The name of the blog
"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.
Monday, 18 November 2013
How do we define ourselves and form the mental picture of who we are to present to the world? So much of our persona in western civilization is formed around our jobs and our families. It is embedded in the language that is commonly used by people. When you meet someone, a common question to ask is what do you do for a living. And the answer is typically: I am an air traffic controller, I am a hairstylist, I am a prison guard, rather than, I work as an air traffic controller for the income that provides the lifestyle that creates my identify. And I think the other most common question is, tell me about your family? And the response would come: I am married, I am single, I have two children, I am a mother or a father, rather than I live with someone, or I parent one child. We can also define ourselves in other ways, but they are usually the more private thoughts: I am a fighter, I am smart, I am curious, I am a volunteer, I am loving, I am compassionate, I am opinionated, I am difficult to live with, I am a diva, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I am honest to a fault. That last string is how I identify some of my personality traits, but it is not what I would tell you about myself if I met you in a casual social setting. In the past, it would have taken me years of friendship before I would articulate my strengths and weaknesses that colour my daily life to you in such a way.
Authenticity, I believe, is the marrying of the public and private identities. Where no mask is utilized to hide the private self. An Elder told me years ago that the longest journey one can take is from the mind to the heart. I have come to understand this message as partly being about making peace with oneself, accepting our humanity and our flaws, perhaps even celebrating them to the point that we can be authentic and let the world know who we are. We can let others know how our scars impact our field of vision, how we struggle to challenge the childhood messages we have internalized and accepted as our identity, how we yearn to be authentic in our interactions with others and not shy away from the possible rejection. And during the last few months, another possible version of the Elders message is truly allowing the heart to embrace what the mind knows. In my current situation, both my heart and mind knew instantly I wanted nothing to do with an open marriage. As time progressed and interactions became more and more difficult and hurtful between my husband I am, the space between my mind and heart actually widened. My heart loves my husband and misses him and our life deeply. My mind knows intellectually that he is not in an honourable place to receive the love I want to give him, that he has nothing to offer me, and that our paths have diverged. There is a battle going on in my soul constantly because my mind and my heart are not on the same page about the relationship. I have a long way to go in my journey between my mind and my heart when it comes to the end of my marriage.
From Wikipedia: Identity is often described as finite and consisting of separate and distinct parts (family, cultural, personal, professional, etc.), yet according to Parker J. Palmer, it is an ever evolving core within where our genetics (biology), culture, loved ones, those we cared for, people who have harmed us and people we have harmed, the deeds done (good and ill) to self and others, experiences lived, and choices made come together to form who we are at this moment.
Now, what does one do when in a matter of months, most of the big tickets items noted above that form your identity are gone, lost either through choices you consciously made, or because someone made a decision that impacts you without your input or consent. For me, I left my job on stress leave at the end of July 2012, already knowing I would not likely go back given I had never enjoyed the criminal justice field and I was burnt out. The decision not to return to my job became more clear as time moved on and I healed my anxiety and depression through counselling and self-help. In August 2012 we informed our son that we were selling the house, downsizing, and moving an hour away to be closer to my husbands work so that we could financially manage me quitting my $80, 000 a year job. We told our son it was time for him to be on his own; he wasn't moving with us. The house sold far more quickly than I think anyone was expecting, and the rush was on to find a new home for both our son and I. In October we moved. It was an odd transition not being a hands on parent. Given his age I wasn't much of a parent per se, but he lived with us, and I saw him daily. I missed my son deeply, and contact was sporadic in those first few months as I think he was quite angry to have been excused from the nest. It was also a freeing time for me. I had never before not had to work or have my child to be responsible for. There was no nagging, my house was always clean, my husband and I could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, and I had all the time in the world to focus on myself and my health. I read a lot, travelled, went to the gym regularly when I wasn't injured with some broken appendage, and generally had a great time. In April 2013, with my husbands blessing and encouragement, I officially retired from my government job and cashed in my pension, ready to start the next chapter of my life. My plan was to flip houses. My husband and I had set up our lives financially so that this could be a reality, and I had been educating myself on all things home renovation. My heart and my mind were on the same page regarding my employment. Five weeks later he informed me that our marriage, as I knew it, was over. In the span of less than a year I ceased to be employed, my son no longer lived with me after 22 years, and I was no longer a wife, or in a significant relationship; I was suddenly single again. This was far too much change in a short period of time. My identity had been rocked, stripped of three significant grounding factors, and I felt as though I was floating around untethered to anything meaningful or tangible. I felt lost, undefined, blurry, insecure, and blob like.
