Chapter Two: The Breakup
So here’s the backstory.
I grew up in Murfreesboro TN, where my parents still live, and have an older brother. I had a happy childhood and a great high school experience. I attended MTSU as a theatre major, concentrating in costume design (even though I always wanted to be a performer...we can get into that later). After college, and a significant breakup (that we can also talk about later), I moved to NYC. I stayed for two years, working in theatre and gaining lots of life experience. But I never got comfortable. I now realize it was because I was always meant to be a different type of artist. I moved home to Tennessee, ultimately settling in Nashville after reconnecting with some old friends. Started dating a boy. And got pregnant 5 months later (surprise!). We had lots of long tearful talks and decided to stay together, and become parents together, and just see how it went. From the beginning, ours was never a “great love story”. But we were comfortable. And happy. Our son was born in March of 2011. I talked about getting married eventually, building a life together, those sorts of traditional tracks. I thought it was cute that we were working backwards a little bit from how I always pictured my life being. But he didn't see the need for marriage and the stereotypical trappings of twenty-first century relationships. In 2016 we decided our son should have a sibling, and in May of 2017 our daughter was born. I started thinking it was about time we made some significant decisions - buying a house at least, or getting married...making those big adult changes that I had been (probably not so) patiently waiting for, for the past 7 years...But again, he didn't see the need for these things. He was still comfortable and happy and I just set myself aside and went about the daily life of mother and partner and work and life. Looking back I think things really started to fall apart in January of 2019 after our trip to Mexico. It was like that trip put us on a firm track to the end. For starters, I had a miserable time. It's probably the worst trip I've ever been on in my life. I was uncomfortable, physically and emotionally, ill-prepared, I don’t speak Spanish AT ALL, and I got sick for 4 out of the 10 days we were there. Plus, I had two little kids, no money, and a partner who was working the entire time and oblivious to my distress. Not only oblivious, but OBVIOUSLY on a completely different trip from me. He was having a great time! Hanging with friends, playing music all day. I tried my best to go with the flow and enjoy myself, and we did have some nice moments. But overall, I was just dying inside. To top it all off, the kids and I traveled home alone - he stayed to finish the music festival which was the reason for the trip, and we came home so our son could return to school and I could return to work. The kicker was that on the plane, our daughter had a fever and it turned out to be chicken pox. Which I had to handle on my own, at home, while feeling this big emotional disconnect.
A couple of months later he started seriously talking about getting a house and living down there for 4-6 months every year.
All I really remember from that conversation was bursting into tears and confessing how life-alteringly miserable I was that week down there. And how I just couldn’t imagine in 1000 years being happy in that life. And he was so surprised. Like. So surprised. It was moments like that when I look back that show that I was waiting for him to “grow up and get on the adult train” and he was just perfectly happy being who he was and not changing anything about our lives. The more I think about it, it’s like that conversation pointed out how different we were - we always knew we were in a sort of “opposites attract” relationship and we always acknowledged how we approach things from different sides. But we always knew how to meet in the middle. And after those talks of wanting to live in Mexico or the three weeks he tried to convince me we could live in Cambodia….it was just becoming more and more obvious that we were TOO different. That we wanted different things in life - that ultimately the other person might not be fitting into the future we pictured for ourselves.
He started touring with a new band in March of 2019. This sent me to a dark place of anger and resentment about being a single parent with two kids. For the first couple of months he was making good money and we at least were comfortable in that respect. I was learning a new routine, learning how strong I could be on my own. Learning how to lean on my family and friends. Building some deep relationships with an amazing group of women and discovering my own spirituality. Then he joined a second tour. And the money stopped coming in. It was summer break from school so my freelance work was hard to handle with two small children at home all the time. While he was on the road, our communication really started to disappear. We would talk on the phone and it would just be awkward silences. Or quick ‘how are you’s’ and hurried goodbyes. He came back from that tour and we were both different. I was angry. I was hurt. I felt like he was being selfish and unapologetic about how distant he was physically and emotionally. The only thing that had kept me going all summer was that he would be back in August and things would go back to normal.
Just wait for August. He’ll come home and you can work again and money won't be so stressful and he'll be here to help with the kids and give you hugs and talk you down off these cliffs…
August came and it was somehow worse. We spent that month just trying to put things back together. But the damage had been done. I started asking outright for what I needed out of him and our relationship and he outright told me he couldn’t be the person I wanted him to be. Our son started having nightmares and panic attacks. The tension in our house was unbearable. I went to the beach for a week with my girlfriends. It was such a relief to be away and alone and not have to worry about all the hard parts of my life for that brief period. He and I had a really distressing phone call on my last night in Florida. I cried all night, curled up in my exquisite king-size bed with my friend hugging me and telling me it will all work out...When I returned the next day I stared him in the face and said his behavior was unacceptable and we needed to make some big changes. That was October 2nd.
