When I First Left My Husband
A lesson it took me two decades and a Bear to learn.
There are so many memes about making that different choice. That better choice…choosing yourself. You know the ones. They sound so fucking good…so sensible on Instagram. Yet something in our brain overrides it when we’re at the crossroads ourselves. I’ve experienced this first-hand, as I will describe in this letter. But I think…I think…I’ve made a different choice this time. The better choice. Let me explain.
So about 4 years into being Editor-in-Chief of CosmoGIRL!, I was starting to hit my stride. I had shifted from I-think-I-can-I-think-I-can to I-know-I-can-I-know-I-can. 4 years into that job was also 4 years into my marriage. (I started both the same year!) Alas, the marriage was not going quite as well. It’s not like we were fighting. But I was just…unsatisfied. Listen, one might argue (and perhaps, ahem, he did) that like Alexander Hamilton, “I would never be satisfied.” 🎶 But let’s put that song in a box to sing for a future letter because, regardless of the why, the fact remained: I was not satisfied. I remember saying things like, “Don’t put me on a pedestal.” “You are not my butler.” There was this power dynamic happening that just wasn’t sexy to me. I didn’t want to be worshipped. I didn’t want to be the all-powerful Atoosa. But like everything in life, things are complicated. Because although our interpersonal dynamic was such that I was the dominant one, I also relied on him for everything.
He drove. He cooked. He dealt with everything relating to our car. He dealt with the finances and taxes. When we checked into a hotel, he talked. He drove me to work. He picked me up from work. He sent flowers to my mom for every occasion. For fuck’s sake, because of my dyslexia, he read work memos for me if they required too much processing! (He actually read a lot for me, period.) If it was uncomfortable for me, he did it. And at that point in my life, there were a lot of things I didn’t want to do. Part of how I dealt with my childhood stuff was I just created this very narrow comfort zone – fashion, magazines, work, being “Atoosa.” Anything outside of that? Yeah. No, thank you. Not a point of pride. Just stating the facts.
So, you see what I’m saying? Even though in some ways I appeared to be the power person in the relationship with him doing everything I didn’t want to do, in other ways, he had all the power because I literally could not get through life without him. But at the time, I didn’t realize I had created this “hot lava” game out of my life: So many things I couldn’t touch. So many things I needed him to do. Without consideration for those things, I left him. I moved out for 6 months.
And you know what happened? The universe tested me. Spoiler alert: I failed
Six months after I left, I simultaneously broke my foot and got named Editor-in-Chief of Seventeen. So many things I had to navigate at once and alone. I felt lost without him. I was an icon for girl power on one hand and a cliche damsel in distress on the other. On the lowest level, (and trust me, I can’t believe I’m admitting this) the temporary apartment I was living in was a very long and windy walk away from the elevator. I was so daunted by my “commute” on my crutches every morning and evening, that when he said, “just move back since you have so much going on,” I jumped right back into the old pattern. I was so powerful…yet so deeply disempowered. Both/And.
Listen, I can’t have any regrets about going back because we wouldn’t have had our three wonderful children if we had divorced that first time. But my impulse to leave 4 years in was the right one because ultimately the reasons we are getting divorced are the same, but this time he wanted to split up, too, which made it easier. But at the very least, you would think (hope!) I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice, right? You would think I would want to show up differently with my next partner, right? Right?? Wrong, of course! After all, repetition is the best teacher. Or it seems to be my best teacher.
And all roads lead back to the Bear.
He and I are not a couple anymore, but I will love that man forever. Sometimes the timing is not right, even if the people are. And so, we move on. But I noticed my old sticky pattern at work again holding me in place.
One of the things I love about the Bear is…he is a fucking Bear. Simple as that. Like on our first date, at one point, a big group of rowdy guys was walking right into us and I just melted into his body and I felt so safe. It’s no wonder, this is the man I ran to after my separation, right? On top of it, he is the smartest person I’ve ever met. For a powerful yet secretly disempowered person this makes so much sense. And I honestly didn’t see this dynamic until the very moment I typed that sentence.
I did notice this though.
I wanted to plan a solo vacation for myself while my girls are away with their Dad during school break, but I just couldn’t pull the trigger on anything. I looked at tons of options…and all of them seemed lovely. And yet I was stuck. I planned to stay local.
Then a few weeks ago, my best friend, David, and I went on an epic 6-hour walk to and from New Jersey. (I know – we are intense – we literally don’t stop talking about life and spirituality for five minutes on these walks!) As I walked over the George Washington Bridge, I felt the immenseness of the structure itself…this massive, miraculous behemoth that people built with their hands; felt the power of the many, many cars and trucks rumbling past us on our right; and looked to my left to see the stunning Hudson River that has been flowing for thousands of years. In that moment, surrounded by all this strength, all this power, I flashed to my silly vacation conundrum and I realized that I was holding myself back from some experiences I really wanted to take. I think I secretly thought I would wait until The Bear and I were together again because I was too scared to go without him. And by not moving forward on these plans, I was keeping myself tethered to a relationship that was over simply because I had this unconscious belief that I’m not able to do certain things on my own. And at that moment, mid-way to NJ on the George Washington Bridge, I stopped walking and made a decision: I am going to Egypt.
And sister? In a few weeks, I really am going to Egypt! I’ve wanted to go there forever and it was a place The Bear and I shared in common. But I don’t want to tie my dreams up to someone else’s courage again. Beyond keeping me tethered to a relationship that was over, it was keeping me in a disempowered state. Disempowered is not what I want to be under any circumstances anymore. Yet I didn’t notice the insidious way I was keeping myself in that position. It’s so sneaky to be a powerful seeming person on the outside, but inside…too afraid to navigate an international airport alone. I don’t judge myself for this. I have compassion for how I got here.
When my family and I first moved to America, I was a little kid. I didn’t speak English when I started school and I struggled for many years. I learned absolutely everything about American language and culture the hard way. Based on those experiences, I have a certain tightness around the idea of being immersed in a culture and language that is totally unknown to me. Honestly, it scares the shit out of me. But that’s precisely why I must do it. And life after divorce for me is going to be filled with things I’ve never done before because I handed so many tasks off to my ex.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great to be in partnership. But what I was doing wasn’t partnership. I was using my ex-husband as a crutch. I was able to give off this vibe of powerful woman while he handled everything that intimidated me. It was as though I was wearing the costume of a powerful person. But that day on the GW Bridge, I decided to throw my proverbial crutches off the edge. The invitation for me in my divorce is to really stand on my own two feet. I do have a powerful base. I’ve done many, many hard things. And I’ve done them well. But I’ve also created some blind spots that are based on some old trauma (like my moving to America experience). I’m going to look for those spots and work those muscles harder.
And just this week, Egypt celebrated the reopening of the ancient Avenue of the Sphinxes in Luxor: an almost 2-mile road that connects the Temple of Luxor and the Temple of Karnak. This 3,000 year old path has been in the process of excavation for years and was finally opened on this past Thursday, Thanksgiving in the US. And it felt like such a beautiful message for me…this girl who has also been excavating herself for years…finally hitting on an important archeological finding of my own. I can’t think of a better Christmas gift: The reclamation of my power.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m nervous about the trip. But as the poet, David Whyte, says so beautifully:
Start close in,
don’t take the second step
or the third,
start with the first
you don’t want to take.
That first step I didn’t want to take was planning this solo trip. And the metaphor is not lost on me. A journey for my Journey with a capital J. It continues to be a great honor to journey with you. I’m not sure I would have made this connection if you weren’t by my side. And so I remain here, 24/7, as always at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The soundtrack of my 🤍🖤❤: