Eight years ago today, two became one.
Or, more accurately, four became one.
My first marriage ended in December of 2000, the result of a devastating and unexpected infidelity that rocked the very core of my being. By then I was underweight, in compromised health and using every ounce of strength I had to take care of my children and home as best as I could.
As you can well imagine, dating was not high on my list of priorities at the time, but my family and friends had other ideas. I was resistant at first, but having suffered the pain and humiliation of my ex-husband’s affair, the idea of getting dressed up and going out for a pleasant dinner actually sounded kind of nice (is that strange?).
The challenges of dating were not small, as I was still trying to balance the emotional wreckage I was feeling on the inside with the façade I was intent on presenting to the rest of the world. But I was determined, and it paid off. No matter what the cause or circumstance, when your trust is betrayed, you can’t help but feel in some way like “damaged goods”. So it was gratifying to get affirmation – through a compliment, flowers or a home-cooked dinner. And it did a LOT to help me in the process of rebuilding my self.
When I met Mike I knew right away that he was special. Different from the others. And he felt the same. Although he had never been married – and didn’t even know if he wanted children – he wanted to meet me as much as I wanted to meet him, and we were committed to one another right from the start.
And the question I got asked more than any other – and still get asked even today – was, “How were you able to trust again”? Which is a reasonable question. My ex’s betrayal was so ugly, so horrible, that one could rightly assume that I would be a Fort Knox of trust and emotions.
To be honest, I was so thoroughly eviscerated at first that I didn’t even think about trust, or future relationships, or anything more than just getting through each day. I was able to “put on a happy face” and get out there, but I wasn’t thinking about how what happened to me might impact future relationships. I think if I did, I probably would have never left the house again.
But when things got serious with Mike, I had to give it some thought. How WAS I able to be so present in a relationhip so quickly, and so soon after what had happened? And how COULD I ever trust again? And I realized a few very important things:
First, I had actually been experiencing the aftermath of the end of my marriage during the last 9 months that I was still in it. I watched my husband turn into a lying, hurtful and emotionally absent stranger, which was pretty much the most devastating thing I had ever experienced. When I discovered that he was cheating, my heart and soul were totally leveled.
So by the time my marriage officially “ended”, I felt like I had done my grieving and was ready to move forward, toward finding happiness.
I also felt a tremendous obligation to my children. For Conor, this meant breaking the cycle of infidelity amongst the men in his family. If I could not actually prevent him from cheating I would, at least, do everything I could to make sure that he knew how unacceptable it was. And that I would never condone it, or look the other way.
For Chelsea it was a little different – and led to my most important revelation. My daughter was watching me, looking to me – for clues, for signs, for wisdom. I was compelled to make sure that she would grow into a woman who could trust others, as well as her own instincts.
So I explained to her – as I was discovering this very truth for myself – that trust was not something that someone gave to you, or could take away. That your trust was a gift for YOU to give. And this subtle shift in thinking changed my entire view of my future. It made me feel calm, empowered, in control. Not because I felt impervious to it happening again. But the fact that I knew that it COULD was truly liberating. It allowed me to be open to future relationships, and to trust myself first and foremost.
Which is just where Mike comes in. Mike is probably one of the most ethical, honorable men – people – I have ever met. He immediately instilled in me the sense that “doing the right thing” was not just a cliché, but a way of living his life. And he has proven that every day that we have been together. Our marriage has been through many trials and crises, but he has never faltered, never blamed, never walked away. He has stepped up – and continues to step up – for me, my children, and now for our little Noah.
Of course I didn’t know that this is how things would work out when we first met. But at some point I simply decided to trust him. That he would be there for us. And if, for some reason, it turned out that I was wrong, it wouldn’t be the same as last time. Because just the knowing that it COULD happen again was the very reason that I could be open to giving that trust away. And I’m grateful every single day that I did.
Happy anniversary Mike – you truly saved my life.
But only after I saved it first.
I love you.