Admitting to being a human can be refreshing. It doesn’t happen very often. We are all so caught up in what other people might think, or what it means if we admit to some sort of infallibility. I just finished reading Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton, and I thought her writing about how her marriage almost failed, but then didn’t, was lovely, and honest and real. And then I read that Glennon and her husband just recently divorced after all of the work that they did to save their marriage. I was confused. I truly wanted to know how they could, after ALL of the work and the time and the therapy she and her husband endured, just call it quits. Turns out, Glennon is engaged to a lady now – so that might be the short story. But, I’ve been at the end of a marriage, and in my head, I thought. How? How do you make a commitment to save your marriage, chronicle that messy stuff in a memoir, and then leave anyway?
I’m always skeptical of writing about relationships. If you read the archives of my own blog, you’ll find writing about my marriage. And you’ll find writing, too, about how it failed. I guess writing that “my marriage failed” isn’t really the way that it happened. People fail each other. That’s what happened in my house, anyway. I think when you put your stuff out there for all the world to read, it can mean two things. Either one, that you’re brave for sharing those deeply personal emotions. Or two, that when stuff heads south, as it so often does, people are likely going to judge you. Harshly. Because that’s what most people do: delight in other’s misfortunes. We live in the United States of Schadenfreude, and life is good there, because it’s easier to laugh at, or gossip about someone else’s issues than it is to turn inward and think about why you feel such deep emotions about other people’s shit.
Glennon’s writing made me think about my own marriage. The truth is, that over the years, I moved in one direction in my marriage, and Steve moved in another. I broke, years before our divorce, into little pieces. I broke as I had babies, became a mother, and grappled with questions like “who am I supposed to be to these little people?” and, “who am I outside of my marriage and my family?” and, “how can I be a different person for myself and for my girls than my own mother was for me?” I thought so much back then about these things that it nearly took me under. Parenting, and even marriage, didn’t come naturally to me. I didn’t have the kind of model of either that I wanted to emulate. I was constantly questioning who I was and where I was supposed to be. Would I always be defined by another person – as someone’s wife? I resented that, and I felt trapped by it. I tried everything I could to break away from that – earning different educational degrees and finding new friends who were my own - not his to begin with. I felt broken, and for years I struggled with how to put the pieces back together.
Over time, I realized that though I may have felt broken, I had really always known exactly who I was. Instead, what I really needed was to work through the stuff that made me, well…me. Perhaps in trying to define who I was within a marriage, I had become someone else, someone I didn’t really like, or even know. Fixing yourself can be painful work. It can mean that when the pieces of your puzzle are put back together, you don’t look the same as you thought you did. Glennon writes, “You wake up one day and realize that you have put yourself back together completely differently. That you are whole, finally, and strong – but you are now a different shape, a different size. This sort of change — the change that occurs when you sit inside your own pain — it’s revolutionary…And no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot fit into your old life anymore. You are like a snake trying to fit into old, dead skin, or a butterfly trying to crawl back into the cocoon, or new wine trying to pour itself back into an old wineskin. This new you is equal parts undeniable and terrifying. Because you just do not fit. And suddenly you know that. And you have become a woman who doesn’t ignore her knowing. Who doesn’t pretend she doesn’t know. Because pretending makes you sick. And because you never promised yourself an easy life, but you did promise yourself a true one. You did promise – back when you were putting yourself back together – that you’d never betray you again.”
These words hit me directly in my core. This is where I realized that it truly doesn’t matter that her marriage failed even after that hard work. I set the book down after finishing it, and realized that all of the things that outsiders have speculated about the end of my own marriage, all of the things I’ve had people say to me, or not say to me, and all of the things people may have assumed about me…don't matter. What matters now is how to move ahead and to show my girls not how to pretend to have a perfect life, but how to be ok with living within a beautifully imperfect life.
Glennon’s story is not my own: I’m not an alcoholic. I’m not a bulimic, and I didn’t leave my husband for a lesbian. I don’t have the same relationship with the church that Glennon has, and her writing about God wasn’t what I connected with. But in a lot of ways, Glennon’s story is everyone’s story. Finding who we really are is hard, it takes a lot of time, and in the end, it can put us in a very different place than we once imagined for ourselves. It can change everything. It means admitting to being fallible. It means admitting to fucking up. It means admitting that you might actually not know anything about anything. And it means that it’s ok to have a say in where your life goes. Imagine that.