Starting Over by Anna Pasternak
For me, part of the thrill of getting married was the relief of never having to go on another date. Thank you, hubby, from the bottom of my heart that I do not have to fire up my married friends search engines for “eligible” or “available,” nor suffer the angst of “will he call or won’t he?” A trip to the altar in a family tiara put paid to that. Or so I thought. Yet three years after I threw my bouquet in the air, as if celebrating a win at sports day, I was poised to go frog kissing. Again.
I think that’s one of the most daunting things about Starting Over. Your belief that you had reached the cosy domestic destination of commitment and compatibility and had laid that anxious, unsettled, always-searching-for-him-or-something-better part of your life to rest. Then there is the sheer disbelief to surmount that it didn’t work out and you have to go out there all over again. Dating Groundhog Day, only this time you are older, wiser, cynical and tired.
Oh and emotionally you feel not just bruised but broken. Yes, divorce can literally break a woman’s heart. American research published in The Journal of Marriage and the Family has revealed that women who divorce are 60 per cent more likely to develop heart disease in later life. Men showed no increased risk. Maybe because men tend to boomerang into some grateful bints bed just to prove that they don’t have a problem, whereas women tend to take longer to break through the ice of our own shock and feel our feelings. And there is nothing like the end of a marriage or long relationship to unearth buried emotion with volcanic force.
When I left my husband after fifteen miserable months of marriage – I knew with gut-wrenching clarity on my honeymoon that I had not married my soul mate (aka the right man for me) – I went home to stay with my mother. For weeks I lay on the bathroom floor, literally too humiliated to move. I sobbed so much I broke tiny blood vessels beneath my eyes and some days I hyperventilated as I couldn’t breathe. I just couldn’t stomach my stupidity. That I had been so hung up on the wedding, that I had over-looked the marriage. I was more in love with my Italian crystal tiara, than the groom at the altar. How could I, the bright girl with the University degree and promising professional future, have got my personal life so wrong?
The sense of failure was all consuming. Marriage was the first thing I had ever failed at in my life and it hit me hard. But actually, it was the making of me. I didn’t settle for less than my heart’s desire – and wreck not only my life but my poor ex’s – I had the courage to get out. And with that move came a growing awareness of a stronger sense of self. Knowing what or whom you don’t want is not just part of discovering what and whom you do want but who you are. I know it’s a cliché that you tend only to grow through adversity but it’s true. Crippling disappointment and aching pain force you to grow up. To get real about life; that it isn’t some ruddy fairy tale and that happy ever afters aren’t inevitable.
Yes, Starting Over isn’t easy but nor is settling in an unhappy or suffocating situation. And the greatest gift of Starting Over is the burgeoning belief in your self that you can survive. Three years ago, I was left a single mother to a 2 year old. (My relationship after my marriage didn’t work out either despite the birth of our daughter. That’s not uncommon, apparently. Figures from the Office of National Statistics show that 39 per cent of all marriages are remarriages for one or both parties – and 60 per cent end in another divorce.) We weren’t married but we were in a committed relationship. Or so I thought. Anyway, after he left, I used to lie awake at night paralysed with fear about my new sense of responsibility. Not just caring for a child on my own but having to shoulder the running of the house alone. I live in an old cottage in the country and didn’t even know how to light a fire. Or re-set the central heating. Or pay the Council Tax. I was a domestic cripple. I remember when the boiler broke down, trying to find the oil tank in the garden in the night with a torch to read the oil levels to an emergency plumber on the phone and wanting to lie down on the damp ground in my nightie and scream. But I coped because I had to and along an arduous way, I acquired a whole new set of skills. Lighting a fire now? No problem. Surviving Starting Over makes one feel invincible. Fewer life scenarios hold fear because you’ve been to rock bottom and eventually climbed out and that is utterly liberating.
Of course to get to the safe place of feeling secure within oneself as a single person and not part of a couple takes time. So much more time than you initially imagine. According to some sources, it takes half the length of the time the marriage lasted to recover. Grief, shame and regret aren’t linear. They tend to erupt when you least expect them. Two months after my daughter’s father left, our sixteen year old dog died and I didn’t stop crying for three weeks. The sense of loss and the intense heavy pain in my stomach wouldn’t lessen, whereas for the month after my ex left, I never shed a tear.
Finding your separate identity is a lonely business. Your friends get compassion fatigue as their lives move on. And so must yours. Then, one day, when you least expect it, you realise that you, too, are sick to death of your sad story. When you’re bored by your own drama, you know that you’ve taken a quantum leap in healing. You’re not obsessed (as I was for years) by what you see as the failures of your past and you suddenly see the promise of a fresh future. You start living for today, as opposed to regretting your past. You forgive the most important person in all of this – your self – for the part you played, the decisions you took – and you realise that how people treat you is their karma. How you react is yours.
Starting Over is about realising that the clouds will pass if you don’t try and chase them away. And the silver lining is that along the way you discover who you really are. Not who you were. I’ve left and I’ve been left, so I’ve Started Over twice and I feel twice the woman that I was for it. I’ve learned that empowering strategic spiritual tension whereby you hold on to yourself and let go at the same time because we can’t predict the future. But endings can only mean one thing; new beginnings.
(Anna has based her popular novel ‘Daisy Dooley Does Divorce’ on her own life experiences. Read about the book on our book review page, or click this link to buy the book now:)