How many a man has dated a new era in his life from the reading of a book. ~Henry David Thoreau, Walden
Note to readers: My lens today glints with the astringent of hindsight. Not long ago, if I'd penned a missive on my marriage, there would've been serious concerns and certainty that it had never really worked; never really been right. I had become convinced it was the marriage that was not working--and so I left...I was wrong.
I met my husband "Sam" at a scenic bayside research station almost twenty years ago. We both did science. We both loved nature. We both got jazzed up with knowledge, learning, wisdom. We both wanted to make a difference in the world. We got together. He became a research scientist, studying ecology and animal migration. I studied sexual mating behavior and published a master's thesis, then moved on to a decade of varied science writing projects. We married. We had kids. We laughed. We cried. We began to doubt our relationship. We dealt with other stressful challenges.
Boomerang tells the short story of what happened. But, my first "OH SH*T" moment came about 8 months after our divorce. I'm working in the library on a science writing project. I'm walking down the non-fiction aisle, and the hairs on the back of my neck go up. The night before I'd had one of the most powerful dreams of my life. My ex-husband and sons awaited me with open arms, and I flew into them with profound joy.
I had awoken from this dream confused and bewildered. I reminded myself that I had wanted the divorce, and that we had taken the right steps for our family--even though it had been much harder than I'd expected. The dream came from out of nowhere. Unexpected and brazen its message said, "Are you sure?"
No, I wasn't. But I'd believed that I was so this was excruciatingly difficult to admit.
Hence the hairs on my neck. I had an eerie premonition that I was about to get the information I needed.
I looked down. The first book I saw was called, After the Affair: Healing the Pain and Rebuilding Trust When a Partner Has Been Unfaithful. I slumped to the floor, clinging to that book like it was a lifeline as the "Oh Sh*t" waves of shock flowed over me like a tsnumai. I took it home that night and hid it under my pillow, away from my new partner. For the first time, I admitted to myself that this kind of thing can happen to anyone in a vulnerable marriage; we weren't a "special case" or "soul mates" as I'd fully believed. Dry-eyed and clearer than I'd been in months--maybe years--I asked him to move out a week later.
It was the first in a long series of books. And shocks. And then...tears.
I learned my marriage had fallen prey to outside intimacy for many of the same reasons that other marriages crumple even without an affair. And though ours was not a classic affair (we were honest and transparent from the beginning so we never even saw what happened as an affair), I realized that my marriage would likely have broken anyway. Our marriage was vulnerable to an affair because of the unresolved issues in our relationship; the same suite of divorce harbingers that can bring down any union if allowed.
Our marriage had iced over; frozen in the impenetrable glaciers of contempt and hopelessness and pain. As I gobbled up the books and research on marriage, divorce, and the emerging science of love, I discovered that the urge to leave a marriage and symptoms preceding divorce are so common they are nearly universal.
I learned that as a result many thousands of people each year fall into the so-called "divorce trap" while others navigate the same issues differently and become ever more happily married. But most tragic, many marriages (ours very much included) which end in divorce are painfully uninformed about the real and troubling risks of divorce for adults and their children, and worse, are unapprised of the emerging, powerful tools for creating healthy, joyful, passionate marriages.
This was terrifying. And because this kind of reading and research is what I do, I kept at it, even as I grew more and more disturbed... What (the h*ll, the f*ck) on earth had we done?
In tears, I went furtively to my ex and began talking. "We didn't have all the information," I sniffled at him in despair, wet-cheeked.
He looked at me, grave, and said, "This is a lot to take in."
"Rachel," he went on, "You know this was what I have always wanted; our marriage, our life together. I never thought I'd end up divorced." He sighed heavily, overwhelmed. "But, now, I don't know... how can I trust this anymore? What about my new relationship?"
I listened. I kept quiet. I'd learned a few things.
When he was ready, I answered all his questions. Explained to him what I'd learned (see Part 2: She Blinded Me With Science). Then I had to let him go, to let him take the space he needed.
A week later he came to me, and in what must have been one of the most poignant, frightening and bravest moments of his life, he laid his head in my lap, his arms encircling my waist.
He said, "This belly of yours, it's where I want to rest my head...the place where you grew our sons. It is the only true home I know," he whispered gruffly, tears now rimming his lashes.
And then he stood, pulled me up close to him, bent down, and kissed me.
His new partner moved out shortly thereafter. We continued our reconciliation process in earnest--hiding our budding reunion from our boys until we were rock-solid-certain that we'd never split them between us again.
In six months I moved back in with them. The very next day we set out for a family beach trip.
It was time to embrace the sun. To let it melt our hearts. To rejoice.