Does one deserve to have evil done to her by consequence of putting herself where evil can reach her?
Brandon Sanderson, The Way of Kings
We like to think our society has evolved in the way we deal with these things, we like to believe we’re enlightened. We use terms like survivor, we talk about it on Oprah. Hell, we even have a whole tv show dedicated to the stories of rape victims, which is… interesting. Anyway, it’s true, we’ve come a long way. But make no mistake, ladies- for all the progress we seem to have made in the way we deal with victims of sexual assault, they are still asking us what we could have done to prevent it, how much we had to drink, why we were walking alone at night. They are still measuring the length of our skirts.
There are approximately 240,000 sexual assaults every year in the US. That is one every 2 minutes- and that is only victims over the age of twelve. That doesn’t include child sexual abuse, which is an epidemic in and of itself.
When only 3 out of every 100 rapists will serve time- they are measuring our skirts.
When the desire to enjoy a beloved sitcom and pudding pops outweighs more than a dozen accusations spanning decades- they’re still measuring our skirts.
When a daylong FB debate can rage on over whether a woman could really have been raped if she sought her attacker’s company the following day- they’re still measuring our skirts.
When a college anti-sexual assault campaign poster is aimed only at the girls’ conduct; when a father, who sees it while dropping his daughter off at school, asks the question Where is the poster telling boys not to rape? and is met with a genuinely confused, blank stare from his child’s RA- they are still measuring our skirts.
When college administrators place a higher premium on preserving a rapist’s athletic career than on seeking justice for his victims; when a student is more likely to be expelled from college for plagiarism or theft than for rape, they are still measuring our skirts.
When university administrators in charge of supporting and advocating for victims of sexual assault gently nudge girls toward not filing formal complaints under the guise of being understanding and supportive, they are still measuring our skirts. Those “victim advocates?” They work for the school, not the victims.
When a Columbia student resorts to dragging her mattress, the very mattress on which she was assaulted, around campus with her EVERY DAY because the university- her university- declined to protect her from her assailant, a young man who had been accused of rape two times previously, they are still measuring our skirts.
When a victim doesn’t act exactly the way society thinks she should in the aftermath of her rape, and they decide that it can’t have been all that bad, or it didn’t happen- they’re still measuring our skirts.
When a celebrated writer about to speak at a university refers to being a rape victim on a college campus as a “coveted status,” he is measuring our skirts.
When an anchor on a major news outlet helpfully reminds us there are “ways not to perform” certain sex acts “if you don’t want to,” he is measuring our skirts.
When those same voices that tell you not to provoke or put yourselves in harm’s way, are telling you to SMILE, Beautiful– and you have to decide whether to smile and have it be seen as encouragement, or ignore it and be berated or worse- MAKE NO MISTAKE- they are measuring your skirt.
When one of the determinants of a sexual assault case going to trial is whether or not the prosecutor has a good victim; when a woman is responsible for preventing herself from being raped, but if God forbid she is- she needs to both have led a blameless life beforehand, and react “appropriately” afterward in order for justice to be served. MAYBE. They are STILL MEASURING our goddamned skirts.
I have been seeing more and more focus on rape convictions- unfortunately the people being convicted of rape are the victims, not the perpetrators. More and more women and girls are being found guilty. Guilty of having been raped.
WHAT is UP with all of these banks? I mean, over 5,000 of them get robbed annually. When are they going to LEARN and stop getting themselves robbed? I mean, they’re just sitting there, flaunting their money in broad daylight. And some of these banks are in dicey neighborhoods. I mean, honestly. They let ANYONE walk right in. The thieves stroll up to the counter, and the tellers smile at them, and ask them what they want- what do they THINK is going to happen? They really should not put themselves in that position. Then, after they’ve totally let themselves be held up, they turn around, unlock the front doors and open up again the NEXT DAY. Have they learned nothing? I mean, there’re ways to not get yourself robbed. At a certain point, these banks need to show some good judgment and PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY.
And that, my friends, is the difference in the way we treat rape versus other crimes in this country.
The pleasure of remembering had been taken from me, because there was no longer anyone to remember with. It felt like losing your co-rememberer meant losing the memory itself, as if the things we’d done were less real and important than they had been hours before.
John Green, The Fault in our Stars
There is very little I miss about my marriage. That probably sounds a little harsh. It may even be a little harsh, and perhaps in ten years I will be able to look back and remember moments and experiences linked to my relationship with my ex-husband with something other than cynicism. Unfortunately, when you find out your life is not what you believed it to be, you tend to second guess your memories.
That used to be brutally difficult. That was hard when I was trying to accept the FACT of what was happening. When I couldn’t believe it. When trying not to believe it was my full time job. Over the course of a year, I saw our future destroyed and our past dismantled, cheapened, invalidated. I felt like such an idiot.
I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t feel pain when I think of those things- those memories of us as a couple. I feel removed from it. It isn’t hard to remember what I thought my marriage was, and it isn’t hard to think about what I now know to be the truth. Eventually you realize that mourning something fictional is not time well spent. Eventually, you lay down that anger and hurt simply because they are too heavy to carry around every day.
