Being on your own after a relationship can feel somewhat foreign, like you’ve been ejected form a plane, landing with a thud in a place you once knew. In the time you were off in your relationship, everything changed from how you remembered it. It’s the same, but different. And post relationship life can also feel liberating, sad, glorious, and gut wrenching, sometimes all at once, making you feel somewhat unstable, and at times downright crazy. One minute everything you do is as a unit with and for someone, the next you’re suddenly floating, untied, let loose, a singular self, one you may not have known for quite a while. The last time I rode the post relationship rollercoaster I was twenty-five. I found myself crashing on a friend’s couch in Washington Heights with just a suitcase, the bench my pop-pop made, and a sixteen week old puppy named Spot. During this time I was able to let myself ride the rollercoaster, be absentminded, spend hours walking my dog feeling every little tear in the heart, or decide at 11pm that I’d head downtown to catch a friend’s band playing, and dance my butt off till the bar closed at 4am. Whatever twist or turn that rollercoaster made, I was free to scream my head off in agony or delight. Healing, getting to know myself as a singular person, taking my time to figure out the next steps were something that was allowed to happen as the universe, and my heart, saw fit. There were days I was adventurous and wild, like pulling an all nighter with a tourist met in a bar, dragging him all over Manhattan, from my favorite pubs and East Village diner, to the Brooklyn Bridge to watch the sun rise over Brooklyn & Queens, turning all the eastward facing Manhattan buildings shades of orange and pink and gold. Then there were days I stayed on the couch, Spot nestled up next to me, one time reading every single one of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman comic book series while listening to Leonard Cohen on repeat only rising to walk Spot around the block. I was young, I was unsettled, I was responsible for no one but myself and Spot. And a crazy rollercoaster ride was nothing to bat an eyelash over.
Fast forward eighteen years and I am on my own again, sort of. This time I’ve got my kids, two rescue dogs, two rescue cats, and a seemingly immortal goldfish won at a carnival, to think of before I tend to myself. I’ve got a business, and the people who dedicate their time and energy on my business’ behalf to think of before myself. There’s yard work, laundry, dance classes, vocal lessons, basketball practice, CCD, the school play, track meets, grocery shopping, board meetings, work, oil changes, dog walking, and so much more. And all of this does not do well on some crazy rollercoaster. I find myself on my own, with a well of mixed emotions (those listed above,) dreams (getting published, restoring my house,) fears (getting too old to be wife material, not being a good enough mom/woman,) and hopes (now that I’ve finally got the guts to create the life, family, laughter I want.) They wash over me while doing the dishes, taking a shower, or baking recipes from memory at work. They sing through the songs of my playlist while driving the kids to and fro. They hold open the door to my sleeping dreams as I slip softly into a well-earned slumber. But somehow, the rollercoaster they are, has been bent and plied to be more of a kiddy coaster, the kind my life as it is now can handle. It no longer has upside down loops, no hundred foot drops, just some jagged twists and turns and a few “make your belly jump” hills. But like all kiddy coasters, this one goes in circles several times over, and after the fourth time, you just want it to stop. Unless you’re a four-year old. The trade-off of the die-hard, cliff hanger rollercoaster, and the more mellow, predictable kiddy one, is your new singular self is stuck on this monotonous ride longer than you’d necessarily like.
Here’s the thing. When you’ve been married and had kids and life is so full of all the things you need to do and be responsible for, there isn’t time for games, for taking big emotional chances, or for questioning your gut. As you re-enter the world as your single self in your forties, you know what you want and what you don’t. You know what you like and what you dislike. You know when you get asked out for coffee whether or not it’s even worth the time. Not because you’re afraid of what may happen (oh my god, I may actually like this person) but because of what will not happen (because you already know you don’t like this person like that,) and frankly, there is dinner to be made and kitty litter that needs changing and the idea of wasting two hours on coffee and conversation that may cause discomfort for both parties along with a pile up of undone chores, just seems like too much a wasted effort. Being on your own, sort of, means you tend to place your efforts where you know, deep down in your heart and soul and gut, that it’s worth the effort. And (and this part is important,) that it makes you happy.
Which brings me to my present state of mind and being. You see, I came out of my marriage ready to be alone. I had grandiose notions of writing well into the night after the kids went to bed, reading book after book, determining for myself how my days would go. I was so ready to be alone I moved into a house where my bedroom is not much larger than a jail cell, meaning that despite my minimal wardrobe and personal effects, there isn’t room for any additional (sane) person to be accommodated. I was looking forward, albeit with some self-doubt, to building a new family life with my kids, a new home, a world of “just us.” In my imagination we’d do housework together, rent movies, plant flowers, go on bike rides, and eat dinners we made as a team. Our life would be simple and crazy and so full of laughter our cheeks and bellies hurt. And it is. But being ready to be alone doesn’t mean that’s what happens. Fate and the universe have a way of toying with your pared down rollercoaster. Without any foreshadowing or preemptive signs, this person rose into my life, showing up completely unannounced, shattering all my grandiose notions and imaginary plans into a million shiny pieces of glitter dust. My being alone, sort of, suddenly got weirdly complicated. And there wasn’t a thing I could do to change it. My heart, head and gut wouldn’t allow it.
So here I am, with a very full life that always seems short on time (what parent doesn’t feel this way?,) with my heart and head suddenly conspiring to make dreams and hopes I had determined and accepted were no longer really in play for me. I truly didn’t think I’d find that person I could spend hours sitting on the stoop talking with, as I sipped coffee and he sipped coke, far past our usual bedtimes, never running out of things to say. That person who makes me, for the first time in my life, not edit myself, to not be afraid to say what I feel and to feel safe doing so. I didn’t think I would ever know the kind of love I had read about in the great novels and poems I cherish. The kind of love that feels like you’re finally home, love that makes you whole, love that requires only that you be yourself. I thought I had missed that boat completely. But here I am, pushing up against my 44th birthday, discovering this person is here, in the flesh, along for the ride right next to me. My best friend who also happens to know just when to hug me tight, who constantly makes me smile and laugh, who would also like to see this kiddy rollercoaster ride we’re on finally come to an end, but makes the waiting a heck of a lot more fun and interesting. Having lived the lives we’ve lived, we know what we want, we know what we like, we know to listen to our guts, and we know there’s a list of all the things we have to do as parents and adults that will never get shorter. But somehow, being on our own, sort of, brought us to a place where the possibility of being together, and all the additional possibilities being together can bring, seems like a really great place for the rollercoaster ride to end. Until that time I’ll be on my own, sort of, with a few new and hopeful details added to the expanded dreams of a middle-aged mom on her own again, sort of.