Mandy Dawson is the author of In Mandyland, a nicheless blog where readers may find anything from a craft tutorial or recipe to a story about her two adorable children, what it’s like to go through a divorce or the ongoing fictional serial Hidden Hollow. In addition to In Mandyland, Mandy also writes for Momtastic, Aiming Low, and Makes Fun of Stuff, has been featured on Mamapedia and BlogHer, and is an assistant editor for the writing community Write on Edge.
The picture hits me harder than it should. The words cut the not-quite-healed wound in my heart. The “likes” and “repins” and comments make my stomach clench.
It is innocent, sweet, romantic.
It is an assumption.
An elderly couple walks on the paved path beneath an avenue of trees, holding hands. The script proclaims: “Back in my day, if something was broken, we fixed it. We didn’t just throw it away.” The assumption is that a divorce means you gave up on something that was fixable when in reality, it’s realizing that something is broken beyond repair.
I didn’t intend to divorce when I married my husband on that spring day almost ten years ago. I didn’t expect to become a single mother when we celebrated a positive pregnancy test with sparkling cider, tears, and kisses. I didn’t anticipate dividing our furniture and decor when we wandered through the store picking it out. The thought that this decision was the easy way out is almost laughable.
It’s anything but easy.
The decision to divorce was not rash. There was nothing either of us could do to salvage our marriage, though we hoped, at the time, that we might be able to somehow remain friends. But I wasn’t prepared for how it would impact the way others might view me.
Because I’ve opened myself up on my blog, I get emails from well-meaning readers suggesting I try therapy, work harder, remember that men sometimes need more patience, that my children will suffer, that I’m consigning them to decades of therapy and the inability to ever be able to commit to someone.
The emails send me into a backwards slide of worry and anxiety.
The first time I got one, I texted a friend, sobbing and spinning. She told me to take a deep breath and drafted an email response.
“Thank you for your concern for my family.”
“I believe in marriage,” a friend told me, saddened by the news. While she continued on in supportive language, those first few words echoed hollowly.
I wanted to interrupt, to scream, to shout, “I believe in marriage too!”
I don’t think marriage is a fairytale. I know there’s no such thing as happily ever after. I know when Cinderella and Prince Charming came home from their honeymoon, they had to adjust to a life where birds didn’t sing as she walked in the door, pumpkins stayed pumpkins, and they argued over who had to put the mice to bed.
But my marriage was far from even that version of a fairytale. My ex isn’t an evil villain twirling his mustache and threatening to tie me to the metaphorical tracks. He’s a good man who is still a daily part of our children’s lives. He comes over every morning to get them ready for school. He stops by on his day off to mow the lawn, help with any heavy lifting, or take my car to the carwash. I repay him by loading him up with leftovers and canned goods.
We’re finding balance, working our way through our own expectations, emotions, and hopes for a future where we can truly be friends.
Our friendship confuses people. They can’t seem to understand that some people make better friends than spouses and when he’s in a manic mood, the only way I can cope is to tell him to go home.
Because most people haven’t lived with someone who struggles with addiction and mental illness.
They see him on his medications and don’t understand the constant upheaval in our lives that ate away at the love we once had. They don’t understand living in a marriage while walking on egg shells, determined not to set of your partner off. And they don’t understand the darkness and weight hanging over your every action. When my ex finally gave me an insurmountable reason, an unfixable reason, the feeling of letting go was almost relief.
They’ve never pulled into the garage, turned off the car and sat staring at the door, summoning the energy to walk into the house, the loneliness of a home filled with anger and frustration rather than love and affection. They’ve never felt the heaviness of struggling to fix a marriage for five long years only to discover it wasn’t fixable.
Divorce wasn’t the easy way out. It was the inevitable end to a path that started sunny and ended strewn with potholes and dark spaces.
Even with every reason to be jaded, I still believe in marriage and fairytales.
Acquaintances have suggested I not even bother trying to date until the kids are grown and out of the house. Others have told me that no man will ever love my children the way I do. Still others have said that a single mom is a turn off to a man.
Those are the easiest to ignore even though they whisper to the dark corners of my heart. Because the man I call my father isn’t my father biologically. He fell in love with my single mom when I was four-years-old and my sister was eighteen months. And he fell in love with us at the same time. There has never been a moment when I felt he loved me less than his biological daughters. There’s never been a time he’s treated us differently. To him, we’re his and that’s that.
I know he may be an exception to the rule, but I also know I’m willing to wait until I find an exception.
I look at that picture of the elderly couple and see a vision I still ache for and want with all my heart.
I read the sentiment and want to add, “And sometimes, if it’s broken in too many pieces, you have to let it go.”
Visit Mandy at her blog, Mandyland.
Follow Mandy on Twitter.