And what does one do when their beloved has a massive crisis of identify and changes the rules midway through the game? Most of us in western civilization take for granted that marriage and monogamy will form part of our identity at some point in our twenties or thirties. We have all heard of swingers, but the societal norm is still to commit to one person and marry, whether the end goal is a family or not. Others might choose not to get married, but will still commit to one person, or perhaps you are not allowed to marry who you love because of ridiculous laws in your state/province. I got married with every intention of being committed to that one person for the rest of my life. That may sound cheap coming from someone who has already been divorced once, but if you could see inside my heart, you would know that the feelings I had for my second husband were a million times more "real" than for my first. I believed that my husband and I had formed a partnership that could and would weather any storm. I believed that we were soul-mates and best friends, and that no matter what we faced, we could stand side by side in our partnership. The beliefs surrounding my marriage, my husband, and our roles in each others lives formed a significant part of my identity for the last 12 years. And I am sure they formed a significant part of his identity too, until the portion surrounding monogamy was challenged and other forms of marriage were introduced to him. As a side note, I do believe that my husband was manipulated or persuaded to some degree to opt for an open marriage. I believe that if he had not met Stephanie and Ian, that he would not have come to the conclusion he wanted an open marriage on his own. Which doesn't translate to me believing that our marriage would have gone on blissfully; perhaps we would have divorced regardless as he searched for a better fit for his identity. That is for another post though. My husband decided, six years into our marriage, that being monogamous was no longer a part of his identity. He instead decided that his identify regarding relationships was that of being polyamorous. He stated he wanted to be in an open marriage; he wanted to be able to love multiple people at the same time. I will write more on this in another post, but for now, I really only wanted to touch on how the identity we form for ourselves, or the labels we give ourselves, not only impact how we see each other, they dictate how we interact with others. My husband if facing a very large range of consequences due to his change in identity, as are the people he was closest to.
So, is a mid-life crisis a crisis of identify? A person gets to a point in their life, oftentimes spurred by a critical situation, looks at where they have been, what they have "accomplished," and the path they are headed down, and screams "No, wait, this isn't for me!" Is this what happened to my husband? Many people have expressed their thoughts that he was/is having a mid-life crisis. All the triggers were there: we were entering our seventh year of marriage, he hated his job, we had moved away from his home province and he had struggled to develop a new "community" or social circle, and we were undergoing significant changes within our family as our son had moved out, or been kicked out. And to top that all off, I was going through an incredibly difficult time personally in my own life, and was off work on "stress leave" with no real intentions of ever returning. I was without a doubt going through my own mid-life crisis. And then our cat died; his cat, his beloved Mya. Could all of those stressors have been the catalysts for him to re-assess his identity and want to shed the life he had been leading? While I understand those feelings, and the need for significant change, the difference between he and I is that I didn't see him, or our marriage, as negotiable. Is was a constant, a positive, a haven, something grounding in the chaos of a turbulent time in life.
From Infidelity: When, Where, Why by Irene Tsapelas, Stony Brook University Helen E. Fisher, Rutgers University Arthur Aron, Stony Brook University: The self-expansion model, for example, suggests that infidelity may result from insufficient self-expansion from one’s primary relationship and/or the desire to experience more varied forms of self- expansion, such as gaining access to a broader range of resources, skills, experiences or perspectives. In this way, infidelity may function to expand the self in ways that are not possible within the primary relationship. That sounds to me like infidelity is closely linked to our identity.
