I heard the whispering when I began dating. I felt the stares. I saw the gritted teeth behind forced smiles. My face flushed through the awkward pauses and the stammering of those brave enough to broach the presence of (gasp!) my new man.
“I’m happy for you, but…isn’t it way too soon? You really should have taken time for yourself. I’m just worried about you, that’s all.” There it is. Judgement day.
This translated to one of five hidden meanings:
1. You must have been having an affair and it broke up your marriage.
2. You’re kind of a slut if you want to know the truth.
3. There’s no way you ever loved your husband if you’ve moved on “this fast.”
4. I don’t approve of you seeing someone right now. It makes me uncomfortable
5. You clearly have lost your mind.
The people that had a problem with me dating weren’t lonely, they weren’t sad and they had certainly never been divorced. They were going home and eating meatloaf and mashed potatoes with their families and spooning their spouses at night. They hadn’t haggled with their neighbors while selling everything they owned on their front lawn or listened to the wheels of their grill while it was dragged down the street to its new home. Their spouse hadn’t decided that their birthday was the only day he was able to meet to divide their assets. They weren’t sitting home alone on Christmas Eve because they had nowhere to go. It’s a loneliness that couples who spend their weekends doing fun couple things can’t possibly understand.
Even so, finding a man was the last thing on my mind after my marriage crumbled. It’s kind of like the Pirate Ship ride at the fair. If it makes you sick, you aren’t necessarily standing in line the next day to buy another ticket. As for me, I had planned to skip the fair experience entirely for at least a year while my stomach settled. The thing is, nobody told the fireman that.
We were acquaintances first, our relationship developing over his pickup truck and my need for pine straw and runs to Goodwill.
Truth be told, there wasn’t much to like about me when he started hanging around. I was a 94 lb. puddle of tears, insecurity, anger and regret and his long-term relationship had lost all its air. We were walking through our days with shards in our feet and fear in our hearts. We weren’t looking for a relationship, just some paste to fill in the cracks. Misery loves company and all of that crap.
He knew I wasn’t eating and invited me to dinner.
Nope, nope, nope, nope nope, I said.
An hour later I found him on my doorstep with a rotisserie chicken, flowers and a pound of persistence.
He hand fed me vegetables and vitamins like a baby bird. When I told him about the horrible things going bump in the night and the bad dreams fueled by wicked what-if’s, he bought rubber doorstops for my bedroom to wedge between my suppositions and the creaky wood floors.
He spent the wee hours listening to me shred my self-worth and called each morning to begin gluing me back together. He helped me find the value in my voice and the courage to use it. He guarded me better than I had ever guarded myself.
He lived strongly when I was at my weakest, holding me when I cried with no strings attached. He let me be where I was, at any given moment without an ounce of selfishness in his eyes or arms. I hadn’t been held for so many years.
This man saw a light in me when my darkness had scared most everyone else away. Somewhere along the way, the fireman began to feel like home. And once a man feels like home, well, hells bells. What’s a girl supposed to do? So, I bought a ticket to the scariest ride at the fair.
I read an article once that the most overlooked trait in a partner is:
“Can I suffer with this person?”
The fireman swam in my tears for months without drowning. In fact, he had effortlessly crossed the English Channel. My suffering had graced me with an extraordinary hidden blessing. And I wasn’t going to disregard this blessing just because it had been gifted earlier than the people in my life had expected.
Divorce for most doesn’t happen overnight. Many of us were lonely and suffering long before that day. Our count is very different than yours. No one can decide for the broken what the appropriate amount of time is before entering a relationship. We don’t need someone to approve or to understand. New love happens organically when we meet someone who wipes our pre-set schedule from our calendar with a look or a smile. Falling for someone new doesn’t diminish our pain for what was lost. There’s room in our heads and hearts for both. Here’s the thing.
Huge holes lead to big love.
The bigger the loss, the greater the love needed to fill it. But only those who have suffered greatly and been simultaneously blessed by that suffering are aware of that. And we think the timing is just right.