What I do struggle with are our family memories and traditions. What I do miss, keenly, is having someone else who shares all of those memories of the kids. The one person who knows the stories, and gets all the references, is gone. To reminisce about those things with him feels disingenuous. One of the kids will say or do something, and I can no longer lock eyes with the one other person on the planet who gets why something is funny, or maddening or sentimental. I feel that loss deeply. I mourn that as though it were a death. Maybe it was.
I honestly don’t know if that will ever go away.
I feel it even more acutely at this time of year.
I don’t feel bitterness over the way things went down in my marriage and divorce. I don’t see the point. I’ve never been hardwired to hold on to anger. I am in such a good place now, and even during the worst of it I was never as angry as everyone around me seemed to think I should be. I was never as angry as everyone else was on my behalf. I do have an area where I get stuck, though. Where I dig in at the unfairness.
I’ve been told we need to find our new normal. We have yet to have a new normal holiday. The year we were separated but tried to give the kids one last holiday season together as a family was a sham. Awful. Fifth circle of hell awful. The holidays just after the divorce were a blur due to a family tragedy. Last year nothing went as planned, our polite agreement and Parenting Plan got tossed aside. The kids were bummed.
I keep waiting for holidays that don’t feel like a first. I miss our dog eared holidays. I miss the familiarity and comfort. I miss the way those traditions make you feel as though you belong.
This will be our first Thanksgiving and Christmas back on the east coast. Thanksgiving will just be me and my daughter, as my son is in college on the west coast. And Christmas. This will be my first Christmas without the kids. At all.
I’ll be honest, it enrages me. I don’t think I should have to give up a single holiday. Ever. I didn’t choose to be a single parent- that decision was made for me. I didn’t sign up for that. Now that my kids are older, I am very much aware of how few Christmases I am guaranteed with them. To give up even one seems brutally unfair.
I am so damned angry about it.
And I know the kids love him, and want to be with him. I want their relationship with him to be strong. I know it wouldn’t be fair to them to not ever get to enjoy the holidays with him. It’s not even about punishing him- it’s truly not. It just feels like ONE MORE THING lost. One more thing taken.
I love the holidays. One of my favorite things about being an adult has been the opportunity to craft our family traditions. We, like most families, had our rituals for this time of year. The food, the music, the movies. Christmas Eve was the same every year. Those things are sacred to me.
I’ve had people tell me that I can still do what we’ve always done. I suppose that’s true. I mean, the whole point of tradition is doing what you’ve always done. It’s the backstory of your family life. It’s about memories, inside jokes, family shorthand, warmth and familiarity. Part of me would love that, if I could find a way to make it feel authentic. It doesn’t. It feels uncomfortable. So do the new ones I’ve tried to introduce. Nothing quite fits. Nothing feels natural.
I’m in a great relationship, and I know I can, and likely will, be part of his family’s celebrations. I’ll learn about their holiday rituals, hear their stories. But they’re not mine. They’re not ours. Not yet. And the answer to feeling this way won’t be found by being absorbed into someone else’s traditions.
I’m sure that the answer lies in time passing. In new memories. In distance from Christmases Past. In embracing Christmas Present. In looking forward to Christmases Yet to Come.
And they will come. I know this. I know, just as surely as I can now look back on painful things and see the gifts held within, that someday I will be able to enjoy traditions new and old within the wonderful life I am building for myself and my kids. I know I will be able to remember Christmases past with perspective and affection. I also know those memories, the ones that are too raw to revisit just yet, will likely always cause a pang.
Memories, without someone who shares them, feel much more distant and ephemeral, and are tinged- even the merriest ones- with a little sadness.
Comparison is the thief of joy.
It’s funny the way the Universe works. You know how once you notice something, you start to see it everywhere? I wonder about that particular phenomenon. Is it that it is part of the zeitgeist, and everyone is kind of noticing it in that moment, and so therefore it really is everywhere? Or is it this? You are supposed to learn something, so it is in your subconscious and then you keep noticing those little taps on your shoulder. It’s here, it’s there. And it is not, perhaps, more prevalent than it has ever been, you’re just suddenly open to hearing it and seeing it.
I think it’s the latter. Or maybe both. Probably both.
I have been hearing about jealousy a lot lately. From different people, with different views, and in unlikely places. But it’s THERE. Tap, tap, tap.
First, you should probably watch something. This is my friend Glennon on the topic. G’head. For real. I’ll wait.
I know. Great, right?
I recently attended the Storyline Conference and I was lucky enough to hear Bob Goff speak. He said, “On the seventh day, when God rested, Satan created comparison.” And then, because Bob is delightful, he added, “And candy corn.”
What is jealousy but comparison? Comparing what you have, your skills and talents, your life circumstances, with someone else, and feeling as though you come up short. That’s it, isn’t it? Why do we do it? Why are we jealous? Why do we envy? What causes us to covet?
I have created my own definitions of what these words mean to me, and they are as follows:
Jealousy = I wish I had that
Envy = I wish I WAS that
Covetousness = I want that, and I want her not to have it. Covetousness is Schadenfreude in action. Part of the appeal of ME having that is HER not having that.
