Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Dear Anonymous...

This blog has really evolved since I started it last October. Originally, it was a continuation of our family blog and also served the dual purpose of therapeutic journaling and offering proof to family members that I was both getting out of bed and processing my grief instead of drinking it away :-) I never anticipated or expected than anyone beyond the few friends and family that kept up with the old blog would be following it.

Emotions and experiences I have chronicled here have resonated with others who are either in my same situation or have a loved one who is. I was both shocked and touched by all of you who have come forward to say that you have found comfort in a common thread and in seeing that someone else has the exact same emotions, thoughts and experiences. Sympathy is always welcome during any healing process, but genuine empathy is rare and surprisingly comforting. I have connected with some amazing women within the last year and now belong to a strange international web of single moms/struggling wives who are at various stages of surviving. There are those who are further along in the process who are inspirational proof to me that this won't kill me and in return I want to pass anything I have learned along to the 'newbies.' Some of you have come out to simply give a one-time hello and 'hang in there' and please know that I have appreciated every single comment. One in particular made me teary last week (last comment in last week's post if you are interested.) We'll call you Anonymous #1. The sentiments expressed in comments like yours are one of the huge reasons I keep writing and keep it as honest as possible. I feel less alone when I know others feel the same way and I am pleased (if admittedly startled) to find that complete strangers are finding comfort in how I have chosen to express myself.

And then there are commenters like the one I got last night. We'll call you Anonymous #2 (because they bravely did not post their name). This last week has been brutal. J finally filed papers (too raw, I will get to that another time) and three days later, I found out that he introduced the kids (without my knowledge) to daddy's new "friend." In response, I broke my long silence with this "friend" and sent her a long overdue, very accurate assessment of her actions, her character, my disapproval that she would get to be anywhere near my children and my complete contempt that she could ever look me in the eye. I was not surprised to get the comment that came through last night with some "advice." Anonymous #2 suggested that I 'get over it and move on' and then snarkily stated something about how I should go out and get someone better if I thought I was so much better.' I laughed at you Anon #2. I laughed because the implication that I was being dramatic and dragging out the process of 'getting over it' was so completely asinine. Nine months ago, after a revelation of infidelity through much of my marriage, I was left with three children, five and under (one of them a newborn). I make no apologies about not being 'over it' less than a year later. I read the comment, rolled my eyes and took a moment to wonder why Anonymous #2 was so impatient unless they were affiliated with someone who had an invested interest in the wife moving on? I logged off, went to bed and did not lose any sleep over the matter. I have every intention of moving on and being happy, but not until I process and grieve. We are not talking about losing a boyfriend here. We are talking about my husband, my best friend, the father of my three children and, in my culture, my eternal companion. Whoever you are Anon #2, my advice to you is that you keep yours until you or someone you love is in my situation and see if it still applies. To you or anyone else who is annoyed by how I am handling the end of my marriage, I would like to invite you to not take the time to read this blog :-) You'll never be missed.

But the bottom line is that I don't want or need the extra drama in my life. This is the one and only time I will be responding to or addressing this subject. I have always had comment moderation turned on and reserve the right to not post rude comments although this is the first time it has come up. Although everyone has been respectful so far and I haven't needed to edit anything, I would also never allow snarky comments about J. I am reacting to choices made by him, but this blog is about me and how I am choosing to cope. It is not meant to vilify or slam him. Inexplicably, I still care about him quite a bit.

Anyone who would like to connect in a positive way, please don't hesitate! Anyone else who is tempted to be mean, please don't bother. Simply because I am under no obligation to address anyone's 'advice,' someone else is now moderating my comments before they are posted and I will never see or address anything that would be considered poison. If nothing else, the fact that the comment did not derail me emotionally is a surprising testament to how far I have come. Even a few months ago, reading something like that would have made me cry. Now, I can clearly see the idiocy and bias behind the sentiment. If I am still writing the same stuff in five years, you can try me again. Until then, I am choosing to only keep the positive where I can.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The 'Soul Mate' Myth

I was thinking about movies tonight as I cleaned the kitchen (most specifically how I have only been able to bring myself to go to 2 since last summer) and my mind strayed to the plot of the movie 'You've Got Mail.' I remember seeing this movie and enjoying it at the time, but it has long since occurred to me that I view the world very differently than I did a year ago.

