September 1, 2015

Aftermath of the D Word: Part II

“Certain things in life, it’s a long way getting there, but once you get there it’s just fucking spectacular.” -Eddie Vedder

I just read my post Aftermath of the D Word from last October, almost exactly one year ago. It’s crazy to think back on that time period and the state of mind I was in. I remember those feelings like they were yesterday, though I’m happy to say I haven’t felt them in a while. I wish I could tell the me then to quit trying to look at the big picture; to quit planning and seeing life linearly as if there’s a straight path to follow; to quit thinking about my divorce as a step backward and instead, a step forwards.

Shortly after my divorce, I got back into a relationship. It never got real serious but I was in and out of it for a full year. It wasn’t ideal and was emotionally draining, but I’ll admit I was happier in that state than facing the thought of being alone. I missed so much that came with having a partner that I forgot how unhappy it made me. This year has been uplifting in so many ways. I’ve definitely found contentment in being single – even excitement – which is a feeling I’ve never felt before. While some of what I wrote back in October still holds true, I’ve gained a whole new perspective. I’m finally understanding what I’ve been missing out on never having been single and that the phrase “being tied down” has some merit.

People come into your life almost every day. You don’t even realize it half the time. Some stick around for a short while, some stick around for a long while and some don’t stick around at all. All scenarios are okay. I’ve learned it’s so much better to let people go than to force relationships. While it’s good to see potential, you still need to accept things for what they are, not what you think they could be, because that’s how years go by and get the best of you. Hope is incredibly powerful. It does crazy things to a logical brain. We all need hope as a driver and a motivator, but it can be blinding and really tough to let go of, even when we should. Having continued hope in someone or something that keeps letting you down is extremely heavy. When you’re finally able to give that up, you feel as light as an astronaut floating in zero gravity with the whole world in front of you. Besides, flying solo isn’t NEARLY as scary as I imagined it would be.

There are a lot of things I want to do. I’d love to improve on the piano and guitar. I want to write music. I want to be a better coder. I want to do more reading and finish writing my own book. I want to speak at tech events. I want to continue to learn about space. I want to do a whole lot more traveling. I want to keep living the YOLO lifestyle with my friends and family doing concerts, festivals, camping, weekend getaways, and more. What I realized this past year is that most of my aspirations are completely independent of having a significant other. I would like a long-term partner again at some point, but not for the same reasons I used to. If there’s one thing that marriage and divorce will teach you, it’s how important it is not to settle and compromise your needs. I’m glad I finally escaped the mentality where being with the wrong person is better than being with no one at all.

In Iowa, starting in my early 20s I was surrounded by couples getting married and having babies, and it made me feel like I had to be doing the same. It’s no wonder because after my divorce I realized how depressing it can be when you’re not in the same life stage as your friends. Slowly but surely, you’re no longer a candidate for “couples” trips, get-togethers with friends die down as they involve babysitters and curfews. Conversations and social media feeds gravitate towards pregnancy, breast pumps, recipes, spouse complaints and raising kids. You end up going home early so they can alleviate babysitters and avoid hangovers. Their attention spans, availability, sensitivity and emotions all change. While your best friends are still the same people, they really are different. It’s something I don’t think men experience quite the same way because a lot of those changes are a biological result of pregnancy. Additionally, between pregnancy, recovery and breastfeeding, there are entire years where your friends can’t drink, can’t stay awake, can’t travel, are sick or worse. Even a quick happy hour after work with your bestie is a struggle … that is if your friend didn’t quit working to stay home with the kids. There is absolutely nothing wrong with these changes, in fact, most of them are necessary, but you can’t help feeling some loss for the person you used to know and have so much in common with.

As moms, or even just as adults, women especially get overtaken with responsibilities – work, cleaning, caring for children, shopping for an entire family, decorating, laundry, cooking, party planning and keeping up with appointments to name a few. I’m not saying men aren’t doing these things, but it’s on a different level for women (though we do bring on some of the chaos ourselves). I experienced this to some degree as a wife, but as I’ve grown older, my friends are less and less energized to go out, take weekends away from home, or just take time for themselves even if it’s as insignificant as going to the gym. Perhaps they truly just aren’t interested anymore, but I know partially it’s because their plates are full, they’re tired, and there are consequences for setting aside home life. When they get a night off, they just want to do NOTHING. While I understand it, admittedly I hate it.

Since moving to Chicago last winter, my perception of age and the goals and expectations that come with it have completely shifted. People “live it up” so much longer here than back home where you’re pretty much expected to grow up and settle down after college. I can honestly say I feel like I’ve gained an entire decade back to my life, and that’s a lot. The energy and vibe of downtown Chicago life are shockingly different from the small town and suburb lifestyle I was so comfortable with. Having visited Chicago frequently, I thought I could picture what it would be like living here (and I always believed I’d hate it), but I was far off. It’s been a breath of fresh air in ways I couldn’t have predicted. It’s tough to explain the differences… ways of living and thinking, culture, responsibilities, activities, attitudes, values, energy… it’s all been amazing to experience for the good or the bad. I’ve also discovered how much close and available friends can fill a companionship void. I can attest to a life of having a husband, owning a house, maintaining a yard and adulting heavily, and I can honestly say that being single comes with less stress and worry. I spend a lot more time doing new things and a lot less time checking off “To Do” list items and sitting on the couch.

Even still, past a certain age, being single is frowned upon. People start to wonder or even ask what’s wrong with you. Um hello. First of all, just because you don’t see photos on social media doesn’t mean people aren’t dating or having intimate relationships. Regardless, relationships aren’t everyone’s priority. Aside from finding the “Why are you still single?” question incredibly annoying, some people don’t feel like they’re missing anything. They’re too busy living and enjoying their lives to worry about it. Luckily, because I’ve spent 13 consecutive years in committed relationships, people aren’t asking me those questions yet; but it makes me cringe hearing them asked to others. So often those thinking that way are miserable in their own relationships anyways. The idea of someone being happy solo really shouldn’t be taboo.

I’ve seen enough of my peers settle for partners who aren’t right simply because of pressure and being fed up with looking. Or like me, they choose their partners way too early in life before learning who they are on their own. People talk about women hitting 35 like it’s doomsday. Heaven forbid we don’t seal the deal on a man before it’s too late to have kids (dun dun dun). I know women who aren’t even 30 and are already paying thousands of dollars to freeze their eggs. To all you ladies freaking out… relax. You’ll meet someone. Think of all the people you know who it’s eventually happened for. How many people can you honestly name who have NEVER found someone or who haven’t gotten to have kids and really wanted them? My guess is there are very few names on that list if any. Do you know how long five years is? Or ten years is? Do you realize how much can and will happen in that time frame? I was married AND divorced and in a new relationship all within a five-year span. Be patient and enjoy your single time while you have it. As for having babies, you’ve got more time than you think! If you’re panicking please watch this video. It’s short but super enlightening and will make you realize you have a lot more time to have kids than what’s being sold to you.

Infertility fears aside, you should know that life can be fulfilling in so so many ways. Kids certainly aren’t the only path. There are endless opportunities that only childless people get to capitalize on. And if having a family is your end goal, between modern medicine, technology and adoption, you have plenty of options. Our child-bearing time clock (again, watch the video!) is no reason to be less than happy in a relationship.

Growing up I’m sure you were asked, “How many kids do you want?” No one ever asked if you wanted them. As a little girl, you probably had a plethora of dolls to look after and each one had a name. You were already pretending to be a mom. It’s placed in your head from the time you’re a child that it’s going to be a part of your life. Up until just the last few years, not one single person in my life has ever told me they’ve considered not having children. I know I never did because having a family is what you do, period. It’s a bit refreshing being in a city where each individual person has a unique path in life. You don’t get the same story from everyone you meet, not even close. It makes you realize more than anything the different paths people take to happiness. Raising children would make a great life someday, I have no doubt. Alternatively, freedom, hobbies, sleep, friend groups and the ability to pack a suitcase and go whenever you want would make a great life too. I hear often from parents that, despite the challenges and sacrifices, they wouldn’t trade their kids for anything in the world. Well of course not! I get that completely. To the contrary, I think about the life experiences I’m able to have because my ex and I didn’t have kids and I wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world either. It certainly goes both ways. I’m not saying you shouldn’t want kids or even that I don’t want them, but rather pointing out that there is an alternative option that comes with its own list of pros, too.

I know being a parent would be incredibly rewarding. It has the potential to bring a sense of fulfillment that I realize I’m not capable of grasping. But no matter how great people tell me parenthood is (and I’ve heard the opposite too), I can see the stress involved. I can see the change in individuals and couples and not always for the positive. I know plenty of couples who had awesome relationships until kids came into the picture. Many times I’ve witnessed that awesomeness fade into bickering, a lack of patience, snide comments and complaints. I don’t envy them at all. Don’t get me wrong, there are exceptions (my family being among them), but time has given me a view into marriage and parenting that I didn’t have five years ago when a lot of my peers were entering that stage of life. It doesn’t come without its downfalls, and the beautiful family photos you see on Facebook aren’t always the most accurate portrayals. The staggering divorce rate certainly challenges the traditional belief (which is especially held tightly in the Midwest) that marriage, a house, and a family is the American dream that everyone should reach for.

Relationships and having kids are something I’ve clearly thought a lot about over the last few years given my circumstances. It’s weird to wrap my head around the fact that I’ve literally been with the same person every single day of my life since I was 16 years old. We grew into adults together. He wasn’t just part of my life, he was part of me. The adjustment out of that at the age of 28/29 is really difficult to describe. I didn’t just lose a husband. I lost my home. I lost half of my belongings. I lost half of our savings. I lost a large group of people I used to call family and friends. I lost a lifestyle. I lost part of my identity. And all of that ultimately resulted in me changing jobs and cities, too. So while I’ve tried hiding the struggle, it’s taken me almost a year and a half to recover from all that loss and take a real look at what I’ve gained. That’s not to say I don’t have an occasional hard day or a bad dream. It’s still difficult to look at old photos without shedding tears. I miss him, our friendship, and my old life a lot some days. In weird ways though, I’m glad I have those feelings because they give me hope. Marriage can be VERY lonely if you’re not in it with the right person. It’s a kind of loneliness that is unmatched even on your worst of days being single because you’re forbidden to hope for something more. I can now unashamedly hope that I will meet someone, somewhere in the world, who is right for me with the same attitude and outlook on life. Until then, I’m happy to be in the place I’m in now, and I’m excited for whatever’s ahead. I’ve found the positives in flying solo and I’m just enjoying living. Thankfully last year’s October post is no longer my reality.

I’ve been lucky to learn from experience that it’s a heck of a lot more fun to live in the moment and be grateful for all the things I get to do that so many don’t. I’m glad I reached this point where I can be happy with my life just as it is. I’m not trying to change it. I’m not trying to predict the future. I’m simply trying to live it and take notice of the little moments that are absolutely perfect. Just like the lows, the highs don’t last forever… but they don’t have to. That’s what makes the adventure of life so exciting – you never know when the next little dose of pure joy will hit you. And when it does, I know that even though it’s temporary, there will be plenty more to come.