It is a long road back to yourself after divorce. A very long road.
My divorce was the most intense betrayal of my life. And underlying all of my anger at my ex-spouse was anger at myself, for doing something so wrong, for investing in something that broke apart my whole life and all my dreams at the core.
I have sympathy for myself now, thankfully. I have compassion for where I was coming from, and I know you just can’t know certain things until you go through them. I thought love was endlessly giving to your partner, trying, trying, and trying over again. I didn’t know how much of it was actually about mutual respect and understanding. And we didn’t have that. Not from the start.
I got married at 24, which is very young. I didn’t have any doubts on my wedding day. I was marrying my best friend and my confidante, and we had the same goals for our future, and we were going to have a beautiful life.
So for the sake of this beautiful life, I handed over my power, again and again. I didn’t own my power to begin with, so how could I know I was giving it away? I just wanted my marriage to work, and I kept adapting and changing and growing to accommodate as we had more kids, greater responsibilities and challenges.
I don’t regret doing any of it. If I had quit too early, I would have just ended up making this mistake another way. I had to go through that painful process. I had to know what love could do, and what love couldn’t do.
Faith and trust in a relationship is really important, and a beautiful way to live, but it has to be grounded in roots of wisdom. There needs to be a piece of you, at a foundational level, that is unbending and immoveable. And that has to be your self-respect, your discretion. Unless you have that, you cannot effectively move through the waters of love. You will always be carried away by the waves, always back to where you started from, always making the same mistakes.
More than four years after my divorce/separation, I know that love is not just a feeling of wanting to do everything for another person, of wanting to give. That is infatuation. That is lust, perhaps. That is codependency. True love means you respect boundaries, both your own and the other person’s. You recognize at any given moment that the other person has fundamental freedom of choice and will, and does not have to open to you, listen to you, do what you say. When you recognize that this person is not part of you, and may have different thoughts, feelings, and emotions than you do, yet you’d still like to connect, you begin to have a foundation that can help a relationship grow.
We live in a culture where we don’t quite know or understand respect, because it’s been taught as something authoritarian, and often our authorities have let us down. Jesus’s message of love for your neighbor, however, was insistent upon the recognition that there is no hierarchy. We respect all people, regardless of financial standing, occupational title, race, religion, background. We respect people regardless of what they have done in the past, because we recognize that every day is a new day, and the grand plans of the universe are largely a mystery. So part of loving is to give respect to another person, for the recognition that there may be things you don’t know or understand, and that’s okay, because they deserve their space and to make their own choices.
Moving into the dating arena now, with my gem of self-love and self-respect intact, I am aware that nothing can develop if there is no mutual respect. But we live in a culture where men don’t always know how to respect women, unfortunately. And women don’t always help, because we often don’t respect ourselves. We all give in to the notion that women can’t take care of themselves, that they need a man to take care of them. (In reality, we take care of each other.) We all have the assumption that women don’t know themselves, or that women play mind games by saying one thing and meaning another. (And we assume that men don’t know how to open up.) We all think that women are over-emotional and crazy. (And I’ve met so many more men who are overly emotional than women.) These assumptions are wrong, and untrue, and we need to cure ourselves of them.
So what I would suggest, even though it may seem unfair and frustrating, is that women may have to work a little harder at the outset of a relationship to teach a man how to treat us. That is not through playing games, but it is through drawing firm lines in the sand. Not just in talk, but in action, too. Women may have to practice a little more patience to see if a man is worth the time and investment (meaning we don’t have sex right away), and men may have to work a little more to discern whether a woman is deserving of his long-term affection (becoming vulnerable, bit by bit, and seeing how she responds). We have to try this model out for a while to see if it bears fruit, because if you don’t see how actions line up with words early, you can be in a world of hurt later on.
The dating process is a hassle for everyone involved. We all just want to love and be loved. We want it to be easy. We want to have fun, and we want companionship, and we want happiness in our lives. But we live in a culture that is very sick, and we’ve learned to operate within that culture, and we’ve taken on some of its sick values and assumptions, so we have to work to unlearn them. Dating is where a lot of those sick values come to a head, because romantic love is the most intense expression of love, and we’ve seen a ton of people get hurt. The battle of the sexes goes back a long, long way. So we have to be patient with ourselves. Mature, long-lasting unions (if that’s what you want) are possible, but it takes time.
Me, I just want to get beyond “what men think” and “what women think” and “what men do” and “what women do.” I just want to date a whole human being.