It seems that all of my thoughts and conversations these days come back to divorce. This could be because I work in the divorce industry. What a horrible way to speak about the ending of love...Divorce industry...what does that even mean?
In my case, I work for a family law firm. We help people get from one point in time (unhappily married or unhappily left) to another point in time (divorced or reconciled). In my job, I see a lot of women (and men) who are in the throes of a full scale dissolution.
While the structural process of divorce is the same for men and women, the internal and cerebral process is not the same. While I want to talk about what happens to men (from my perspective) that will be a later blog...today I want to talk about women.
I will talk of myself because I think that my story is pretty typical for most women these days. My marriage and divorce a common refrain, a pattern.
I was always self sufficient. I knew from an early age that I wanted college and graduate school. The question was never if, it was in what? I knew from age five that college was a foregone conclusion. I likewise knew that I would also go on to post-graduate work in something. By age ten, I was pretty sure it would be law. And so it was.
While my heart lie in the criminal arena, my practice ended up in the family law world. When I started out as an attorney, I wanted to be the next F. Lee Bailey. Well, before the alcoholism and disbarment. I saw myself as a trial attorney. I saw myself trying murder cases. I saw myself elevated to the top of my field.
That didn’t happen. I did some criminal defense work but what kept walking through my newly opened law firm door was family law clients. They came in droves. They came when I wanted them to stop. They just kept coming.
Looking back now, it seems silly that I ever considered another practice area. Seems totally ludicrous that I ever thought that I would end up defending criminals. Family law found me.
So I was driven, motivated and self possessed. I achieved because I never really thought about failing. My career just kept getting better and better. I grew in caseload almost as much as I did in ability. I was good at what I did. I loved it too.
My personal life intertwined with family law. Not seeing myself as the marrying kind, I practiced helping others leave their marriages one after another. Sometimes jaded and often saddened by what two people who once loved each other did to one and other in the final hours of marriage. Death sometimes seeming like a better choice than what these two people were doing to each other and their children.
I hung in there. I kept going. Learning, sometimes feeling at a super computer speed. Getting more complicated and challenging cases. Hard custody cases with parental alienation. Adoption cases gone completely wrong. Divorce cases with infidelity, high stakes and even higher assets. Every case laced with substance abuse, domestic violence, or mental health issues. I mean every single one of them.
I grew wary of the fight 6 years in and took a sabbatical. Closed down the practice I worked so hard to build. Moved out into the desert to be alone and work on the Navajo reservation doing youth law, despite the fact that no one even knew what that was, myself included.
But my foray into youth law...brief and ill defined only lasted a short while. Quickly it became known that I was a family law person and I was recruited first by my own non-profit, then by another non-profit and finally by the largest family law firm in the state of New Mexico. I made several job changes and landed myself squarely in the midst of high end, high stakes divorces.
As much as I loved what I was doing, my biological clock began to toll for me. I knew my window was closing on being a mother. I knew that I was going to have to make choices in this regard or the choice would be made for me.
It was here, in the middle of my career, that I had to address how different my choice to become a parent would be from that of my male counterparts. If I chose this path, my career would be sidetracked. My certainty in partnership in the legal field much less likely. It was a fork in the road and I will be honest that I spent a long time standing looking at that particular cutlery. I stood for a long time looking at the two paths. I knew I was at a crossroad. I knew that I could have both but I knew that one would always overshadow the other. I knew that in choosing to become a mother, I was choosing to not reach the heights that I would otherwise reach in my career. I knew it. I did not believe the propaganda that told me I could have it all. No one has it all. Ever.
Being self-partnered, I began researching sperm donors. I began looking at men I dated differently. I began thinking about how and when I would become a mother. I began to see myself as two people when I really should have been viewing myself as one person with three roles: person, mother, attorney. But I was not aware. I was not conscious of how much the newly sought after role of mom would demand of me. How could I? How could any of us?
