When people find out you’re getting divorced they say things like: “I’m so sorry.”
I never knew how to respond to that so I’d default to my usual mode, absorbing the awkwardness to make things easier on the other person. I'd tell them: “Thanks, it’s ok.”
It was not ok. Nothing in my life was even close to ok during that time.
But sometimes, in the process of self actualization, the only way to become authentically ok is to allow yourself to be absolutely not ok first. It's a bit like riding out a hurricane, reassuring yourself: the waves won't always be this high, the wind won't always be this ferocious.
This is not, of course, the kind of deep share most people have time for when they casually extend their condolences over the death of your marriage, standing next to you on the black top at school pick up, as the kids come streaming through the double doors, like firecrackers exploding into an open sky.
They’re just being polite and they expect the same in return, so you learn to give them the palatable answer and hold the truth back. Like a sweet pushed to the far corner of the cupboard or a stone you carry in your pocket, turning it over and over between your fingers. Your truth is something no one else can touch.
After your divorce is finalized people say things like: “Are you dating yet?”
Even my chiropractor felt compelled to ask this, as she contorted me into a headlock, cracking my royally messed up neck into alignment. I was only three months out of a high conflict divorce, three months into the endeavor of trying to unfuck everything that had become utterly fucked in the process of securing my freedom.
My mangled neck was a microcosm of the rest of my life.
“No.” I grunted, as she jerked my head hard to the right. A series of pop-pop-pops followed mercifully.
What I felt like saying was: How can you ask me that?! Where’s your sensitivity? If I’d just lost a baby three months ago would you ask me if I’m pregnant again yet?
But the rage I felt toward being asked “the dating question” was misplaced, if I'm being honest.
I wasn’t actually insulted by the premature timing or the intrusive nature of the question. I was wounded by how directly it pressed on the nerve of my unhealed codependency and my fear of being alone. The dating question forced me to address precisely what I was trying to avoid.
I didn’t want to date, I wanted to be magically, immediately partnered. I wanted to be delivered, quickly and easily, from the burning building of my marriage to a brand new pad with a stocked fridge and an elegantly decorated interior.
I thought that’s what I’d signed up for and was getting. But when the relationship I’d started, on the heels of my marriage ending, fell apart, I found myself caught in the middle of a meadow in a thunderstorm. There was no one left to duck under or crawl into. My fate had caught up and was drenching me to the bone. It was time to admit: the old ways weren't going to work inside my new, hard fought life. It was time to cooperate with my healing, for real.
Healing isn’t linear. You don’t feed the gory pieces of your existence into the sausage machine and get a nice, neatly cased weiner in return. You just start to see differently as you commit more and more deeply to the process. Your beliefs change. You find yourself objecting to the stuff you used to buy into without hesitation: the idea that you’re inherently, unfixably broken. That you can’t change. That no one and nothing ever changes.
You start to realize that the tyrannical, inner voice running your life and deciding what’s possible or true for you is not the spiritual voice of your intuition but, in fact, the voice of your Wound. You start to question its validity. Its sanity. You start to wonder: where did this voice even come from and who made it the authority in my life?
That’s when your Soul can finally talk to you. Because you are finally curious and open and ready to listen.
This is how I met my beloved. I met her when I stopped talking and started listening. I stopped thrashing about and became still. I stopped resisting and allowed myself to be shown and led and seen instead.
The walk from my car to the front door of her apartment building was less than a block but I knew I’d traveled through many lifetimes to be there, stepping over dirty, New York City puddles, making my way through the overcast November morning.
We were going to meet at a coffee shop but it was drizzling and we were both running late. She texted me her address instead. We could hang out at her loft and be more comfortable. I stopped along the way and bought a tall glass jar of fancy, organic, loose leaf tea.
This is the difference between dating men and dating women, I thought, climbing the front steps of her building for the first time. I’m not scared.
Well of course I was scared but not of being raped and cut into small cubes and shoved into a meat freezer. I was scared in the more romantic, belly full of butterflies, sense of the word. Scared to meet her in person after weeks of strictly texting. Scared of coming across as nervous or lame. Scared of disappointing her or being disappointed by her.
I was scared of falling in love.
It’s a blessing to feel scared in this way; for something to mean so much after such a long time of nothing meaning anything.
It’s a blessing, after years of reckoning with a deeply held belief that says: you're bad at love, you'll never be loved, to rush through a morning, giddy and frantic and high on the possibleness of it all, trying on every stitch of clothing you’ve ever owned, only to default to the standard t-shirt and jeans with a hole in the knee.
It’s a blessing to drive a little too fast and to shake as you lock the car door, heading away from your familiar capsule into the wide, wild unknown of whatever is meant to come next.
I pressed the buzzer and then her voice rang out like a bell: “Hi! I’ll be right there.”
I am meeting my woman, I am meeting my woman, I am meeting my woman. This was the mantra repeating in my head as I waited through those drawn out, stomach churning moments on the front steps.
It was a reference to one of the sessions I’d had with a sex therapist when I was leaving my marriage and trying to figure out how to retrieve my libido from the far corners of the Earth.
Most people, at the terrible onset of collapsing their partnership, would be trying to figure out the typical urgencies of where to live and how to split the assets and what the custody schedule should look like. But I knew my highest priority had to be accessing my own life force. I needed a safe place to mourn how heartbreakingly dead I felt and the tools to bring myself back to life again.