That night we stayed up late talking and I finally just asked outright “what the hell is going on that you aren’t telling me” and he said “I'm in love with someone else”.
And it all clicked.
I jumped out of bed and turned on the light and looked at him. And I just said “shut the fuck up” but in my brain all of the disjointed feelings and intuitions and thoughts from the past months lined right up and fell into place like a perfectly played game of Tetris. He had started a relationship with someone else in May of that year. This was October. 5 months. He knew we were over for 5 months. And just couldn't figure out how to do it. How to cut that cord and escape.
I was in shock. Disbelief.
And I was angry. I was so furious. It was one of those moments where you are so angry and overwhelmed that you just want to laugh hysterically.
I was relieved.
Relieved to finally hear the truth. To stop guessing. To stop wondering. To just move forward.
And that relief grew over the next few days the more we talked and the more I found out about this enormous secret he had been keeping from me for 10 years (for the ENTIRE 10 YEARS). Knowing this one fact put our entire past into such a sharp perspective that the relief was overwhelming.
Don't get me wrong. I was heartbroken and sad and all the other relationship ending feelings. I cried and yelled and threw things and had days of depression and feeling inadequate...but in the end, this one year later, I see so clearly that we were always on a path to an end. Even though I didn’t know about his secret feelings for someone else - a torch that was burning in a locked compartment of his heart waiting for her permission to unlock it - we always talked about the possibility of our relationship ending. How we would handle it. How we would co-parent. How we would be ok not being together. Because we recognized from the beginning that ours was not the greatest love of all. It was a path that we chose to follow together, hand in hand. We chose each other at the beginning and we chose each other everyday for 9 years. And then we chose to move on and walk our separate paths.
I didn’t ever post a facebook status update or an instagram photo regarding our breakup. We told people in person and told our son. And I just let it sit. I think because it was so devastating. Devastating in that way that your life is upended - not the “losing the love of your life to another woman” way. So saddened that our kids would now be from a “divorced family” that our 2 year old would never remember us all being together as a little four-some family. Having to reconcile that image of love-then-marriage-then-kids-then-happily-ever-after was and is the most difficult part. And then the soul shattering moments of feeling not good enough for someone to love, being put aside, not wanted, betrayal and abandonment.
And I didn’t post about it, honestly, because it was embarrassing. It was humiliating finding out that his friends knew about his feelings years before I did and that people knew about our breakup months before me.
I have a tendency to hide under a rock for safety - I emotionally build myself a cave away from scary emotions and I stay there in oblivion for as long as I can, ignoring the sounds of reality seeping in through the cracks. So I know, looking back, that I could have drawn some very obvious conclusions about our relationship much earlier. Towards the end he did some shitty things, right in front of me, that I didn’t look at too deeply (like inviting her to come stay on our couch and throwing her a party in August). I just didn’t want to. Because that would be hard. And I don't do hard things if I can help it. I don’t confront. I wait, let life steamroll me, and then throw a pity party. From the very beginning I didn’t want to be a single parent. And I think I put up with a lot just to avoid that. That scary title of “single parent”. Abandonment is definitely my biggest fear. But maybe it’s because in so many situations in my life, I've abandoned myself. I hung on to this doomed relationship for as long as I could ignore my own feelings. When it ended I felt a shift inside. All of the sudden, I was alone. But it was more like I was suddenly in charge - of my track, of my feelings, of MY LIFE. Getting pregnant the way we did, guided us down a path together. But now, I had the opportunity to make my life whatever I wanted it to be. Suddenly we were dividing time with the kids more equally and I could devote hours, whole days even to doing what I wanted to do! Without thinking about another human being! Do you know how liberating that is?! All the moms out there know what I mean. When you spend your days taking care of tiny humans, and meal planning and grocery shopping and you spend so much energy anticipating the needs of the members of your household…..and then suddenly they leave and you don’t have that responsibility anymore?! You sit back and go… “huh. What do I want to do today?” My friends used to marvel at me for being calm instead of angry, for being able to extend grace to my ex instead of just yelling about him all the time. But it was like the breakup gave me the freedom to choose how I wanted to react and which emotions I wanted to swim in. And I chose the happy high ground. Everyday. It was hard and I’m not perfect. But it was so liberating and comforting to focus on the future - to focus on making my life the life I had been missing for YEARS. I was so happy to move past this uncomfortable time - the world was my oyster again and I could do whatever the fuck I wanted!