In case you were living under a rock around 1999 and never saw that movie, here is a short recap. The opening scene shows a quirky Meg Ryan character cheerfully waving her partner out the door after solidifying date plans for the evening. As soon as she makes sure he is gone, she sneaks back to check her email to see if she has any messages from her new email pen pal (Tom Hanks). She has, and skips off to work with a light heart. Long plot short, the email relationship progresses to where they decide it is time to meet. Wires get crossed, hilarity ensues, etc. etc. until the final idyllic meeting in a flower garden complete with a final kiss and a handsome dog that practically winks at you as the credits roll. Happy ever after...

Here is my problem. Both characters are in committed relationships with others. With Tom Hanks' character there is some back story that we don't see and despite whatever history and decisions caused them to be exclusive, she is portrayed as being a little nutty and clearly "not a match" for him, but of course he doesn't 'realize' this until the 'woman of his dreams' comes along. So, the audience is released from any guilt they might feel over this jerk who is dating one woman and starting a relationship with another. On the other side, audience guilt is assuaged by the fact that Meg Ryan and her boyfriend determine over dinner that they are not in love after all, and isn't that amazing?...are you seeing anyone? Voila! Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan are free to fall in love and live happily ever after and everyone is taken care of. I get that no one would sit through a romantic comedy that depicts reality, where the partners left behind fall into depression and humiliation and loneliness and go through boxes of tissues, but I can't help but feel a little tricked, given my new perspective.

We find ourselves rooting for success in a situation that involves cheating and justifying it based on the fact that "they weren't right for each other" or "they were soul mates." Except in the movies it gets all wrapped up at the end and there is none of this messy, painful aftermath. Those who would probably not condone cheating in real life find themselves buying into the fallacy that 'true love' is an acceptable justification regardless of who gets ditched or trampled over. 'Enchanted' is another movie that comes to mind. In this case, the "other woman" starts out with the best of intentions (as they all tell themselves), is not consciously making a play for the leading man and even gives advice on how to be a good boyfriend. Despite this, they just can't keep themselves from 'falling in love' and the final dance scene leaves the very nice, very normal fiancee sad and at loose ends...for about 10 seconds, until prince charming whisks her away and they immediately get married. All taken care of!

I get that I am a little super sensitive right now, but one of the things I am constantly aware of is that my situation leaves me open to a certain amount of speculation by others. People, even with the kindest intentions, probably wonder what went on behind closed doors. Why would a man cheat if his home life was going well? (This is called the Prevention Myth among therapists; that a happy marriage is insurance against infidelity. In reality, a recent study showed that well over half the men polled indicated that they became involved with someone else even though they would have classified their marriage as 'happy.') Those who are sympathetic to J and don't know me well, likely assume that I was a crazy wife who was unbearable to live with, or we just ultimately didn't click (despite 2 years of dating, 8 years of marriage and 3 children...). Why else would he stray, right? What I didn't realize was that I, myself, had bought into entertainment that perpetuates many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding affair relationships. Finding what you think is your 'true love' or 'soul mate' is never an acceptable reason to cheat, yet we find ourselves cheering for just that assuming that the original partners are either wrong or crazy on some level. How much does this kind of media saturate how we view love and/or the reasons things go wrong. How much does it sink in when our children watch it without us realizing it? Does it very quietly teach all of us that stepping outside of your committed relationship is sometimes ok, as long as the people are clearly meant to be. And besides, if they were really in love with the other person, they wouldn't be interested in someone else, right? Every time I hear that theory, I just want to poke holes in it with a huge stick (a justice stick... :-)

