Last Friday night I was working in my office when a local friend stopped by to talk to me about a new building that is being constructed in the neighborhood. The friend is a gay man, about fifteen years older than me, who owns a local antiques store. He was livid about the new building going up. He said it was a shame upon the city that the plans were ever approved. It was ugly, tasteless, and would ruin the character of the neighborhood. And then he compared it to the hideous new condos that were recently built across the river in the town where I live. Without missing a beat, I blurted out “oh, you mean the hideous new condos where my ex-husband lives?” Without hesitation he replied, “oh, honey, those condos were basically designed for tasteless ex-husbands.” I laughed, and we moved on to another topic.
I’m still married to him, so technically he’s not my ex-husband yet. But that was the first time I really ever said “my ex-husband” out loud, and meant it. I didn’t cautiously say something like “I’m getting a divorce,” and then instantly start fighting back tears. I didn’t feel my throat tighten or my head begin to pound. I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed. Or sad. Or angry. I felt…absolutely nothing at all. He was just a loser living in a very hideous apartment complex. A shared joke. A non-factor. Using the word ex-husband did not feel like bringing down judgment upon myself. It was just a thing. Something dumb that I did a very long time ago. A mistake I will never make again.
I think, unconsciously, I have decided to let myself begin to feel joy again. I’m not sure exactly when the switch flipped, or how, but after a year of feeling almost nothing but loss, little bits of happiness have been seeping in again.
I still have agonizing anxiety about my children, money, the final outcome of this divorce that still feels miles away from settling. But I think I’m learning to compartmentalize it. It’s not only sadness anymore. There’s more there now than just the loss.
Here’s another thing. I’m beginning to feel like my old self again. I don’t mean my pre-divorce self; I mean my fucking pre-marriage self. Isn’t that interesting? Here’s an embarrassing truth about me. When I was younger, before I was married or had kids, I used to be a person who loved to go to parties. I wasn’t shy. I made people laugh. I socialized easily, made friends easily. I didn’t worry. But over the years with my ex-husband, I began to develop some really crippling social anxiety. I used to be the life of the party, and with my ex-husband I became someone who dreaded a party. I felt like nobody wanted to talk to me, so I would quietly retreat until I could make a sad escape. With old friends I was fine, but socializing with people I didn’t know well, or networking at a work event, became a nightmare. And as it turns out, being with someone who invalidates the shit out of you all the time in a million dumb different ways, really takes a fucking toll on your confidence.
And without that toll? Fuck man, I feel like my lovable old goofy ass self again. I don’t feel like I’m boring the shit out of everyone anymore.
In comparison to how I had been living my life? I feel downright fucking dazzling.
After my work friend left my office last week, it really began to sink in what had happened. I used to dread having to refer to him. But somehow, not only had I used the word ex-husband, I used it in a way that left me actually feeling somehow stronger. Mentioning his existence could now just be a casual aside and nothing more. A signal between two friends that sometimes a dickhead is just that, a dickhead.
When my friend left I looked at my officemate and shrugged. A lot of fucking hideous buildings are built and probably he should just chill the fuck out about it. We both agreed. Sometimes you really need to just focus on everything else beautiful around here: this river, this skyline, the new restaurant down the street, the neighbors saying hello, these school buses and these children, music on the corners, a distant train whistle, a visit from a friend, a hazy memory that means nothing anymore, really, at all. A single bird on a rooftop. A dream of new construction. A reason to say yes.
p.s. I don’t know a ton about this band, but I cannot stop listening to this song. It’s a big mood. I can’t get enough.