Jealousy, for me, is about tangible stuff and experiences. Jealousy tends to be fleeting. Really, just a pang. I see someone’s photos from a month long trip to Italy and think, Oh-I’d love to do that. Or I see a gorgeous outfit and wish I had it. I find out someone I know met someone I really admire, and think, Well THAT wouldn’t suck. But it’s never me begrudging the other person having the thing or the experience, and it’s usually cured by looking around at all the amazing things I do have.
Gratitude is the cure for jealousy.
Envy, for me, is more challenging. It’s about attributes or character traits that I wish I had. Frankly, many of them are things I could work on if I chose to push myself. It’s the one I struggle with the most.
I recently saw a photo on Facebook (social media is to jealousy and envy what a dark, damp place is to mold and mildew- ideal breeding conditions) of one of my college roommates doing a headstand, in a bikini, on a paddle board. In the ACTUAL WATER.
Very upsetting. Her body looked phenomenal. I felt a wave of envy looking at her. The reality is that I was not envying her body, I was envying her discipline. In your 40’s you aren’t handed that body. EVER. She worked long, and hard, and consistently to be in that kind of shape. I envy those qualities when it comes to exercise. That’s just an area where I’ve always struggled. Envy, channeled correctly, can be tremendous motivation.
Also, what Glennon said is true. My first reaction to that photo was DANG! REALLY? And my second was to message her and tell her she looks amazeballs. It really does dissipate the feeling- and envy does not feel good. I would love to tell you the third thing I did was to go to the gym. Yep, I really would love to tell you that… Carrying on.
Expressing admiration is the cure for envy.
I’ll be honest. I don’t have a ton of experience with covetousness. I have many, many character flaws, this just doesn’t happen to be one of them. I’m not a big begrudger. Well, except for when Bruce Springsteen pulled Courtney Cox on stage in the Dancing in the Dark video. I has a hater in 1984.
I have given this a fair amount of thought. There really are people out there that covet what other people have. To be clear, they don’t want something similar for themselves, they want the ACTUAL thing/person/whatever the other person has. It’s the difference between, I wish I had a husband like hers and I want HER husband. Big. Honking. Difference.
I think covetousness, the ugliest and most harmful of the three, is where jealousy and envy meet perceived scarcity. So, where is this perception coming from?
Have you ever noticed how much society encourages these traits in women? We are encouraged to envy each other. Our covetousness is nurtured- our jealousy, stoked. There is a cosmetics ad campaign right now whose tagline is “Be Envied.” Not admired. Envied. That’s the GOAL. Being envied is the end game. Yuck.
Our Green-Eyed Monster is well fed.
I think the ad world, and society in general, bombards women with two messages- 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.
You are not enough.
There is not enough.
Advertisers seldom use those tactics with men. I’ve been thinking about that.
As Glennon touched on in the video, there really are still arenas where there are fewer seats at the table for women, and so in those circumstances there’s a certain amount of validity to feeling as though someone else’s having something comes at your expense. In those cases, unfortunately, there is actual competition. Actual scarcity.
But, friends, there are ENOUGH shoes. There is ENOUGH nail polish. There are ENOUGH husbands. Your beauty and your success takes exactly nothing away from me. Not one damned thing. We are being sold the lie that beauty and success and even happiness are finite resources. That is complete nonsense, but it is nonsense that we are buying.
And of course, it doesn’t have anything to do with shoes or nail polish. It doesn’t even have anything to do with husbands. It has to do with women’s relationships with one another. It has to do with how we view each other. Too often we see each other as competitors, sometimes even enemies- rather than sisters. Rather than foxhole buddies- all fighting the same battles.
I am sitting here getting pissed thinking about it.
Keep us fighting about stupid stuff, world. Keep us seeing each other as the enemy. Keep us distracted by shiny things, and imagined shortcomings. Keep me thinking my glass is half empty because hers is half full. Keep me believing that her win is somehow a loss for me.
That way we don’t so much notice the fewer seats at the table. That way we lose sight of 77 cents on the dollar. That way we don’t stop infighting long enough to get angry and then get ORGANIZED. God help you if we get organized.
We are more than half the world. We should stop envying each other’s shiny things and ACT like it.
You either walk inside your story and own it, or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.
How many times have you heard of someone who has intimacy issues? I think it’s the all-purpose label we use when things go wrong in relationships. I think it’s really one thing. Every time. In every kind of relationship.
I think we are desperate to be seen. I think we are terrified someone will really see us. I think those two urges do battle within each and every one of us, and depending on which one wins, we live or we don’t. We LIVE or we don’t. I am not speaking, necessarily, in terms of our hearts actually stopping- although that is sometimes the outcome. I mean we either move through life, or we live it. I’m not sure you can really live unseen, but really being seen can be a terrifying way to live.
When we talk about someone having intimacy issues, I think this is what we mean. Those two drives in conflict with one another. Our desire to have those we love the most truly see and hear us, fighting with our fear that if they do we will not be loved. We expose and protect, expose and protect.
