stay together for the kids, then? I don’t think kids are a good enough reason. And no, I’m not advocating for abandoning your children. But I am advocating that you don’t use them as glue or logic. They’re tiny humans, not pawns.
Most of the time, I think miserable couples stay together for a few reasons.
- They’re afraid of failing. Because a lot of people look at divorce like a test. But it’s not pass/fail, guys. You don’t fail at marriage or even a relationship. Sometimes, things just don’t work. It can be for a number of reasons. Maybe you didn’t know each other well enough when you got involved. Maybe one or both of you changed. Maybe you don’t love each other. Not loving someone is a valid reason.
- They’re afraid of how it might look. I’ll admit it: divorce probably isn’t for the faint of heart. There are nosy people who will always cast you some epic side eye and gossip about you behind your back. But, newsflash: they’re probably already whispering about your crappy relationship now, so you’re not really saving face. Seriously: life is too short to save face. Your face will be fine.
- Divorce is not easy. You have to reconfigure your life. It’s like a puzzle, but you’re blindfolding, and someone might have gnawed on a few of the pieces. It’s complicated and messy. And, you know, scary. Because things won’t be the same. Your relationships will be different, but different doesn’t inherently mean bad. They might actually be healthier in the long run.
- Money. This one is a kicker. Figuring out financials, and even paying for a divorce, can be pricey. You might have to pay lawyer fees or for mediation. And you have to split assets, determine child support. It’s not easy to suss out. But if money is the only thing holding your marriage together, is it really together at all? No, probably not.
- Fear. This one can be brutal. You might be afraid of being alone, afraid your kids will hate you, or afraid that you’ll never find love. You might even worry that you are unlovable, that you’re responsible for the demise of the relationship, or that you’re not deserving of love. Because, hey, this other person no longer wants to be with you. What I can tell you is this: it takes two people to frak up a relationship, most of the time. But ending a bad marriage is like leaving a job you hate. You’re taking yourself out of a toxic environment. And maybe taking a stand for happiness is teaching your kids something good.
I’ve known a staggering number of people who stay in relationships for these reasons, and 98% of the time, they all truly boil down to fear. And guilt. And shame. I don’t think there should be shame in saying you’re unhappy and don’t want to continue on the path of misery. It doesn’t mean you’re broken. It doesn’t mean the other person is a monster. It just means that things don’t work. You can replace a car’s engine and even rebuild it from scratch, but if the damn thing doesn’t have tires, it’s not going anywhere.
Some relationships don’t have tires.
I know a couple who seemed to get along. They threw parties and had people over. They smiled in all their pictures. But behind the scenes? The parents fought all the time. Constantly. It was an emotional cesspool of NOPE. They were not bad people, and they certainly got married for a reason. But it was wildly apparent to those involved in the situation that no one was happy. And yet, the parents stayed together. Dutifully. Resiliently. Miserably.
You know what happened? One day, their two kids sat them down (high school age and middle school age kids) and told them if they didn’t get a divorce, they were going to live with grandma. Because everyone was miserable. Dad was unhappy. Mom was unhappy. They argued over everything, not just bills and financials. And the kids saw everything that was going on. They were not dumb. Kids are not dumb. And while the parents thought they were doing the ‘right’ thing by sticking it out, it turned out they weren’t. (They divorced shortly after this, and everyone was better off. No one was living in a battlefield.)
Divorce will not ‘ruin’ your children. You know what will? Constant fighting. An absence of love. And no, I’m not just talking about the love a parent has for their child, but the love one spouse has for the other. Love is essential. Yes, friendship/companionship are vital, too. But you have to love the other person for it to work. The same goes for really deep friendship. I am totally in love with all my friends. DIFFERENT kind of love, but still: love. If I don’t love you in some way, I don’t need you. (I’m not talking about the mailman or my obgyn, mind you. But actual relationships.)
The truth is that it’s not enough to just get along. You shouldn’t have to grit your teeth and lie back and think of England. A person should have enough respect for themselves to know when to remove themselves from an unhealthy situation. That is a good example of self-love – not selfishness. It’s often too easy to forget that.
Divorce doesn’t mean you failed. It doesn’t mean your kids are going to be impossibly messed up FOREVER. There are innumerable other ways to do irrevocable harm to your children – ending a miserable situation is not one of them.
