Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Love After Divorce

When I walked in, I saw the back of his head: beautiful, blonde hair. Next I noticed his bag, saving the seat next to him, my seat. For a moment I realized that I could have turned around and walked out. I wanted to, but I didn't want to. So I smoothed my hair down with my hands, adjusted my top and made my way towards him. When he turned and looked at me, I felt immense relief. He looked like his picture, and all of the sudden, the man I had been exchanging texts with for weeks was utterly, entirely and very much real.

He didn't know I was divorced. But he did know that I loved to read an entire book in one evening. He didn't know that I had a son. But he did know that one of my most meaningful experiences was helping a student find herself through poetry. He didn't know that I was living alone for the first time in my life. But he knew that I often felt out of place on the East Coast and that I was still defining home.

The last time I dated I was 19. Let's be honest, I never really dated. I had a serious boyfriend in high school and I met my ex-husband my freshmen year of college in an English class. No one was meeting online. When my friends started online dating I was married and pregnant. Their stories weren't romantic, but horrifying. After my divorce I was hesitant to start dating, especially online. The idea of creating and looking at profiles felt like a twisted combination of voyeurism and online shopping. My mother and my friends encouraged me. You are only 31, they said. You have so much to offer. I remember looking at my mother and saying, "who is going to want to date a divorced woman in her early thirties with a child when there are plenty of beautiful, successful and baggage free women ready and available?
Her response, "if only you could see what I see."

Lesson 1: Listen to your mother.
So when I went online and started talking to the man who is now my boyfriend, I told him what book I was reading and he picked up a copy and read it so we could talk about it on our first date, and I knew that this man was worth not walking out on. Usually aggressive, talkative and confident, I had to cast away my fear of rejection and I made a quick decision: I was going to do it differently with him. I decided that I was going to show him who I was, for better or for worse. I wanted to be in a relationship where I could be me. I had no idea what to expect or what I was doing. All I knew was that my story needed more than a first chapter; I still believed in love, even though my divorce made me question everything I knew about it and shook me to the core.

I hadn't heard his voice. I hadn't seen his face. We hadn't met, but I had feelings for him. Lingering by the door, trying to calm my joy juxtaposed with terror, I remembered what my therapist told me. Love will happen again if you are open to it. Divorce isn't the end. Divorce is the beginning.

Lesson 2: Listen to your therapist.
Those few steps I took towards him are some of the most important steps I've ever taken. We started talking and the talking came easy. Then, he mentioned he had a nephew and I blurted out,
"I have a son and I am divorced,"
He paused, smiled and said, "me too."
First dates are supposed to be awkward and full of painful long silences and conversations that fall flat. This first date wasn't. He had the same circumstances, the same fears, the same baggage that I did.

Lesson 3: You are not the only divorced parent dating.
When people ask how we met, I used to be embarrassed to say online, but now I am coming to realize that if it weren't for online dating, I never would have crossed paths with him. In some weird, cosmic, modern day way, we found our way to each other at exactly the right time in exactly the right place. He has shown me what true love and partnership can be and there is nothing more romantic than that.
My experience has made me want to encourage divorced women (when you're ready) to be open to online dating. Even if you worry that you're damaged goods, smooth down your hair, adjust your top, sit down and stay a while.

Lesson 4: Easier said than done.
There is often an identity crisis that occurs after a divorce. You have made a life with someone. Everything is intertwined from your finances to your belongings to your friends. It is even more tangled when you have children together. You stay parents even after you split. The untangling is a slow process and during it you have to become willing to discover who you are on your own. Suddenly you realize that you have no idea how to change a tire and that the problems you blamed on your ex really weren't his fault because they are still there waiting for you to fix them. The routine you became so accustomed to, even if it made you utterly, entirely and very much miserable is gone. Despite this chaos, you still have to go to work, raise your children, pay the bills and deal with the broken washing machine. Sometimes you also have to go to court and deal with lawyers. Life doesn't stop just because your marriage did.

Once the papers are signed and the parenting plan is in place, it feels a little bit like being on a plane that is circulating. The pilot says he can't land yet and so you are in a holding pattern. You know the plane will land at some point, but you don't know when. So you stay in your seat and wait.

When I started online dating, I had to get off the plane. My boyfriend wasn't my first online dating experience. I had a few rough dates and a rebound relationship that could be described as nothing short of a disaster--trying to fit a square peg into a round hole: I was settling and I wasn't ready.
So what was different this time? On our third date, we mapped out our parenting plans to make sure we had a date night every week. Romantic? Maybe not, but for us it was. It was another moment of connection and shared circumstances. I have been shocked by how easy our relationship is, despite our divorces. Was it terrifying to be myself and to let myself be vulnerable? Yes. Was it hard to figure out how to navigate co-parenting and our ex's? Yes. Was it hard to feel myself coming back to life and being me for the first time in years? No.

If you asked my boyfriend what makes for a good relationship, he would say a strong foundation. Our foundation was built from weeks of texting and grew from there. There is immense patience, acceptance and understanding in our relationship, but most importantly, there is laughter, shared interests and a profound appreciation for the other. If you asked me what makes for a good relationship, I would say open communication, even through texts. I am grateful for the technology that brought us together. If it weren't for that, I may not believe in love after divorce.

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