How many times have your girlfriends, especially when you are young, told you the guy they’re interested in is sending mixed messages? Is it possible that, instead of being manipulative players, they are really just waging this subconscious civil war? And the reason this seemingly becomes less of an issue as we get older is we are hopefully figuring some of this out? That we are more comfortable saying, This is Me. Unarmed. Love me, don’t love me- either way, I am owning my story.
I think those of us who wrestle with shame spend a whole lot of time hustling. I am a life long hustler. As much as I have always wanted to really be seen by the people in my life, I was certain I was, at the end of the day, unworthy. If I’m being totally honest, while I was taken aback by my ex-husband’s conduct, I wasn’t all that surprised that he didn’t love me. That sort of made sense to me.
My God, that’s awful. I really want to delete those last two lines, but I am not going to.
Maybe that was the real problem, in the end. And I am truly just putting it together as I write this. We were two people who were sure the other would not love us if we were really seen. I was more able to forgive my ex-husband’s infidelity than he was able to forgive me for knowing about his infidelity. Maybe my seeing him for who he truly was- even though I forgave him- was the final nail in the coffin. Perhaps his need to be perceived a particular way was so strong, so vital, that once it was no longer an option he was done with our marriage.
I don’t know if I ever relaxed into my life with him enough to be still, to be seen. To stop hustling for just a second. I think that was a safe way to live my life with him, skimming the surface. I think I was afraid he would not love me if I laid myself bare to him. I happen to think I was right to be afraid, by the way. I don’t think those fears of intimacy are always irrational.
I have always struggled with being still, with allowing myself to be vulnerable with people. Even MY PEOPLE. My truest and best friends. My sisters. It’s another way in which my divorce was an absolute gift to me. Because it shattered me. I was so completely undone that I no longer had the energy to hold up that armor that I’d spent a lifetime forging. I was so undone that I had to let people help me. I was so undone that I allowed myself, finally, to be seen, in all of my broken, messy, imperfectness.
Nowadays, I am willing to say- Love me, don’t love me- either way, THIS IS MY STORY. I am finally in a relationship where I am seen for who I am, and loved exactly where I’m at. Now I am aware of how much work it is to exist the other way. I think any time you live in fear of being seen, you are hustling. And hustling is exhausting. I don’t mean it makes you tired, I mean it EXHAUSTS you. It depletes you, washes away your sparkle, what makes you YOU. I am more ME now. I’m the ME-est I’ve ever been.
That’s scary, too. There’s risk in that. But it’s good risk. It is, as Ms. Brown and President Roosevelt would say, Daring Greatly.
Brene Brown says people need to earn the right to hear your stories. I don’t know how I feel about that. Clearly. Because here I am. Telling my stories. Perhaps they DO need to earn the right to really see you, though. I don’t know. I’m still figuring some of this stuff out.
Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.
There have been a lot of lists floating around the interweb lately- 10 Things about this, 15 things about that… Here’s my contribution to the mix:
Five Things I Didn’t Understand about Marriage until I got Divorced.
I used to say I wanted to come out the other side of my divorce and still recognize myself. Isn’t that adorable? I don’t. Not even close. Thank God. But the experience did help me distill what I know to be true about marriage. This is some hard won wisdom, y’all.
1. Some things are bigger on the inside.
Or smaller. Or more angry. Or more loving. Or weirder. Dr. Who fans get it. For non-Whovians, let me put it this way- nobody’s marriage is exactly as it appears on the outside. Nobody’s. I refer here not to couples intentionally putting on a dog and pony show for the outside world, though surely such people exist. I mean that marriage is hopelessly complicated at times, and everyone makes deals within their marriage. Everyone.
Maybe the deal is your marriage is essentially sexless- statistics say 20% of marriages today are- but you love each other, and value family and choose to stay together. Maybe your deal is the division of labor within your household. Maybe your deal is your spouse puts on a public face to support you in your career that he or she might not otherwise wear. Maybe your deal regards fidelity, or childrearing, or dealing with in-laws, or football season. Whatever.
When you get to thinking you know, from the outside, what someone else’s marriage truly is, examine your own. Aren’t there things about your relationship with your spouse that would surprise the other people in your life? Even if it is how you feel, deep down, about the deal you struck. A deal made in your twenties may not serve you so well in your forties.
When I got divorced, people were shocked. I had many people say they thought I had a perfect life, the perfect husband. I was pretty shocked by my divorce too, but not as nearly as stunned as I was to hear other people’s impression of my relationship.
2. Cooking with fresh herbs is no guarantee against infidelity.
I am so sorry to tell you this, friends. Perhaps I should have had you sit down first. This observational gem stems from a conversation I had with my best friend, Angela. After learning of my ex-husband’s cheating she said, “But he was coming home to meals cooked with FRESH HERBS!” S’true. He was.
Sadly, this monumental achievement in homemaking is not a failsafe against your spouse having an affair. That is because, at the end of the day, infidelity has exactly nothing to do with the spouse being cheated on. You could have the perfect body, keep the perfect house, greet your spouse at the door dressed in nothing but Saran Wrap (is that really a thing?) have sex twice a day and YES- cook with fresh herbs- and your partner still might cheat. This is because infidelity happens when someone tries to fix an inside problem with an outside thing. That outside thing might be alcohol, or gambling, or porn, or shopping, or having a relationship outside the marriage.
