After I left my abusive marriage, I was consumed with guilt—guilt about what my children had seen and experienced, guilt that our lives had been so horrible, guilt about leaving my husband and disrupting my children’s lives.
To accommodate that guilt and atone for it, I became consumed with being available to my kids and protecting them. My world became motherhood only, and I found myself losing jobs, friends, and myself because nothing came before the happiness and security of my children.
After 12 years of living as a sole parent and achieving finality after the 11-year court battle with my ex-husband, I decided I needed to take some time for myself. Now that my children were all young adults, I needed to figure out what I was going to do now that I no longer had to be Guardian at the Gate for my kids.
Who am I? Who do I want to be? These were questions I didn't know how to answer, but wanted to.
My journey began by reconnecting with old friends and building new relationships with people I wanted in my life. While my daughters were not supportive of my choice to become more autonomous, my son was very understanding. He became my ally at home, encouraging me to take care of myself, to have fun, and be brave.
It became a bit of a role reversal between us, with him encouraging me to become independent, to try new things and be adventurous. His support, humor, and advice were invaluable to me. I spent weekends away with friends, going to clubs, drinking, trying some drugs, and generally saying “yes” to everything.
The world was far different than when I was young and free of responsibility, and I wanted to experience as much as I could on a budget of poverty. My friends were generous and looked out for me, while facilitating adventures.
I made it my mission to approach every new experience with an open mind.
During this process, I realized I wanted to have a “plus one” to go out with, to laugh with, to go home with at the end of the night. I wanted what my friends had. So, I started dating, using an online site to meet men. I'll admit that, at first, I was completely cynical. I am a steadfast feminist, and I was not going to tolerate any sexism, misogyny or bullsh*t; this was going to thin out my options.
I was not looking for a husband. I didn't have an agenda of any sort, but that was the one thing I was sure of.
I did not know what the rules of dating were anymore, and I didn't understand the expectations of men. I encountered many who I didn't speak with for long, as they proved to be far too forward, too sexual, too pushy. Those that I felt comfortable talking to, I would agree to meet in person. Some of those “dates” did not go well; others resulted in friendships; a few turned into second dates; and still others became "boyfriends," a ridiculous word to use in our forties, but what else do you call the man you are dating?
I also had a few “one-night stands” with men who I found insanely attractive. While those nights were very satisfying and a great boost to the ego, I did not want to be a serial dater; I wanted to find someone who I could invest my feelings in.
I had to figure out the rules about bringing men home now that my kids were young adults. Not only did I need to be safe, but I also needed to respect their boundaries and their comfort; after all, it was their home, too. So, we sat down together and discussed what they were comfortable with.
We all agreed that I would not bring anyone home that I was not intending to have in my life for a while—no one-night stands. Only those men who I trusted enough to know where I lived would have the privilege of meeting my kids and would be welcome in our home. No sleepovers until everyone was comfortable with one another.
While this may all sound obvious, for me, it was not. I really had no idea what I was doing with dating, and so I valued the input my family and friends gave me.
I have been dating about for about 18 months now. I have fallen in love, fallen out of love, had some amazing lovers, and met some interesting people. I have even dated a woman, which was an enlightening and empowering experience. We are not dating anymore, but she has become a dear friend.
I have had my heart broken so brutally I didn't think I'd recover—but I did. He texts me occasionally, but I don’t reply. I want to answer, so much, sometimes; and I can’t bring myself to block his number. But I know that I cannot allow myself to be pulled back in because it will only mean more hurt. Though I loved him, I know that he used my love to manipulate and control me. I am not that woman anymore, so I cannot allow those patterns to repeat.
I have learned that I am worthy of being loved and cared for. I have learned that it’s okay for me to expect this from the men I date. In doing so, I am not being a b*tch.
I'm making myself a priority, and that is necessary to remain emotionally and mentally strong and healthy.
I have met some very kind, interesting, and intelligent men who treated me with respect and dignity. This has renewed my faith, and I can now confidently say that “not all men” are a**holes. In fact, I have been dating a man for a few months now who is wonderful. He is kind, intelligent, cultured, and open-minded. We have so much fun together and we never argue. When we disagree, we talk it out, with respect and understanding.
Having an adult relationship, based on trust and caring, is such a foreign experience to me that I had difficulty believing in such a possibility. To be honest, I still find myself doubting he is being genuine when he shows interest in my work, my hobbies, and my advocacy. He tells me I’m beautiful, kind, and intelligent all the time and, while I am grateful for those words, I do not know how to accept such compliments. He is patiently teaching me to accept love, to believe that I am deserving of it. It is incredibly validating to know someone cares about me, is genuinely interested in me as a person, and wants me to be happy.
At the end of the day, what is most important is that I trust myself, that I make myself a priority and take care of myself like I would take care of anyone else. Through it all, the most valuable lesson I have learned is that it is okay to love myself.