Lately, I’ve seen a lot of people judging other people for the audacity to get divorced. I’ve seen parents try to use their kids as pawns, too. I’ve also witnessed one spouse blaming the other for ruining their children – because the initiated a divorce. In all honesty, that is NOT a person you want to be in a relationship with. No relationship should be about belittling the other person. Or winning. Or placing blame. Guilt trips have no place in a healthy, functional, happy relationship. Period. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200. Go directly to HELL NO, and stay there.
Being with the right person matters. Being with someone, through the ups and downs, who makes you happy? It matters. No relationship is smooth sailing all of the time, but there’s a difference between arguments and battlefields. In the end, you deserve to be happy. Screw anyone who tries to tell you differently.
Remember the lights
and the inconvenient timing,
hearts showing up
to find hands, love
in the time of early mornings
and parking lots,
split open to reveal
only the best parts –
now, I have sticky fingers
and too much rain.
has become a river
inside my heart, unsteady
and wanting, with gravel
and glass for hope,
an unconventional mess
of beauty, an unsaid
prayer for the days
of parking lots, hands
when you conjured fire
and we only thought
we were alone.
We have tried on every season
like stars, our bodies
as certain as the night sky,
and this is how we always found our way
home, kisses like constellations
and stories arriving
in sighs – all before
the moon had a chance to sleep.
I want the ancient creak
of mornings and the sound
of footsteps on old pavement,
waiting around corners
for doors to be unlocked
and the chance
to kiss hello – the hour
may have been angry
with the dawn, but I was never
unsure of any minute,
that small scored out piece
of an unexpected heaven
yours and mine.
the frail hands of fear
for stronger secrets:
I’ll bend if you will,
come on now –
you know where to find me.
There’s the illusion of freedom in not knowing something. A gap in knowledge can seem like an open door. In truth, it rarely is. Most often, it is a kind of quicksand – something you struggle against, only to keep sinking. There’s the possibility of escape, the idea of it. But that’s not the same thing as really being free, is it?
Lately, I’ve been circling around a choice. Do I do the thing and remove all doubt? Do I try and see what happens? Then, either way it goes down, can I live with the consequences? That’s the tricky part: living with the end result. The most difficult thing isn’t summoning up the courage to Do the Thing. It’s enduring what happens after, when you know. Where there’s definitive proof. Because you can’t unknow something any more than you can hit Undo on any aspect of life. There’s no delete button (or, in the immortal words of Willow Rosenberg, deliver button). There’s no going back.
So, yes, there’s the illusion of freedom in not knowing. Because you console yourself with the idea that you can always Do the Thing later. It’s like the worst version of a backup plan, really. It’s like keeping an apple in your pocket for some undetermined later. Eventually, that apple is going to rot. And now, you’ve lost the chance to eat it. That may be the worst analogy ever, but still.
There’s a false comfort, I think, in hanging on to the option to do something. Although, I grant you, there’s nothing easy at uncovering truth. Even at its best, it can be an ugly sort of beautiful. But as a person who constantly tries to get to the heart of everything – people, situations, stories, motives, moments, etc. – I still see elegance in the mess, a grace in the chaos. So, why have I been dragging my feet on this thing?
Well, it’s a last option, in a way. Like walking into a labyrinth, I either find the way out or end up hanging out with Jareth for the rest of time. (Bowie forever, guys.) Sometimes, in life, there are only two options: do nothing or Do the Thing. That’s it. There’s no column C. There’s no third door. There’s just this or that. There’s left or right. Yes or no. Do or not. Thankfully, I’m not green or two feet tall – but Yoda had a point. There’s no try. There’s do or do not.
And I’ve never been comfortable with doing nothing. It goes against my entire nature. I was born three months early. I have consistently bad timing, but it’s my timing. I’m always a little left of the middle. But sitting on my hands makes me absolutely insane. Yes, sometimes there is good reason to do so. Yes, it can be necessary. But very rarely is that so.
Learning the truth can be hard. But living in limbo is a hell of a lot harder, darlings. You can’t go back and undo something that turns out to be a disaster, but you also can’t go back and do something you wished you did. So, move forward in a direction – any direction. Learn what needs learning. Be brave enough to know.