I don’t go to church. My affiliation with religion has been in name only for several years now, but I still find inspiration and guidance in the words of great books – most of them found in the self help section and written by women. Elizabeth Gilbert–who I lovingly refer to as “my Oprah”–and Glennon Moyle Delton are two of the biggest names in personal development writing, and their recent decisions to end their messages rattled my faith.
When I read their divorce announcements on Facebook I experienced a surprisingly visceral response.
“What the hell?” I thought. “Why do all these women keep leaving their husbands? Is this the new ‘in’ thing – to be oh so enlightened and then get divorced?”
I was angry, far angrier than any stranger has a right to be about someone else’s love life. Ironically, it was one of these women I judged so quickly that helped me understand why I was responding at all.
“Sometimes, when people make decisions about marriage, it evokes strong feelings in others. If my news does that to you today, please look inside and get curious about whether those feelings have more to do with you and your life than they do about me and mine.”
So I asked myself, “why do I care?”
The answer was obvious.
I cared because I’m afraid I should have left.
Seven years ago, I asked my husband for a divorce. Instead, we went through marriage counseling and fought our way back to each other. Of course, that’s the short and tidy version. The whole story is a decade in the making and is as ugly as betrayal, neglect, and love can be. The whole story includes enough tears to drown a past and bridge building that would make a mason proud. We fought, we won, and now we’re supposed to be living happily ever after.
But these women have forced me to face the hard truth: my marriage is still hard.
My marriage is still haunted by depression, and all the guilt, resentment, and disconnection that comes from living within its darkness. My marriage is made up of two completely different styles of communication and two completely opposite sets of coping mechanisms. My marriage feels easy and light on some days, and grinding and heavy on others. My marriage is marked with stupid arguments about stupid shit and a collection of journals filled with angst as I try to figure out why we argue about such stupid shit.
I tell myself this is how it’s supposed to be, that marriage is supposed to be hard and you don’t get to golden anniversaries without a few battle scars.
But these women make me rethink the value of hard.
I know a lot of women who have found redemption in letting go. I have seen their newfound joy and celebrated their rediscovery of self. I’ve cheered on my friends as they’ve walked away from hard marriages and walked into the lightness of something better.
I want lightness. I want joy. I want the evolution that comes from casting off old shells and spreading new wings!
I think I was not made for marriage. I am a mostly selfish person whose default mode is autonomy. I do independence really, really well. I love people, I’m fascinated by people, but I also have too much going on in my own head to ever be fully devoted to anyone else. Being single and happy would be easy for me, I’m certain of it.
That’s one of the reasons I stay.
While I know I can be happy alone, I believe I am called to learn happiness as part of a larger whole. My marriage is often a litmus test to show me how I’m connecting with the world around me, and it encourages me to find balance between Self and The Great Everything of Which I’m a Part. In learning to love and be loved, I’m being transformed into someone a little less selfish, a little better at listening, a little better at making room for the light in others.
And of course, there’s the man to whom I’m married. He is good and kind and so intrinsically part of me I could never not have him in my life. I choose to raise my kids in partnership with him, and I imagine navigating the world with him long after our kids have moved on to their own lives. When I picture my life, I picture him in it. There is nothing he holds me back from and he works his butt off to give me freedom to lose and find myself over and over again.
I forget that sometimes when the marriage is hard. I forget about the support and the easy laughter and the soul-level knowing each other sometimes when everyone else looks happier and freer and surely more enlightened than me.
The lesson in all this is laughably simple:
The only marriage that matters is my own.
It’s not better or worse to go or stay. An easy marriage is not more worthy than a hard one, and a woman cannot be declared more or less enlightened by another woman. The enlightenment comes in knowing your own truth.
There is beauty in sharing our stories. It connects us and makes us feel not alone, and sometimes we can even find inspiration for our own journeys. But there is danger, too, in the personal narrative swapping: It’s easy to lose the line between inspiration and imitation. In our similarities we can forget our uniqueness. In our search for connection we can fall prey to comparison.
The only _______ that matters is my own.
Thank you, Elizabeth & Glennon, for the reminder.