A year ago at a birthday party I attended while visiting Denver after my first year in Mexico, I ran into an acquaintance, someone with whom I’d had a quick cup of coffee just before I left for Mexico. She looked wain, and I learned her marriage had broken up the year prior.
In a move that most of us consider after a difficult divorce but dismiss as crazy, at 51 she joined the Peace Corps. She would be leaving for Kosovo in two months. Given her decision, I was surprised to hear her say when someone turned the discussion to dating after divorce ”love is all that matters.”
No, it’s not. Like Ingrid, millions of people prove every day that love is not all that matters. I wish I'd learned it sooner, and had left for Mexico sooner, the way she left for Kosovo.
A basic buddhist concept is dukkha. Several categories of suffering are contained in dukkha, one of which is the desire for things to be different, or longing.
Wounded and flailing, those of us who have experienced divorce set out on a dangerous path, often causing even more unhappiness in our lives, or just as sadly, in some stranger’s, all based on that flawed principle that “love is all that matters.”
In losing ourselves in a frantic quest to regain what was lost, we lose valuable time on an equally important search - the quest for meaning.
One of the great things about marriage is the sense of security, real or imagined, it can afford you as you pursue your ultimate goal of purpose. These are the best marriages; the ones that provide security but in which each is free to bloom
As a divorced person, it’s difficult to distinguish as we venture out on dates if it’s love we’re seeking or a warm, dry place - a fire to which we can return each night from our forays into the bewildering yet necessary hunt for the answer to why we are here.
Even in the best of marriages, the pragmatic comes heavily into play. Dreams have to mesh. Many desires are willingly compromised by the desires and needs of the other.
Then you wake up one day after a divorce alone and trying to remember which dreams were yours and mourning even the ones that weren't.
For all the pleasures of a happy marriage, when you are single you can examine the question of your life's meaning without the inevitable loss of an element of self that’s part of any long-term relationship. You can examine the question of purpose as yourself-in-full.
Sometimes it’s very difficult. Some days are cold and wet and you think it would be better to build a fire with the first reasonable person who comes along and stay there forever, safe and bored, fed but still hungry.
Some days you see-saw all day, glorifying in exploring some new venture in the morning and then by lunch longing to be one of those couples reading the paper together at the corner coffee shop.
You have exhilarating opportunities to explore friendships and romance with wildly divergent types of people. Your opinions aren't censored by that raised eyebrow or the subtle disapproval on the face of your beloved.
Then in the same day, the see-saw slams down. You are struck by the beauty of a skyline or a snowfall and wish desperately to share it. Some days you savor the solitary walks, other days you loathe them. See-saw...see-saw.
When you become single, new people in your life will force you to re-examine yours opinions and determine if they are yours alone. A former boyfriend once told me that women rarely chose their own music. They chose their partner’s music. Upon honest examination, I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right. What else, I asked myself, wasn’t really mine? As writer Philip Roth once noted, lovers "don't seek to love you, they seek to colonize you."
A good part of marriage is spent keeping the peace and choosing your battles. Most of my friends who have been through a divorce comment on a return to personal authenticity they didn’t know they’d lost. For most of us, it takes awhile to turn that renewed sense of self into something that can serve us, something bigger than ourselves.
In pondering this, I remembered an intriguing article in the New York Times by Eli J. Finkel, a professor of psychology and management and organizations for Northwestern University New York Times, “The All or Nothing Marriage,” about how society's expectations of marriage have changed.
She recently collaborated with three other psychologists in developing a new theory about what we consider a happy marriage today. “The gap between the benefits of a mediocre and happy marriage have increased,” she wrote. Love and companionship are no longer enough, as they were until about 1965.
Marriage has evolved over the centuries along the same lines as Abraham Maslow’s famous Hierarchy of Needs. People now seek marriage as a vehicle for self-discovery and personal fulfillment as well as love and companionship.
Life is a Gordian knot. Those of us who get divorced don’t know if we'll ever find that perfect partner; a person who encourages us to do what we need to do in order to die feeling our lives concluded at least close to the stars.
Clearly, such would be a tall order for any potential life partner. Until then, what are we to do with our time? Shouldn't we at least couple our pursuit of that romantic Holy Grail with a concurrent quest for meaning?
It was a quest of meaning that drove me to Mexico. My quest became to help people realize they did have options, that they don’t have to settle for the prospect of a lesser life because they hadn’t banked the money necessary to secure a happy and healthy old age in the United States.
Several years of see-sawing was necessary for me to develop a method of conveying to others how and why it could/should be considered. Seeing how much fear people lived with, my quest has never been so much that that others do it as much as knowing they can.
My friend made a quick, brave, and decisive move. I never wanted to hear her corrupt that victory by repeating women's magazine dross about love being all that mattered. A life lived on its own terms matters too.
Show them how it's done, girl.
Next up: While none of the 32 ways I've tried to cure my insomnia have worked, at least when I'm awake all night, I'm watching the ocean.
Most recent: Talking to a few girlfriends in the States, it's often apparent that their opinion of living Mexico was frozen in their heads circa 1980 during Spring Break but before Girls Gone Wild.
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