There are plenty of people who feel the sex life in their marriage is lacking, who never cheat. There are plenty of people who wish their spouse would lose twenty pounds, who never cheat. There are plenty of people who come home to messy houses and frozen dinners, who never cheat.
Do problems within a marriage leave you vulnerable to infidelity? Sure. There were some major issues in mine. But someone cheats- and brace yourself, because this is groundbreaking stuff here- because they decide to cheat. The reasons why they make the decision might be myriad, but it’s still a decision. Every time. And there is always another option.
3. Jerry Maguire had it wrong.
You cannot expect your spouse to be your Everything. Marriage used to be a largely practical arrangement. Either it was arranged by the two people’s parents based on what would serve both families best, or it was predicated on largely pragmatic reasons- he’d be a good provider, she had good childbearing hips… Sexy, right?
The thing is, those marriages tended to last. Now, some of that is because back then divorce was difficult to obtain and largely frowned upon by society. Some of that is because- as my friend Lisa and I were observing recently- marriage was invented back when life expectancy was about forty years. I’m just saying… look at when most divorces occur.
I think there’s something else at play. We have completely romanticized the notion of marriage. It’s why people seemingly spend more time planning the wedding than their actual life together. The pendulum has swung SO far in the other direction from Here is my daughter, two goats and a chicken, that I fear we are not being served well. I mean… the term soul mate. Does it make me heartless if I say it makes my skin crawl?
I do believe there are couples who are perfectly suited to one another. Those couples, in my experience, have rich lives outside of their marriages. Deep friendships, outside interests, passions and pursuits that are entirely their own. Because when that happens, you have two fulfilled people coming together, not so that they can complete each other, but because they enrich and enhance each other’s lives. They make each other- each WHOLE PERSON- better.
4. You cannot swing from the chandelier all the time, forever.
Romantic love and attraction ebb and flow over the course of a marriage. Who can keep up the pace you set for yourself as a couple in the beginning of your relationship, when everything is new and exciting? When the air is thick with pheromones, and your responsibilities are as few as they will ever be? When sex is still a discovery and feels like a secret only the two of you share?
Too many couples, when the initial romantic fever subsides, think it signifies the end of love. But love is a VERB, not a feeling. It isn’t ephemeral, it’s MUSCULAR. It’s what keeps you showing up for each other every day through the times when the passion wanes a bit. And showing up for each other every day is what will eventually bring the passion back.
5. My I Do can survive your I Don’t
Picture a wedding. Two fresh faced people, glowing. One in a dress, one in a suit. Or, one in a dress, the other in a dress. Or, one in a suit, the other in a suit- whatever. Because Love Wins. But I digress… They stand before the people who love them and they make their vows. They promise to love, honor and respect- in sickness and in health. For richer, for poorer. They promise to forsake all others, til death do they part.
Here’s what I know now, that I did NOT understand when I got married. Those vows you make? They are not promises to your intended spouse. And, while they may be promises you make before God, they are not promises to God. They are promises you make to yourself. They are your vow that, This is who I promise to be within this relationship. Forever. There is actually a REALLY BIG DIFFERENCE.
It’s why I can say with absolute certainty that infidelity is about the unfaithful partner. He or she is not breaking a promise to you, they are breaking a vow they made to themselves. That does NOT give them a free pass, or say they haven’t broken your trust, it just means the bigger betrayal lies within. They have broken trust with themselves, about who they’ve chosen to be in your relationship, and in this world.
That’s why, despite the rather spectacular demise of my marriage, I can honestly say I will love, honor, and respect my ex-husband forever. Because, at the end of the day, that is who I said I would be. I will do it from a distance, and, obviously, the nature of the love has completely changed- but when I deal with him, it’s the place I try and come from.
I’m not saying it’s easy. Keeping those vows isn’t a walk in the park within a marriage, so just imagine how difficult it is post-divorce. But it is absolutely worth it. My promises to myself aren’t contingent on you keeping yours. I get to be who I want to be, in that relationship and in this world.
Now, the ‘forsaking all others’ part? I’m gonna line item veto that sonofabitch. Some vows do have an expiration date.
Someday you’re gonna look back on this moment of your life as such a sweet time of grieving. You’ll see that you were in mourning and your heart was broken, but your life was changing…
During the implosion and eventual destruction of my marriage I had many conversations with God.
‘Kay, that’s not true. Sorry, God.
I had ONE conversation with God, many, many times. It went a little something like this: WHY, God? Why? If he wanted out, why could he not just say that? If he wasn’t happy, why didn’t he suggest we get therapy? Why does it have to be THIS BAD? Why such humiliation? Why is he being so vicious? Where did my husband go? I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand. I don’t understand….
