I hate telling sad stories because I don’t want you to see me as someone who thinks I’m a victim. I’m not. I’m a grown-ass woman and I hate that childhood things still affect me. I’m trying to write through it all so that I can move it aside in favor of better things.
Yesterday Sweetie got a letter in the mail from one of my aunts, a lovely heartfelt note of thanks and support, telling her she’s still part of the family no matter what. It’s a nice gesture and I’m so glad of any support that Sweetie gets, but at the same time, my own aunt hadn’t reached out to me. I had an irrational, childlike reaction and a wave of sorrow came over me. This is what I was afraid of, being The Bad Guy in the divorce. Something about that letter opened a fresh well of guilt and shame.
It’s a pretty huge leap, but I pictured my mom and aunt sitting around talking about how amazing Sweetie is and how selfish and awful I am for ending my marriage, how I never learned to love or be loved, how I’m a monster and Sweetie’s a saint. It was a semi-crazy reaction that plumbed the depths of childhood anxieties and fears, and tears welled up.
“I’m not doing this to hurt you,” I said to Sweetie, “I’m trying to do the right thing for both of us. There’s nothing wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with me.”
But in my family’s eyes, I’ve always been something broken, I’ve always been someone who doesn’t belong, who keeps everyone from being happy and safe. My brother once said, after an argument he’d helped instigate, “You ruin every party.” That was a long time ago but it still shapes my self-concept in a fairly unhelpful way. I’ve always felt like I had to somehow earn my way in by finding some magic virtue.
The origin of this is so familiar as to be a cliché. I was an accident. When I was conceived, my Grandmom basically forced my parents to get married. (I suspect Roadblock #7 may be about Catholicism) Thus, my mother always saw me as the thing that took her life away. When she and my dad were fighting, show would often tell me it was my fault—if I hadn’t been born, she wouldn’t be with him, wouldn’t be getting beat up, and all of us would be safe, if only I hadn’t been so rude as to exist.
One of the ways that she expressed her resentment towards me was to automatically take the side of whomever I was in conflict with. If I was bullied on the school bus or picked on in any way, she’d always ask what I’d done to provoke it. I was trained to think of everything as my fault, even things I had nothing to do with.
So my mother and I were in constant tension, my sister was the favorite, and my brother’s just kind of an ass. As an adult, this meant I had a hard time finding a place in the family. Sweetie somehow ended up being my ticket in.
The way my mom tells it, Sweetie changed me into something better—calmer, more easygoing, just generally more acceptable. My niece came along around the same time, and that mellowed out EVERYONE in the family, reduced the general amount of jerkiness in all of us, and we got a second chance at having a happy family.
So one of the things that kept me married to Sweetie for longer than I should have been was the worry that this new version of my own family would go away if I didn’t have Sweetie around to make me acceptable. I’m almost 39 and my goddamn mother’s opinion of how I should live my life still holds power over me. After all of these many adult years, I still haven’t managed to separate myself from her.
In real life, my family has been supportive and kind about the divorce, but part of me is angry with them and really angry with myself for staying in a not-right marriage to try to earn their love. While I was able to approximate their version of love and marriage with Sweetie, the version that I really want is never going to be what they want for me. For whatever reason, my mother is never going to think I deserve for one man to love me, let alone three or four plus their partners and their partners’ partners. And I have to grow the fuck up and realize that neither Sweetie nor my mother is in charge of whether or not I deserve love. Every human being does.
Some people may see our divorce in traditional terms of the faithful partner and the unfaithful one, the heartbreaker and the victim, the winner and the loser, but that bears no resemblance to what actually is. We were both faithful in our own way, we were both victims and heartbreakers, and when this is all done, we will both be winners.
Even more important than letting go of Sweetie is letting go of the need for approval and creating the life I actually want, regardless of how the family might receive it. Until then, I need some distance from them, to carve out the time and space to just go ahead and grow the fuck up. I did it when I moved across the country at 24, and I can find a (less migratory) way to do it now.