If you know me well – or even if you don’t but you’re good at reading between the lines – you’re probably aware that one of my current life challenges involves moving past the emotional fallout from my recent divorce.
It’s been about nine months since we signed the papers. Every day is a little better than the last. Once in a while, I do slip into a pit. Sadness is a persistent companion but not, in my estimation, a bad one. Tears cleanse the heart, and I’m fortunate to count on the ready support of friends and family, who never fail at making me smile. There’s always a rainbow to be found after the storm; a shaft of sunshine on a cloudy day.
Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been coaching myself toward a new project: In baby steps and occasional leaps of faith, I’m opening myself up to the idea of dating. This has precipitated no small amount of reflection on what what “dating” means in the context of my independent, middle-aged existence. Many expectations of my 20s and 30s now beg to be thrown out the window. Not because I’m any less capable or less deserving of love and passion, but because the hopes and fears I had back then don’t seem all that relevant now.
Listen to one conversation between twenty-something women in a coffee shop, and you might understand what I mean. Been there. Done that. Not going back, thank you very much.
Once we reach the summer of our lives, that youthful drive to twist ourselves into the shape of our partner’s expectations has all but disappeared. We no longer search for the One who will give “meaning” to our lives. Men, for all their charms, do not wield the same power over the sum total of our future – in part because we no longer grant them that power.
Questions of life style, children, and career paths have all been settled. We’re comfortable with who we are and no longer stress as much about who we want to be or where we’re going in life.
Okay, we are planning for retirement, which carries its own brand of stress. But that’s logistics, not romance. And logistics are always less complicated when you’re planning for one.
After a divorce – or two – the myth of ‘forever love’ hardly seems worth sustaining. We know from experience how much joy and pain love inevitably brings. Having lived through the triumphs and sorrows of a true relationship, we are less inclined to sacrifice our personal truth just to be with someone. Compromise carries its rewards, but it never guarantees the future. Understanding this inspires us to focus on our own dreams, even as we occasionally welcome the presence of another who chooses to walk the same path with us.
Despite this awareness that relationships can never play the same role they once played, a very primordial need for companionship drives me back toward the dance. It’s human nature, after all. We are social creatures. We want to enjoy the good things in life in the company of others, to engage in loving and intimate relationships.
As I turn away from the past and embrace the future, I hear voices of conflict in my head. 50-something me and 20-something me sit at a table in that imaginary coffee shop, arguing about how dating and relationships are supposed to work. 20-something me clings to old expectations and insists on what she considers reliable norms of courtship. 50-something me doesn’t want to hear it. Instead, she strives to reinvent herself, to enjoy the fruits of a life well-lived, to remain open to romance but not particularly dependent on it.
She looks out the door that has been opened to her, and suspects that this might very well be the best period of a woman’s life to date.
Confidence, maturity, and independence; wisdom shaped by experience. Twenty-five years ago, I didn’t have these tools or if I did, I hadn’t yet refined them. I didn’t understand just how much was within my rights to demand, and just how many sources of joy and fulfillment can be found outside of a relationship.
How does the old saying go? I wish I knew then what I know now.
Whether by accident or design, “then” is now once again. And all that knowledge I wish I had had? It’s mine, hard-earned and ready to be put to good use.
The time has arrived to play by my own rules.