Editor's Note: This article first appeared in Issue 15 of Holl & Lane Magazine.
Words and images by Lecy Croson
I've often found myself wondering why you don't get new identity papers when you get a divorce. Looking back now, I know that if I had received some, I would have missed out on an amazing opportunity to grow and become the woman I am today.
I was married young by today's standards. I met my husband online in early 2001 and after conversing electronically for nearly six months, we had our first date. From that moment on, I would spend no more than a handful of nights without him. We became inseparable, wanting to do everything together. The things we had as individuals - friends, the places we frequented, even our possessions - became "ours". We went to "our" favorite restaurant for dinner. We saw "our" friends on the weekend. Long before we ever said "I do," we had signed up for joint ownership on pretty much everything in our lives.
It happens in most marriages, I suspect. In those early honeymoon years, you spend all your time meshing two lives into one. You even see it in Hollywood, when a celebrity couple is no longer known by their individual names and instead by their couple name, like "Brangelina". For the next fourteen years, I was not an individual anymore. I'd become half of a pair.
The process felt right at first. It felt like this was how it was supposed to be done. "Half of a pair" sounds like a nice idea, something you might see on a cute wedding card. While the first few years of the relationship felt like I was becoming something greater than one, I was quickly giving up my individuality. Without realizing it at the time, I was letting go of hobbies I enjoyed when I was single. I pulled all of my friends and family into the "joint" circle I had created with my husband and left no one for me to call my own. I told myself that if I didn't spend every moment with him, I wasn't a good wife and by doing that, I presented myself as part of a package deal which further undermined my identity as an individual. I began to feel like I wasn't whole, alone.
My marriage fell apart nearly a decade later. All of the friends and family I now shared with my husband began to choose sides and many of them chose his, severing their relationships with me. I had to give up half of my belongings, my family, and my home. These were painful enough, but what hurt the most was the fact that I no longer knew who I was without my husband by my side. Divorce is often seen as the failure of two people rather than the failure of a relationship and I definitely felt like a failure. I struggled to look in the mirror without feeling like I had let everyone down, myself included. I was living in fear of being alone.
I didn't like who I had become, so I decided to take advantage of my situation and work on getting back to the person I was before I lost myself. The divorce was hard, but that period of time right after everything was finalized was more difficult than I had expected. Much like the process of metamorphosis when a caterpillar spins herself into a cocoon and reemerges as a beautiful butterfly, I knew I also had to reinvent myself. This was my opportunity to create a new me.
I spent the next few months defining who I was, picking the qualities I liked best about myself before I got married and used those as building blocks to form a foundation for me to start from. I wrote in a journal and read a lot of books and created art and talked with friends and family who had been through a divorce and could offer support.
I spent a lot of time getting to know myself again and learning to love the woman I was without a partner by my side to define my worth. It took a whole lot of quiet nights with my thoughts and self-care, and some days were downright uncomfortable, but I continued to push forward. It was a difficult time, but I slowly found the courage to weave myself a cocoon and begin the process of my metamorphosis.
Since my divorce, I've almost come full circle. I still consider myself a work-in-progress, but I'm much happier in my current frame of mine. I have claimed my individuality and I am confident in my worth as a single woman. I would never have been able to make the journey if I didn't find that one courageous bone in my body and use it to push me forward when I felt like giving up.
Courage doesn't mean you aren't afraid of difficult situations. It means you have the ability to pick up and move forward in spite of that fear. While the idea of moving on alone after emerging from a broken marriage was frightening, I knew I couldn't let the disappointment of failure ruin me.
Looking to the future, I would love to marry again but I know there are some things I would do differently this time around. I would hold fast to my identity and celebrate it. Of course, I would enjoy time spent with my partner, but I would also savor the time I set aside just for me. I would remember that it is okay if I have friends and hobbies and places that I keep for myself and I don't have to share everything with my husband. I would remember that blending our lives together doesn't have to mean giving up my own identity.
Divorce is a difficult process to go through and I hope you never have to, but if you do, my hope is that you are able to find the courage to spin a cocoon and reinvent yourself.