A few months ago I was watching some MarieTV with Marie Forleo and her guest was Glennon Doyle. They were talking about her book Untamed. About how she wants to be the wild untamed cheetah that we are all born to be before society puts us in little cages of who we “should be” or are “supposed to be”. And a lot of what she said really resonated with me. And then I followed a link to a talk Marie did with Elizabeth Gilbert about City of Girls which my boss and I had been attempting to listen to in the studio together. Liz was talking about her relationships and how she unexpectedly fell in love with someone in her life...and I got sad. Because I LOVED Eat Pray Love and the romance of finding yourself and then finding love in these unexpected places. And I always loved that that book was a true story and that she found this man to love and they lived happily ever after.
BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT I’VE BEEN LOOKING FOR MY ENTIRE LIFE - that happily ever after! I meet someone and it’s one of the first things I think about - I fantasize about us together in a house with a family traveling and living this joint life for years and years forever and ever. So to learn that morning that this relationship I was idolizing and I guess using as an example in my now single life - that this relationship ended because Liz fell in love with someone else…..it was a little bit shocking and disappointing! Also like who am I to judge this stranger's life? I don’t know these people. Obviously no relationship is perfect like wtf. But I was sad! She got divorced! Again! After all that searching and writing and love and years and blah blah blah. But all she was saying was what I SHOULD have been hearing - that life is short and we love who we love and relationships just like people live and die. Just because she fell in love with someone else doesn’t mean her marriage was a failure or that she didn’t love her husband. She just needed to be with this other person and the universe put them together to make both of their lives better and to teach them lessons.
I started to recognize that my relationship was not a failure. It was a successful and beautiful relationship that lasted 9 years and 7 months. It gave us two amazing kids who are without a doubt the cutest and most perfect human beings on the planet (not biased folks, these are facts). It taught me so many lessons, and honestly I learned and grew as a human through all of it. I wouldn’t be the strong, independent, capable person I am today without that relationship and the friendships I cultivated because of that relationship. I refuse to regret any of it. I can trace so many of the good parts of my life now back to this relationship.
We are working on a friendship - a friendship that is growing little by little and will last so much longer. A relationship through our kids who are amazing and I can't imagine life without. My life would be so different if he and I had never met, if he had never kissed me first, if he had never badgered me into a first date and if I had never begrudgingly accepted. If we had not been surprised and held up by pregnancy and kids. I’m happy with our past. Yeah, we could have done things differently and things would have probably ended sooner. But this is how it was SUPPOSED to play out. I was not this person 4 years ago. Or 2 years ago. I was starting to scratch the surface of this person but she wasn’t ready to come out until now.
Everything in our lives leads to the next bigger and better thing. In high school my beautiful group of girlfriends and I decided to transfer to a new high school the first year it was built and open. An amazing girl walks up to me and tells me that we are going to be friends. I move away to NYC thinking I want one life….I come back to that amazing girl and she introduces me to the friends who bring me my ex who brings me pieces of myself that I never saw or talked to. Who brings me my kids. Who brings me to the house where I meet two of the best women in my life who are bringing me out of my shell and into my true self - it’s like this new group of women that we have formed has given each of us permission to be our truest and best selves. And we give that to each other. We are the rising tide lifting each other’s boats. And I can’t be more grateful or more awed by it than I am right now. This is what I want to say with my art - here I am and this is why. This is what I want to say to the world and you can’t stop me or tell me that it is not the fundamental truth. I’m so thankful for my life, for my journey through it, for all the pitfalls and the highest highs. I feel many more highs on my horizon. And I'm ready to climb.
Music: My November Playlist - filled with breakup songs and "let's start over" songs. It's a little all over the place, which is fitting. And somehow Cher snuck in there....
Podcasts: As always, The Marie Forleo Podcast. I listened to a great Moms Moving On last week. I'm always checking in with Pisces Today. And I listened to the entire first season of Uncover all about NXIVM - which also features heavily in my TV watching.
Books: I listened to The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck TWICE because I needed it to SINK IN.
Movies: OMG. It's Christmas movie season and I'm LOVING some of the recent releases. I thought Holidate was delightful. And Last Christmas (which is from last year) was really fun. I could easily write whole blog posts on Christmas movies - maybe that'll be a goal for next year.
TV: Loving The Mandolorian of course. I watched The Vow and Seduced because I'm now OBSESSED with NXIVM. I also really loved Dash & Lily - I can really get behind a Christmas series. AND I'm rewatching/catching up on Dr. Who.