So, what's the answer? I am clearly speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has been damaged by betrayal, and I understand that they are just stories. I am not suggesting that the solution is to boycott the 'soul mate' plot line or anything, but we need to take care how we view them and how insidiously some of the ideas can take root to help us justify our own or someone else's behavior. It's important to constantly remind ourselves that 'soul mates' are made, not born. Getting married (or committed) does NOT mean that you will never be attracted to, or have the ability to emotionally bond with someone else. Having your relationship take work is NOT evidence that it is wrong or that you must not have been right in the first place. Loving more than one person at a time is possible, if confusing. It's called Polyamory and obviously gets messy in a society where monogamy and fidelity are highly valued. Most affairs start by being placed in a situation where you are required to work together and thereby bond on some level and almost always start out as 'just friends' who find reasons to share more and more of what they have in common, which is exactly what they should be doing with the person they originally committed to. And you absolutely cannot measure the value of a relationship when someone else is in the wings.. The biggest mistake any couple can make is to assume that it will not happen to them. It can, unless you take measures to protect the relationship you committed to through marriage or family or even just a mutual understanding. People wind up hurting their partners without even realizing how they got there and I promise that the aftermath is nothing like a Hollywood movie. There is more than just one possible fish in the sea for everyone, and because of that, you have to do extra work to constantly build the soul mate relationship with that one person and keep swimming with your chosen fish. I don't believe that being in love is always easy, especially when real life intrudes, but I still do believe it is worth the work.

I have a lot of ideals that I would love my kids to know to avoid the same trials I am going through, and one of them is that the only insurance for any relationship is constantly working at it and caring for it like a living thing. You cannot ignore it and assume it will always still be there. In many ways, I carry the guilt of that as well as J. I made assumptions that his level of commitment always matched mine and just assumed we would come out of any rough patches together. I did not see what happened even as a possibility and I was incredibly naive. As I do harp on so often, I would want my kids to remember that they always have a choice, and that doesn't go away once the rings are on the fingers. The idea of 'meant to be' kind of takes away our agency and lets people get themselves off the hook when they stray. People rarely, if ever, get married by sheer relationship inertia. They do so because they want to spend their lives together and raise their families together. When you choose someone, you have to keep bonding and reminding yourselves what brought you together, because in the wake of real life (and the possible indoctrination that love is supposed to be easy and happy every minute of every day), you can forget you ever had your reasons in the first place and sometimes you don't realize that until it is too late.

As for me, I will still (eventually) go see romantic comedies with the 'soul mate' plot, but I will likely watch them with a lot more cynicism than I did before. And I can't promise that I won't be doing a lot of eye rolling and snorting in jaundiced disbelief. I'll try to do it quietly though...

Monday, May 10, 2010

So Very Loved...

J took the kids shopping for my birthday and let them pick out the presents themselves. Junior got me a Pear-Vanilla candle ("because you love pear, mom") and Bubba was very excited to present me with "steak" (beef jerky).

Today I turned 32, and I have been dreading it. I didn't stress out when I made the big switch from my 20's to my 30's. In fact, I remember welcoming it because I was so very happy with where my life was. I had a beautiful little family that I got to be a stay at home mommy to and I was married to a man I adored. We owned a house and J's own business was well under way. We were healthy, we were no longer poor and the future felt bright. 30 was great! This year, I have not thought of notching another year without a lot of dread. I just wasn't up for celebrating the launch of a year in which I was back to square one in so many ways. Single mom, emotionally damaged and considering a return to both school and ultimately, the work place. In such a short time, my future had gone from fairly predictable to not knowing how I am going to feel from one day to the next. As both my birthday and Mother's Day (which always fall within a week of each other) approached, I hit a low low. Not the collapsed on the kitchen floor kind, but a new reality, which was becoming harder and harder to either ignore or "pollyanna" away. Things are starting to come full circle. Junior started T-ball again and I didn't realize I had such painful memories of his last few games last season after the baby was born and after my heart was broken until we arrive for the first game. My daughter turns one in a few weeks, which means that a few days after that is the first anniversary of the most heartbreaking, wrenching, bereft time I have ever known. She has been picking up new things like crazy and it physically aches to not share these things with her father like I did with the boys. I have concerns about each of the kids that I wish I had another invested parent to talk over. I am on the verge of moving to another city and leaving this house is almost as hard as staying in it. Sis has caught just about every virus that has come by and for the last few weeks has been throwing up shortly after going to bed. My kitchen is still torn apart because nothing can happen until the cabinet guys get it together. I am weary and I wake up each morning with an aching jaw from clenching it in the night and aching muscles from being so strained all the time waiting for whatever emotional blow will come next. I still miss J greatly and I really wish I didn't.

