When people would talk about falling in love and used words like “instantly,” “fate,” “undeniable,” or a thousand other cliches, I would always nod my head and pretend that I had experienced the exact same thing when I saw Michael, but the truth was I had no idea what they were talking about. I loved Michael, of that I was sure, but our relationship was a far cry from the whirlwind romances you see in movies. We dated for nearly four years before we even got engaged, and I think if we were honest with ourselves, we just felt like it was the next step for the sake of taking another step, not because we were so convinced that we should spend the rest of our lives together. I gave up on the fairy tale and took the safe alternative.
I convinced myself that those whirlwind romances only happened in the movies…and that people who claimed to have experienced it were certainly just embellishing their stories to make them fit the Hollywood ideal. I had two beautiful baby girls, two dogs, a house complete with stairs and a fenced in backyard, and a husband who I loved but had never really set my soul on fire. Looking at our family from the outside, it would have been just about impossible to find anything amiss. We had the shiny, perfect Facebook family that so many people aspire to have. It wasn’t Hollywood, but it was ours, and I told myself that was enough.
I let that life be enough for nearly ten years. We focused on raising strong, compassionate, smart daughters; we made friends with their friends’ parents and our neighbors; we delivered holiday gifts in our neighborhood; we joined a church; and we were mostly happy for the majority of those years. Until we weren’t.
The circumstances surrounding that shift were incredibly painful, and maybe someday I’ll write about that, but not today and not here. It will have to be enough to say that trust was shattered, hearts were broken, and neither of us could ever find our way back from that. Our safe, happy little life had become a sad co-existence of meal planning, putting on happy faces for parties, and parenting our kids. I was miserable, but still stayed for another three and a half years. I don’t think the blame for our marriage falling apart lies totally with either one of us; we both hurt each other during the three and a half years that followed. When we finally sat down and decided (admitted?) that we needed to separate, it felt like the kindest thing we could do for one another. I can honestly say that I never loved my husband more than the day he let me go. There’s a side of love that a lot of people never get to experience, and that is when your partner willingly and selflessly breaks his own heart so that yours can heal; that’s what Michael did for me and I’ll never not be grateful for that.
I wish that the next part of this story was less messy, but falling in love in an instant isn’t something that one can necessarily plan for.