“Mama? How does love work?” my seven-year-old daughter, Luna, sleepily asks one night while lying next to me.
I was speechless. (And eighty-five days deep in the trenches of a divorce.)
I thought I knew how love worked. Happily, and ever after — right? Nope. (Leave it to your kids to humble the crap out of you once in a while.)
The first thing that came to mind that night was:
I don’t know how love works! I’m thirty-seven and smack-dab in the middle of dismantling my twenty-year relationship (piece by painful piece), and I still don’t have a straight answer for you, babe.
. . .
My knee-jerk response was to answer from a place of deep despair and insurmountable anguish. But I’ll be damned if I project that pain onto my daughter.
I gave her sweet question some thought, and about a week later (and many expletive-filled rough drafts), it came to me. I decided that I still had no clue how love worked, but I’d do my best to explain what has worked for me so far.
But sometimes it’s a good hurt
And it feels like I’m alive
When it transcends the bad things
Have a heart and try me
’Cause without love I won’t survive.”
— Brandon Boyd, Incubus
. . .
4 Ways Love Works (For Me)
1. When You Forgive
Sometimes things don’t work out the way you had (always) planned. Forgive yourself for assuming they would. Forgive yourself for the fairytale fog you operated in for so long, and forgive yourself for not listening to your gut when it told you it was too damn good to be true.
Lastly, forgive your former spouse for being human and believing (with all their heart) that things would go their way.
“When you try your best, and you don’t succeed. When you get what you want, but not what you need.”
2. When You Do Your Best
If there were anything (and I mean anything) I could have done instead of filing for divorce — and manage to hold onto myself and my values, I would have done it faster than you could mumble “irreconcilable differences.”
At the end of the day, I did my best, and it wasn’t enough to keep my family going the way I had envisioned.
Deep beneath the staggering heartache and blinding rage, I will continue to hold a space for my ex-husband and acknowledge that he did his best too.
3. When You Take Responsibility
I filed for divorce. I made the difficult choice (that gutted me to the bone) to end my marriage and change my family dynamics forever. I don’t want to say it was because of this or that — not yet anyway. For the most part, I’ve accepted that he is who he is, and I am who I am.
From this day on, I will take responsibility for my narrative by retelling my story as methodically, empathetic, and sincere as I possibly can. I am choosing to take responsibility for my demons, and hope (with all my heart) that my ex addresses his.
4. When You Love Yourself Enough to Walk Away
The last twenty years were far from horrific. My ex and I had a damn good time together. We fit together perfectly like two magnets drawn to each other by something more powerful than you could ever spot with the naked eye.
If you want to know my truth, I was happy and grateful for my (married) life. And I would have loved him faithfully and forever.
Walking away (and not looking back) was the hardest thing I ever had to do in thirty-seven years. I did not make that choice lightly. But it came down to two inescapable questions:
- In five, ten, fifteen years, could I look my daughter in her gorgeous green eyes, tell her that I hope her future husband treats her the way her daddy treated me, and mean it with all my heart?
- Do I wish for my son to treat his future wife the way his father treated me someday?
Nope. And nope.
I chose to teach my kids that, sometimes, walking away is the best way to make love work.
I took an eight-mile bike ride this morning on a beautifully familiar open road. By the time I realized the path I was on was leading me to the clubhouse where I got married fifteen years ago, it was too late to turn back.
I embraced the warm wind in my face and the crushing weight of the past on my chest as I cycled passed the willow tree where we took our first newlywed pictures.
As tears streamed down my face and sunscreen stung my eyes, I thought about what I would say if I had another chance to respond to my daughter that night.
It would go something like this:
I can’t speak for everyone, Luna, but I can definitely speak for myself because I found my voice again. It’s beautiful. I love how it ricochets off the walls in Grandma and Grandpa’s house while I rebuild a better life for you, your brother, and me.
You see, babe, love works when you work for it. And, sometimes, that doesn’t even work. So,you do your best, stand your ground, and listen when it’s time to let go.
You are worthy of the best kind of love there is — love for yourself.
I am grateful for the life my ex and I had together and humbled by the opportunity to love him with all my heart.
I’m certain I gave my marriage all that I had to give.
Previously published on medium
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want to join our calls on a regular basis, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: istockphoto