On top of all that, I have been a little alarmed at how sad I still am and how unaccustomed to my new life I remain after almost a year. I have been reminded that there is no timeline on grief, but I had it in my head that I would be further along by now. I have been fairly blog silent lately. I have started to write a few times and as I got going I realized that I should probably adhere to what my father-in-law refers to as the "Thumper Rule" (if you can't say anything nice, etc. etc.) I felt like anything I had to say was too negative for even as honest as I try to keep this account. I don't like to be a burden on those I love and I am all too aware that many who love me have had quite a year worrying on my behalf, and that worries me. I can't help it, it's who I am :-) I have a fairly wide streak of what my Dad refers to as 'stubborn' but I like to think of as 'independent.'

For all these reasons, I requested to keep the holiday and my birthday low key. At best, I hoped they could pass as most days do without pomp and circumstance to remind me of the loss of the man that both made me a mother and has spent my birthday with me for the last 11 years. It just felt like celebrating required energy I couldn't muster up. I didn't expect anyone to ignore it, but I also didn't feel like blowing out candles. I just wanted it to go by. "Next year we'll go nuts" I promised all those who came forward with kind offers of how to spend the day.

I spent the morning reading birthday wishes via email and facebook and then Britny came over with a project she had been working on (that many of you reading this were a part of.) For those that don't know, she sent out a request to friends and family to write me a letter either of encouragement, reminisces (to help replace all the memorabilia that got soaked) or love. Clearly Britny knows me! I am the most sentimental person you are likely to come across and I have kept every letter anyone has ever written me. She printed all these out and put them in a binder and I spent the afternoon reading the letters and laughing and crying. It doesn't take much to make me teary anymore, but it occurred to me that my tears were the first happy ones (among thousands) I have shed since Sis was born almost a year ago. It was perfect and just right for the kind of birthday I wanted to have this year. Being at square one hasn't changed and I won't pretend that it is not something I won't struggle with still, but sometimes I get mired down a little in "poor me" and forget the vast network of amazing people God has put in my path to love me and help me cope.

To those of you who contributed, you will be getting a personal thank you before long, but I couldn't let today go by without letting you know how much your thoughts, memories and encouragement made my day. You have boosted my spirits immeasurably and I hope you all can go to sleep with warm fuzzies knowing how grateful I am for everyone who took the time to lift me. It is one of the best presents I have ever received in my life and I will always treasure it and hope it stands as a testament to my children of the kindness people can show each other as well as the immense value of family and friends.

Thank you also to everyone who contributed to the new iPod! I am so excited, but Junior is ecstatic! He has felt so bad about leaving the last one in the rental car. I will look into somehow surgically attaching this one to my hand because I swear by the Hammer of Thor that no one else will get a free iPod off of me ever!!

I had one of the most memorable birthdays I think I will ever have and it turned out to be a wonderful day. I am so touched and so grateful and I feel so very loved. Thank You!

Sis waiting patiently at Junior's T-ball game tonight (I just can't get over how beautiful she is) This picture was taken about 30 seconds before it started to rain and soaked us on our way back to the car. We wrapped up the evening at Chuck E. Cheese, which obliged by being almost deserted. Perfect!