At a certain point it became clear I was stuck. In the absence of answers, I found myself paralyzed. The life I had been living was no longer an option, but I couldn’t move forward. My friends became really concerned for me. Rightly so. I was slipping into despair. My best friend Angela decided that the kind of help I needed was above her pay grade, and went ahead and made me an appointment with the pastor at our church. I did not want to go. Angela didn’t so much care about that, because she is bossy.
She came to my house, put me in her minivan and brought me to church. It was a hostage situation. A very loving hostage situation, but still.
My poor pastor. I met him at his office, and was crying before I even sat down on the sofa. He waited patiently. It was a while before I could speak, but once I started I couldn’t stop. I told him EVERYTHING. All of the things. Things I’d not told my friends or even my sisters. Things I’d not been able to say out loud. He listened without interruption, and then said with such compassion and kindness, the words it never occurred to me would come out of my pastor’s mouth.
Laura, this marriage is not redeemable.
Say WHAT, now?
I don’t know what I’d expected, but it was not that. He went on with some words of encouragement, some very practical and wise advice. At no point did he say anything to me about trying to work on my marriage. About not giving up. He quoted Romans 8:28, and he prayed with me. I did not know what to make of this. I would love to say I took great comfort in his words and left feeling better, but I would be lying. It did, however, plant a seed.
He was right, of course. There was nothing I could do to save my marriage. That’s what he was trying to say to me. He knew I could not want it enough for both of us. I couldn’t will my husband to show up. I couldn’t do the work for both of us. He knew my husband was already done, and that I simply hadn’t accepted it. And even though I didn’t leave his office that day convinced, it really was what I needed to hear. I needed to hear it from someone who cared, but wasn’t in the trenches with me. I needed to hear it from someone who knew the whole situation. I needed to hear it from someone who revered marriage.
One night, after I’d filed for divorce, I sat in bed unable to sleep. I had an epiphany.
I’d used that word before, but not in a serious way. More like, I’ve had an epiphany! High waisted jeans and bangs are not for me! This was different.
I had a moment of absolute clarity. Have you ever had a moment like that, where all of a sudden you know in your bones that something is TRUE? That’s what this was. I realized that things had to be exactly that bad. Had they not, had they been any less painful, less shocking, less humiliating- I would never have asked him to leave. I would never have filed for divorce, I would never, ever have given up. And I needed to give up.
I think about my conversations with God during that time. I imagine Him, looking down at me struggling, in SO much pain, and SO confused. I imagine it is not unlike when a parent has a seriously ill child and some awful procedure needs to be done. Being devastated that your child needs to endure more pain, but knowing it is for her own good. Knowing it is necessary. Knowing it is a life saving measure. I believe, to my very core, that the circumstances and pain of my divorce were a life saving measure, and a gift.
And so as I move forward and build this new life- happier and lighter, with a much clearer sense of who I am and what I want, I thank God. I thank God every single day for the awfulness. I thank God for making it exactly bad enough.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
I’ve noted before that my word is resilience. My favorite word when teaching, though, is a different word. It’s not particularly melodious. It isn’t fraught with meaning. Almost any kindergartner can spell it. It’s a modest, seemingly unimportant word- except that when it comes to learning, it is the WHOLE BALLGAME.
The most powerful word I’ve come across in terms of teaching and learning is just three little letters. Yet. Yet is the silver bullet. Yet is the golden ticket- the whole enchilada.
I began teaching art in general ed classrooms. My daughter’s classrooms, to be specific. I started out as her Art Docent in kindergarten, and served in that capacity every year of her elementary school career. In the beginning, I had no earthly idea what I was doing. The kindergartners scared the bejeezus out of me. It was like herding cats. Feral cats hopped up on Red Bull. On more than one occasion I found myself in a flop sweat. SO MUCH ENTHUSIASM! SO LITTLE FOCUS! SOOOO many QUESTIONS!
Little people either over the moon about their efforts, or undone with frustration. It was… a LOT. I wish I could go back and re-teach that year, knowing what I know now. I spent a lot of time cheering, “You can do it!” It was really well intentioned. It’s also something I don’t say anymore. Ever.
I eventually took over the Art Docent program, and when I did I came to learn that the two special ed classrooms at our school didn’t have docents- and that it was not unusual for that to be the case. It makes a lot of sense, actually. Many of the kiddos lived out of district and were waivered in, or else their parents were stretched incredibly thin already- and we all know that taking on a recurring volunteer responsibility even without those additional stressors can be overwhelming. Having said that, it was not okay with me for their classes to go without the dedicated arts education every other kid at the school was getting, so I agreed to teach them in addition to my daughter’s class.
It is the single best gift I ever gave myself.
My first lessons were a lot like my first lessons in kindergarten. A lot of faking it, a lot of sweating. Two multi-age classrooms full of kids with different challenges and abilities. I was used to dealing with frustration in the context of art education. Children, as I’ve noted before, self identify early on as ‘good at’ or ‘not good at’ art based on their ability to successfully translate the idea in their imagination realistically onto the page. I’ve had sixth graders burst into angry tears over their inability to realize their vision for a piece they’re working on. When you add cognitive and behavioral struggles into the mix, it changes the whole dynamic of the lesson.
