It was the night he called me a selfish cunt…
…and threw my boot at me. Not AT me, towards me, but close enough. Suddenly, I felt a branch break off inside me and fall to the ground. I hadn’t realized it had been rotting. Of course this didn’t ACTUALLY happen, but it also did. It was real. A rotten branch fell inside me. The next day I started thinking, “Ok, I will give this a year and see if it gets better.” Two days later it was, “I will give this a few months,” and the next day I wrote a letter saying goodbye.
Thank god it got that bad. I don’t know why this was the line, and not the time he threw a coffee cup near me, or convinced me over and over it was selfish to spend time with my friends, or when those friends questioned derogatory sarcasm as a valid love language, but this was my line and thank god it got crossed.
This makes it seem easy. It wasn’t easy. I remember preparing to go home for lunch to explain to my mother in law why I was leaving. She was taking care of our baby on Tuesdays and Thursdays and I’d come home on my lunch break to breastfeed. She’d feed me between loads of laundry, leaving the house tidy and all the clothes, including my underwear, neatly folded and put away. How would I explain to her that I couldn’t get out of my life with her son–and the home they had helped us remodel–fast enough?
Relationships are hard, but not kick-a-hole-through-the-drywall hard
I stayed so long for lots of reasons I will someday explain elsewhere, but mainly because I thought that was as good as it gets because relationships are hard. Relationships are hard, but they’re not supposed to be walk-on-eggshells, kick-a-hole-through-the-drywall, confused-and-crying-almost-daily, dreading-the-person-coming-home hard.
I remember visiting my oldest best friend during that time when I started seeing a way out. “What if I’m fucked up?” I asked her, “Like I’m someone who will always leave? Do you ever think about leaving?” I looked up and she was crying. She said, “Oh no, that makes me so sad to think about life without him.” I remember thinking “Oh, that’s weird.” I didn’t know people really felt like that. To be honest, since that day this friend has thought of leaving, and I once thought of leaving my current partner too, but it was a totally different kind of thinking, like, “Hmmmmm…..what if we stayed together but each had our own house. I wouldn’t have to clean up after him and my yard wouldn’t be trashed with 21 half-finished projects….but then I would miss his singing in the morning and making snacks together and sharing about our days. Wow, since I’m thinking this I should probably do something about my frustration with him not pulling his weight with chores and all that damn crap in the yard.” So I stop stuffing my needs, gather courage, and we talk, sometimes painfully, sometimes thanking the gods we have Nancy Aikin for couples counseling on Monday, but we eventually work it out and get closer in the aftermath.
This is how I feel with my current partner almost daily now: I get to be with this person who delights me and delights in me in the same ways I delight in me. He thinks I’m funny and makes me laugh. He loves it when I sing and wants me to be the biggest, happiest, most powerful me I can be. There is room for all of me to live, love, and grow. I easily choose him every day and those days turn into years pretty effortlessly. We are compatible in the most important ways. I am writing this because I want this for you. I didn’t know what I was missing. I want you to know what you are missing.
Are you going to be a miserable hero or a happy asshole?
And someone doesn’t need to throw a shoe at you for it to be ok to leave. You can be with a lovely human who is trying their best and if you are unhappy and you think about leaving and that thought doesn’t go away, and you have tried to make it better and it doesn’t get better, that’s enough. In the last season of The Affair, Alison asks Cole, “Are you going to be a miserable hero, or a happy asshole?” I dare you to join the happy asshole club. It’s pretty nice over here.
This applies to everything in life, by the way: work, friendships, even family. If there is not enough room for you, do everything you can to make it bigger, and if that doesn’t work, and you can, leave. If you have kids, consider this: are you role modeling a life you would celebrate them living? What you role model is the take away. You show them how to live, what is possible. Don’t let fear, old wounds, or bullshit hold you back.
My parents couldn’t really condone me leaving. As far as I know they’ve been happily, unquestionably monogamous since their first kiss on J and 8th street five decades ago, and I guess they were worried about me–you know how parents have a way of not realizing you’ve become a capable adult. I reached out to everyone I knew who’d been divorced; it was helpful, they were all happier. It was a coffee date with my aunt when I got the last thing I needed. She told me her divorce story, but most importantly she said, “I was telling Scottie and Molly (my uncle and cousin) about us meeting today and they told me to tell you, and I agree, ‘We know you will land on your feet.’” And that was the second shift. I needed someone I vested with authority–in this case my aunt: family, someone I looked up to, who my parents respect–to give me permission. The final flip had been switched. That night I drove home from Oakland with the sunset in my rearview, and every song on my ipod shuffle sang some version of “Yes, you have permission to leave. There is a bigger, better, freer life for you, calling to you. You have outgrown this marriage. Life can be open, full, and exciting again. You will land on your feet.”
Go. Grow. Fly.
And so, dear human, by whatever authority you invest in me, I give you permission to leave. Not all of us mate for life. Some of our outgrow our relationships and that can be sad but it’s also cause for celebration. Go. Grow. Fly. Be the biggest, deepest, wildest, most joyful you you can be. The world was made to be free in and we want and need your fullness and freedom. Especially now. Don’t waste time. Maybe your person will grow with you, maybe it’s not them holding you back, it’s your fear, and you will do your work and they will evolve too. And if they don’t, I hope you find the strength and courage to leave.