I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was a child. My favorite part of the day was when it was my turn to use the family Dell so I could write stories, and my favorite part of the night was when my mom would tuck me into my warm bed and sit beside me with an open book on her lap. The library was my happy place; the bookstore my inspiration. My dream has always been to someday see a book with my name on the cover sitting on those shelves, and a young dreamer like me flipping through the pages.
I knew I wanted to work in marketing or public relations during my senior year of college, so I remained committed to my journalism curriculum while taking classes that would teach me the skills necessary to pursue the career I really wanted. There are countless professionals out there who build incredible careers in an entirely different industry than the one printed on their college diploma, and that knowledge was enough to fill me with hope. My father’s dream was to see me anchoring on NBC. But at some point, I had to let go of what he wanted and take charge after what I wanted. Sadly, this has been a theme throughout my adulthood – I am a people pleaser, and I’ve particularly tried to please my parents even despite it bringing me nothing but pain and remorse.
When I met the man I would later divorce, despite the red flags staring me straight in the eyes, I wanted to marry him because my short-lived dating life had sucked the vitality out of me and all I wanted was to feel safe. I also felt ashamed by my conservative parents, who were unhappy that I was “living in sin” with a man I was not engaged to. My religious upbringing, which I was still struggling with at the time, made me worry that by being intimate with him, I would not be wanted by any other man. So I decided that I wanted to marry him, and marry young, and have kids young, or so I thought. Little did I know that a few years later, I would be childless and divorced, but finally happy and on the track to building a life I could actually enjoy by myself.
When I was young, I was good at being alone, but only because I had to be. I was bullied mercilessly by mean girls all three years of middle school. Those years broke me and forced me into isolation, but I honed my craft and wrote some powerful pieces during that time. When I met my ex-husband, I thought I loved him, but it took a lot of therapy to realize that I loved the idea of him more than who he was as a person. I also loved the idea of no longer being alone – of never being alone again – and even though we were incompatible in almost every way possible, I forced a love that wasn’t meant to be.
The point is that I’ve always been a planner. I continue to work on my novel, taking it day-by-day, knowing that this process takes time. I set my eyes on the long-term goal in college, and got my degree. I am organized and detail-oriented when it comes to planning events and webinars at work. I planned a gorgeous wedding, and a beautiful marriage that was only realistic on paper – it just never came to fruition like everything else.
There is only one thing I’m truly grateful for during the awful year that is 2020, and that’s the strength I found to end my toxic marriage. I can still remember the day I told my ex, “It feels like the world is ending, and I can’t waste another second of my life being unhappy with you.”
My ideas of success were so twisted that I was pressuring my husband in the beginning of 2020 (and honestly all of 2019) to have a baby with me, but not because I thought it would save us. I just thought I wanted to be a mother – we were married, I was young, the clock was ticking, why not have a baby? If there is one thing I’m thankful for when it comes to my ex, it’s that he fought hard against my irrational proposition.
In the two photos above, this girl looked happy. But she was not. On the left, she had just gotten her hair dyed for her upcoming wedding, but her days were filled with fights, tears and loneliness and a fiance who encouraged her to sleep all weekend so he could spend entire Saturdays and Sundays playing games online with friends in the state they’d moved out of. On the right, she was on her honeymoon, and her husband was irritated she wanted her picture taken. He also didn’t want to hold her hand, cuddle, or be intimate. He didn’t want to be alone ever on that trip. She knew she had made a mistake even on their first night in Saint Lucia. A bubbling of fear and regret rose in the pit of her stomach as she sat across the table from a man she was not excited to think of as her husband. She was no longer busied with thoughts of wedding planning, but now faced with the reality that she had married someone who was absolutely wrong for her in every way. After she fell down the slippery stairs at their resort, instead of sympathy she was met by anger. He didn’t want to go back to their hotel room to cuddle, kiss and talk. He wanted to go out like they had every night, and he didn’t care if she was hurt – she was clumsy, and always messing things up for them.
But she was raised to believe that marriage is forever, and when she confided in her parents, they encouraged her to try to make the marriage work. “We don’t believe in divorce,” her father told her on the phone once after she’d called with tears running down her face, desperate for his validation to free herself from this life when, moments before, her husband had cussed at her and stormed out of the apartment. She was constantly begging her husband to talk through conflict and clean up their messes, and he was forever sweeping things under the rug until there was nothing but lumps he had to angrily beat down with the broom.
2020 taught me that life can’t be planned out like a book or a marketing event. Life events can’t be included on a clipboard checklist of success. Marriage and children can’t be looked at as something to complete. They should just all come naturally on their own, when the time is right. And we all have our own timelines for these things.
So for now, I’m focusing on short-term goals only. My long-term future is a mystery, but for once, I’m okay with that. I see it as an endless chance for opportunity to grow and blossom into the woman I was born to become. I’m learning to be okay with being alone, and I’m no longer planning every minute of my life.