That was when it truly became about the process for me, and therefore, my students. That’s when I shifted my focus from results to experiences. That’s when I became a teacher rather than a project leader. That’s when I learned about the power of YET.
I had one little friend in my 1/2/3 class who would get so frustrated. The lessons just made him ANGRY. And every time I tried to encourage him, it only served to make things worse. He looked at me with tears in his eyes one day and said, I CAN’T do it. All of a sudden, things came into focus for me.
I knelt down beside him and said quietly, You’re right. He looked up at me in surprise. You can’t do it. But can you do me a favor? He muttered, What? I said, Can you add one word to that sentence? Can you add the word YET? Can you change it to, I can’t do it YET? He looked puzzled and a little annoyed.
I said, Can you tie your shoes?
Could you always tie your shoes?
Was is super hard to learn?
Buddy, you COULDN’T tie your shoes RIGHT UP UNTIL the first time you could. Before that, you COULD NOT DO IT. YET. So you are not going to be able to do this, RIGHT up until you CAN.
I know. It seems a little counter intuitive. But in my experience, You can’t do it YET. is a *far* more encouraging and effective statement than blithely chirping, You can do it!
You can’t do it acknowledges the child’s reality and their struggle. YET is about possibility. You can’t do it yet is both true and hopeful. It is about where the student IS, and also where they CAN be- where you have faith that they WILL be.
It holds immeasurable power in our adult lives, too. I know that when I am overwhelmed, I tend to shut down. If I can’t make the decisions, or the progress that I think I should be able to, I decide that it’s IMPOSSIBLE. That I CAN’T. That is not a good place to be. But add that one word.
I can’t find a job. Yet. I don’t know what my next step should be. Yet. I can’t get this toxic person out of my life. Yet. I can’t imagine my life without him or her. Yet. I can’t imagine ever loving again. Yet. I’m not ready to put my art out there. Yet.
I can’t forgive. Yet.
You don’t have to be able to do something. It’s okay not to be ready. Every single one of us has been on that journey. And as long as you acknowledge that, as long as you say, YET, you haven’t given up. You haven’t thrown in the towel. You are still in the process of *becoming*. Of getting ready. Of being, and doing. You’re just not there. Yet.
There is no blue without yellow and without orange.
Vincent van Gogh
Vincent van Gogh is one of my favorite artists. I know. That’s a little like saying, “You know what *I* like? CHEESE. On my PIZZA!” Mind blown, right? He’s van Gogh for heaven’s sake. His work is so ingrained in our culture, so ubiquitous, we almost take it for granted. His most famous work is on mugs and neckties, notecards and mouse pads, and on the walls of dorm rooms everywhere.
What many people do not know is Vincent was also a beautiful writer. Not a professional writer- but it could be argued he wasn’t a professional painter either. He only sold one painting in his lifetime, and it was to the sister of a friend. Luckily, the legacies of both his painting and his writing have been preserved- the writing, most notably in his correspondence with his beloved brother, Theo.
He is one of my favorite artists to teach. Children respond to his work with such purity. They look at Starry Night, and they SEE him- sadly, in a way he probably never felt seen during his all too brief life. I usually teach van Gogh as a color lesson because he understood color in such a simple way. That’s not a bad thing.
One lesson I loved was on complementary colors. Complementary colors are colors- one primary and one secondary- that when placed in proximity to one another, make each other brighter, more vibrant. If you take a primary color, and look directly across the color wheel there will be a secondary color that is its complement. Vincent van Gogh’s work is resplendent in its use of complementary colors. Reds and greens. Purples and yellows. Blues and oranges. Bigger, better, more glorious colors for having been near their, what I used to call in my lessons, color buddies. Don’t you have friends like that? Not just people you like, but friends who enhance you in some way? Who intensify and distill your best qualities? Those individuals who help you to be the best version of yourself? I do. I have friends who push me, or inspire me. I am brighter in their presence. My friends are a diverse group, and I truly love who they are, and who I am when I am with them. When the ceaseless chatter of the outside world gets in my head, my friends help me to remember who I really am, and who I aspire to be.
My friend Angela is the most spiritual person I have ever met. Her relationship with God takes my breath away. When I attend church with her, I crack wide open in a way that is a struggle for me when she’s not around. She has the faith of a child, in the very best conceivable way. She’d also help me bury a body if I needed her to. I know this for a fact. She’s offered. My friend Kate reminds me, by example, to make time for my art. My friend Kristina- easily one of the smartest people I have ever met- challenges me intellectually. My friend Bonnie is the hardest working person I know. Her perseverance as a single mother makes me almost believe I can pull it off.
My friend Jen reminds me that I am a survivor. My friend Lisa has served both as inspiration and encouragement in my writing. The way my friend Juleen is with her children makes me want to be a better mother. My friend Jaime reminds me I need to get really pissed off from time to time about the state of things, and then DO SOMETHING about it.
My friend Jim has one of my very favorite qualities in a person- he’s curious. When he doesn’t know something, he seeks. He learns. He encourages me to do the same by his example.
