The real soul mate is the one you are actually married to. --J.R.R. Tolkien
One night, a few months post-divorce, I'm kneeling well after midnight at my window. My new partner (we'll call him Joe), someone I now fully believe is my soul mate, lies asleep behind me in the cheap, too-hot apartment we now share, and in which we have begun to welcome my two young sons on their periodic visits as per the joint custody schedule.
Staring out the window, the dark breeze on my arms, I cannot place my unrest and unease. After the years of doubt, turmoil, and the agonizing months leading up to it, I had wanted this divorce, and imagined that once it was enacted things would get easier, lighter, more fun...that I'd be happy.
As I stare into the dark night, I recall how I'd entertained doubts about my compatibility and chemistry with my ex-husband (we'll call him Sam). On our first few dates more than fifteen years earlier, I'd known instinctively that with him there would be a real family, and bedrock of trust the likes of which I had never known. I'd fallen in love with the surefooted, devoted, adult way he'd loved me. But by the time of our divorce fifteen years later, our story didn't sound so sweet. It had changed drastically to something more like this: We only stayed together back then because we were both young and naïve. We didn't really know what we wanted. It felt safe, but not in a healthy way. Qualms that had surfaced over the long course of our partnership had catastrophically overturned our experience of our own reality. But I don't realize this yet.
Instead, tonight, the dark outside mirrors a black sense of dread in my heart. Because tonight I'm finally starting to ask questions.
Right now, kneeling here, I have to believe that the doubts were true. My whole life and the lives of my children have changed because I believed those doubts: That we had serious problems in our marriage. That we no longer loved each other "like that." That it was time to move on because we weren't compatible and couldn't find joy together. Yet for fifteen years we'd we strode forward together. We'd made substantial careers for ourselves, visited our families, had dates, made good food and friends, moved across the country twice, bought houses, took trips, had beautiful children.
Right now, kneeling here, I have not yet confronted the ways in which our doubts had undermined our own reality. They'd fed a growing wound between us. Oblivious to what was really happening we tried to alleviate our painful disconnection from each other with blame, resentment, contempt, and defensiveness. We'd activated the tragedy of making each other wrong. Our marriage had become like a beautiful mountain that also happens to be an unidentified active volcano. Red hot lava simmered beneath the surface, and the pressure was building.
So when I met another (also married) man-in the midst of surviving the sleep-gutting colic of our second son, the suicide of a friend, and a recent move three-thousand miles from extended family—it was too easy for the volcano to spill over. Joe diverted our attention away from the real issue-—the few puzzles pieces in our marriage that had not been put into place. If it hadn't been him, it would have been something else sooner or later...
The town clock tower chimes twice. And I begin to hesitantly grasp why I am brooding, kneeling here beneath the dark night beyond our window. Things with Joe and with my post-divorce life in general, are much harder than I expected. This is true in how Joe and I relate to each other (uh oh, maybe we aren't compatible either) and in the very complicated and painful experience of living apart from our children. It is also true in the emotionally volatile ways I now find myself relating to my ex-husband, and in the behaviors and stress I see in my children. I have also noticed—uncomfortably—that sometimes I deeply miss my ex-husband Sam.
I am definitely not happy.
And so, in these dim shadowy moments, I am now, finally, forcing myself to ask if the beliefs that brought down my marriage are really true...
And if they are not then what on earth have we done?
One day, a few months after Sam and I have remarried, I'm kneeling outside next to my sons and husband. The sun is shining; the leaves ripple a glowing new spring green. We are in the dirt, saying goodbye to our sixteen-year-old family kitty. We each say a few words to the loving family member who'd kept us company all these years.
The boys affix Lego guards and toy soldiers to protect her, and mark her grave with stones and a hopeful oak sapling. Incredibly, people next door are outside singing hymns...this has never happened, before or since.
The melodies quietly give way to the sunny, quiet breeze grazing our skin. The boys are done; they race each other to the tire swing, oblivious to what they will never know. I watch them, overwhelmed in this moment by what they almost lost. Sam and I rise, he wraps his arms around me, head bent against my ear, and says gruffly, "Thank you for sharing your life with me." I feel his tear graze my skin.
These days when I fall to my knees, it is the gratitude, or the relief, or the simple gift of tickling our giggling carefree boys that brings me down.
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free. 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be. And when we find ourselves in the place just right, 'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shall not be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, 'Till by turning, turning we come round right.
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Rachel Clark is a science writer, biologist, and mother.