My therapist had me lie on the floor with a pool noodle under my chest while James Bay crooned in the background through a bluetooth speaker. She pressed above my rib cage, imploring: “Breeeeeeathe.” The traffic of the city hummed 14 floors below us, like a tide coming gently in.
I felt myself clenching, resisting the experience. I felt unbearably vulnerable. I wanted to talk about stuff. I was good at talking, safe inside words. I wasn’t prepared to be splayed out across the floor doing exercises. But the very point of my visit was to challenge that resistance in me.
I was trying to have feelings before I even had a body. The simple act of deep breathing felt excruciating and bizarre. I had to force myself to fully, completely exhale, like a stroke victim laboring to retrieve a commonplace word. I felt profoundly bereft.
“Where is your woman?”, my therapist asked me.
I had no idea what she was talking about so I didn’t offer up an answer.
“Where is your woman?”, she repeated, her hands pressing on my skin like clay, molding me.
“I don’t know,” I whispered, as the tears started, hot and terrified, from the edges of my eyes, down the steep cliffs of my cheeks.
“You gotta find her inside of yourself and call on her now. You won’t make it from here without her.”
For weeks and weeks I lived this directive. Where is my woman? I made mixes for her. I took her on long dog walks after the kids went to school in the mornings. I brought her along on grocery shopping trips.
“What do you want?”, I asked her tenderly. “You can have anything you want.”
She wanted chocolate covered pretzels and vetiver incense and sweet potato chips. She wanted to masterbate in the shower until the hot water ran out. She wanted to fall to the floor like a windless sail and crumple and howl and cancel the day. She wanted to practice exhaling a hundred million years of holding too much, holding what was never even hers to hold. She wanted to go slow. She wanted to draw and write and watch snow collect on the backside of a withered leaf.
She wanted to believe in love.
The door finally opened and the woman my woman wanted, the woman my woman had been reeling in, across impossible distances and time and circumstance, was suddenly standing there, as casually as my mailbox stands at the end of my driveway, like an ordinary miracle of incomprehensible proportions.
Her head tilted to the side. A huge, nervous smile stretched across the delicate expanse of her face. Her long black hair was tied back in a ponytail, intentional and messy at the same time. A mixture of kindness and coolness emanated around her like an aura. She was the most perfect woman in the galaxy to me. My knees wobbled.
She walked in front of me and I followed, down the hallway, through a set of doors, to her loft. I wanted that short walk to go on forever. I wanted to follow her across the world and back again. I wanted to follow her like notes of music on a page, memorize the song of her and play it over and over again. I studied her eagerly.
For so long I had led and now I was following.
When you grow up inside a wounded childhood, believing your needs are unacceptable and problematic, you learn to cage the desire for help. You learn to do things for yourself, by yourself. You learn that it’s safer to depend on no one and to engender dependency from everyone around you instead, as a means of feeling indispensable and secure in a cruel world. You learn that surrogate love is the only kind of love you can trust. The real thing is off limits. The real thing will seduce you and take you down.
I followed her into her home that day and into the days that followed, which turned quickly to weeks and then months. I followed her through the deep waters of my frozenness thawing, under the sensual spell of warmth and touch. I followed her through the logistical maze of braiding the strands of our separate lives into one long, strong rope.
I followed her until I realized I had caught up and was standing next to her. No one had to lead or follow anymore. We could walk together, next to each other, not as merged and disappeared same-sie twins, but as two Souls who mutually, honestly adore one another and want the highest good for the other in a way which is only possible when both partners belong to themselves already and show up with full cups from which to give.
The best advice about love I ever heard was Mary Oliver’s line: Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.
When I was too bruised and shattered to believe in romantic love, I added two little words that changed everything: “right now.” Instead of buying into the idea that my current reality was my ultimate truth forever and ever, I contextualized it by saying: I’m too bruised and shattered to believe in romantic love RIGHT NOW.
This is how we ‘keep some room’. This is how we give ourselves space to evolve out of our pain into our healing and our empowerment. We work some grace into our language and our perceptions. We resist the urge to predict the future based on the past, leaping ahead of ourselves, scripting a bad ending. We grow our threshold to endure the unfolding of life in real time, right here, right now.
Our Souls can work with slivers. A sliver is better than a door that’s shut firmly and locked twice. If we leave the door open, just a tiny sliver, our Souls will find a way to wedge a baby toe in there, then a whole foot and then, over time, they can nudge the entire, closed thing open again.
We want to believe. It’s in our meaning-seeking nature as human beings. We just don’t want to be disappointed. My resistance to romantic partnership was my resistance to risking hurt, disappointment and rejection. The pain of loneliness was a familiar hardship to me. I was willing, for many years, to endure it because my Ego preferred predictable misery to the potential kind.
At least, by myself, I knew what to expect. Offering my heart to another and being mishandled or unwanted felt unsurvivable to me. I stopped there, never challenging if that wounded, limited feedback was actually even true.
In truth, I met my beloved because my desire to believe in real, spiritual, romantic partnership finally eclipsed my desire to deny that need and stay safely stuck in my old, broken beliefs about my inability to be successful in love.
When we allow the Soul to overtake the Wound, transformation happens swiftly. Our healing moves to the next level because we have learned to love ourselves enough to drop all resistance and cooperate with life, in all the beauty and wisdom it holds in store for us.