In the end, I got married and had children within the confines of that relationship. I did not do it alone. I did not use the sperm on hold in Seattle. I did not do what I set out to do. In the end, I married because, well I am still sorting that out quite frankly. The most honest answer I can give you as to why I married, is because I was afraid that no one would want to marry me. I had some fundamental belief, that despite the fact that I was attractive, funny, smart and a good person (having resolved many of my prior issues that prevented me from being good partnership material), I believed that I was not lovable, partnerable. I am still unpacking why I believed this. For now, I can only say that it was some combination of lack of self worth, my dad telling me that no one would ever put up with me because I was so hard to get along with (this despite that I got along with pretty much everyone except him) and some deep down desire to be loved. Some belief of unworthiness, coupled with a sincere and honest desire to be seen and loved and cherished and the belief that all of those things were attainable in a marriage.
It was through this lack of value and need for validation that I married. I did not marry because I loved him with all that I was. The ability to do that, was for me, decades away. I did not marry because I needed to be supported financially. I did not marry because I believed in marriage and doing what was expected of me. I married because I believed no one would ever want to marry me. It really is just that simple. Sad, but simple.
I know that I am not the only woman who did this. I have talked to you, there are more of me out there. Women who, married because they believed on a fundamental level that not marrying made them selfish, an outcast, unworthy and shriveled in their femininity. Women who took the path because they were too afraid of what not taking the path said or didn’t say about them.
I feel most ashamed about why I married. I so wish that I could say it was because I loved him, because he was my soul mate, because I believed in the institution. No, in the end, I married because I sold myself out. I married to prove to myself and everyone else that I was pickable. I regret this most of all. I tangled up my life with another person’s all in the hope and wish for some sort of validation and meaning that no man could ever provide. Still I searched for it within him when it was never located there. It always, resided in me. It would just take me the better part of a decade and half to figure that out.
Becoming engaged and then married required a leaving of self that I was familiar with, something I had come to hone in my life. Seems like I was forever leaving me for you. The you being changeable and varied. I shape shifted myself into the role of wife to take on the larger role of mother. Feeling that doing it in this order would provide me some measure of safety and security, knowing all along I was selling myself out.
I can remember looking at myself in the mirror right before I walked down the aisle. I remember thinking that I did not recognize myself. I remember being overwhelmed by the image of myself running to the parking lot and jumping in my car. I remember bifurcating that image to some remote place in my psyche that I would not dare to look at again for over a decade. I put my head down, opened the door and walked into a marriage that I knew could not contain me. To a man that I knew could not love me. To a commitment that I knew I could not survive.
I betrayed myself that day. Wearing white, when black was really the more appropriate color. I wanted to wear black but my father said he would not pay for a black wedding dress. My groom supporting his decision. Me, allowing myself to be lost between the two men and their ideas about me. Not having the strength or conviction to see myself as myself and stand tall.
I walked down the aisle that day donning some other persona. Some one that was excited about being a wife. Oddly, I felt like a defendant in criminal court being walked to counsel table by armed guards. Shackled at the waist and ankles. I could feel the heaviness of the metal but my mind would not let me see those chains. The fork in the road having morphed into something else, no longer a decision between two worlds: lawyer and mother. Now the decision being self and other. I chose other that day because I was too afraid of myself. Too afraid to speak my mind. Too afraid to not be loved.
As I took on this new role, I thought that I could change myself. I thought that I could get behind the commitment. I thought that I could maintain me and be a wife. I really did try. I really did give it all that I had. But as much as I tried to stuff the part of myself down and away, there was this tiny voice inside me that cried out to be seen, to be acknowledged if only by myself. In the end, it was the voice that I had to obey. It was the voice that spoke that night in my bedroom, the voice that said to my husband, I cannot stay here with you like this anymore. I do not know what lies ahead for me, but I know that I cannot be your wife. I do not want to be your wife anymore. In that moment, all the reasons I had to get married and be married, became reasons to leave, reasons to flee. Leaving felt like a life and death decision for me. I felt like as soon as those words fell from my lips, that I had said the most true thing that I had said in forever. A part of me returned to me. A part I had denied, forbidden entrance to my life. Saddened, I knew that my journey and ability to partner concluded, maybe forever. It was right here that my authentic life began.