Sadly, there are many in our communities who have ingrained negative messages from childhood; they have internalized and personalized messages such as "you aren't good enough" to the point that their identity and self-image are warped. As a child my mother would tell me I was tenacious, that I never did anything the easy way. I never felt that it was said with love though. I felt as though I had disappointed her. I very much grew up to believe that I was a fighter, and that belief in my identity has played out as an adult over and over in my actions and choices. Therefore, I believe that we behave as our identity would dictate, but can it be another way, can new behaviours create a new identity? Can a criminal who has internalized that as an identity, rather than a behaviour, ever be anything but a criminal? Can a cheater ever become a non-cheater, if they identify with the role, rather than the action? I think for me, and for our society, the labelling of a cheater is prolific because surely that individual must be lacking in morals, ethics, compassion, and other nuances of character. In other words, they as people must be flawed to cheat. Their identity is not on par with the rest of society. As for myself, I am at a place in my life now where I am working very hard to be more flexible, more relaxed, and find an easier way to accomplish what I want. Always fighting for something is exhausting. However, old habits do not go quietly into that good night.
There is a great TED talk that touches on how we perceive ourselves that rang so true for me. Amy Cuddy gives a speech on how your body language shapes who you are. She tells the personal tale of a very bad car accident when she was 19 that involved the car rolling several times and ultimately she was thrown from the car. She woke up in a head injury rehabilitation ward and learnt she had been withdrawn from college and her IQ had dropped by two standard deviations. This event and the information regarding her intelligence were very traumatic for her. She had been called gifted as child, and very much identified with being smart. And after the car accident, she was told she would never be able to finish college, that would not work out for her. She speaks about identifying with being smart, and this is her thought on having your core identity taken: "there's nothing that leaves you feeling more powerless than that". She felt like an impostor when she returned to school, and wanted to drop out, but her adviser persuaded her to "fake it until you make it". The author encourages us to fake it until you become it. Change your identity. You can watch her talk at: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html
What that talk awoke in me was the realization that my feelings of powerlessness about the end of my marriage and everything that was transpiring in the following months stemmed, in part, from my core belief that I was a fighter, and that if I gave it my all, I would succeed. That was my life story, being a fighter was part of my identity. And isn't that what we are told over and over by media, pop culture, our parents and teachers? If you work hard enough, anything is possible. This is not always so. I was devastated at the end of my marriage, in large part because I didn't get to fight for it. A decision was made with no consultation from me. I had auditioned for a part, the role of wife and partner to my husband, and failed never knowing I was auditioning. I didn't get a call-back or a mulligan. I stood there stunned watching my entire life disintegrate around me, powerless to utilize a core piece of my identity that I had relied on for the last twenty plus years. Not that I didn't try to fight for my marriage. I couldn't engage my husband, he wasn't interested in fixing anything when he firmly believed he was making the correct decision for his own happiness. So I fought for the opportunity to fight. Until I stopped fighting and started accepting I wasn't going to win this battle. It was a great stroke of insight for me to realize that I had the power to stop fighting for the right to fight, even if I didn't have the power to fight for my marriage. It was the beginning of the space between my heart and my mind closing, the beginning of my healing.
Who am I now? How do I define myself now? New words are being added slowly to the repertoire of how I identify myself. I have gotten in touch with the writer inside me, so now I can say I am a blogger, writer, and I will be an author one day. I am still a mother, my role has just changed and now I am adjusting. I am still a friend, and becoming a better one I think as I heal and become less needy. I am a traveller and a wanderer, that hasn't changed. I am becoming more spiritual through this time in my life. I am becoming more curious about life and a better conversationalist. I am growing into a new and different version of myself.