My sisters… Oh. My sisters. I feel the brightest and most me when I am with them. All of these precious friends are orange to my blue. And we all have friends who do the opposite, yes? Who wash us out, who drain away our light. People who begrudge, or belittle. Who incite us to live small. Who encourage the snark, and dim our sparkle. It’s funny, if you look at van Gogh’s early work, his use of color is really muddy. Part of that was intentional- he was depicting hardship and strife. He’d just come off a short lived stint as a preacher, his heart was on fire for the underprivileged, and he was making a statement about their lives- I get it. But the palette was a real bummer. I have friends who make me feel muddy, too. Fewer and fewer, because as I get older I have less patience for that particular brand of nonsense- but, still. I understand, I think we all do, that to truly appreciate the good times, we all need a little struggle. We’ve all seen quotes about there being no light without dark- and YES. Yes, of course that’s true. One cannot have shade without sun. The pale moon is brighter because it hangs in an inky sky. Of course. But for me that’s a little, forgive me, black and white.
Give me the orange stars with their yellow halos, glowing happily in the windswept blue sky that dances and skitters across the canvas. Let me lie under THAT sky. I need the hues and shades of all of my friends, and the different things that they bring out in me, to help me be everything that I can be. And I need to do that for them. I need to be someone’s blue. And I need my orange.
Close friends are truly life’s treasures. Sometimes they know us better than we know ourselves. With gentle honesty, they are there to guide and support us, to share our laughter and our tears. Their presence reminds us that we are never really alone.
Vincent Van Gogh
Peace is such hard work. Harder than war. It takes way more effort to forgive than to kill.
This is hard for me, guys.
There is a video circulating on FB right now, and it is making me uncomfortable. When something makes me uncomfortable rather than angry or sad, I know it is something I need to examine. I hate examining things. It’s exhausting, and not even a little bit fun.
Monica Lewinsky spoke recently at the Forbes Under 30 Summit. I kept seeing the video pop up in my feed. I saw it was trending. A few people I know posted it. I really, REALLY did not want to watch it.
Infidelity is something I have strong feelings about. That is, perhaps, putting it a little mildly. Infidelity is something I have a visceral reaction to, for many reasons.
I do not understand it. I remember asking my ex-husband what story he’d told himself to justify his behavior, because he told himself SOMETHING. I was treated to a list of all of the reasons why his cheating was my fault. I wonder at the story the other women told themselves. At least one of them knew he was married. We’d met. She’d met my kids. I’m sure he spun a tale of woe about his dreadful wife- but anyone who’s ever seen a Lifetime Movie or an episode of Dateline knows that married men on the prowl seldom extoll the virtues of their wives when looking for a little action on the side. This just in, cheaters lie. It’s not rocket science.
I know. I sound angry. Infidelity makes me really angry.
I decided to watch the video. Ms. Lewinsky is intelligent, well spoken, and clearly cares deeply about the cause with which she’s aligned herself. She spoke briefly about her affair with President Clinton, she had one line about other people being hurt, and then spoke extensively about the aftermath. The toll their relationship going public took on her, her family, her friends. She cautioned that your reputation can be ruined in an instant, in this day and age of the internet and social media.
I know that was the thrust of the speech. I know she wasn’t signing up for a mea culpa tour. I know she was only 22 when it happened, and I know he was the President. I know all of those things.
I think she paid a terrible price. I think she paid a steeper price than he did, which is decidedly unfair. She feels her reputation was lost in an instant. I’m not sure I agree. It calls to mind the story of Samson. My pastor gave a great sermon on Samson when I was in the middle of the awfulness. He said that Samson didn’t ruin his life in one step. With one decision. On his way to Gaza he walked thousands of steps, and could have turned around at any point. He could have changed his story any step along the way. We *found out* about the affair in an instant, but her reputation was compromised over thousands of steps. Thousands of decisions.
As far as I am concerned, there are two victims in this scenario. Two. Their names are Hillary and Chelsea. They are the only two who didn’t have a say in this. President Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky were playing Russian Roulette with their lives and the lives of others. So, yes. Ms. Lewinsky got hurt. It is the risk she took. And no, President Clinton did not suffer the long term effects that she did. Is it fair? Nope. But we have other contexts for him. This is all we know about her.
Hillary will likely run for president in the next election, and if you don’t think questions, comments. speculation and snark about this decade and a half old event will follow her the entire time, you are giving our media FAR too much credit. She is still paying the price for a decision which was not hers. THAT is beyond unfair.
As I watched the video and listened to Ms. Lewinsky speak, I could feel my shoulders tense. I consider myself to be fairly empathetic. I’ve always loved the line from Steel Magnolias, “Nobody cries alone in my presence.” It’s pretty true for me. But when she started to get emotional, I felt myself getting annoyed. I could feel myself hardening my heart toward her. That is, until she said the word SHAME.
That’s when I went from angry to uncomfortable.
Shame is something that has dogged me for as long as I can remember. It is, perhaps, the most harmful feeling you can have. In fact, when I learned of my ex-husband’s infidelity, it wasn’t anger I felt. It was shame. I know it doesn’t make sense. I mean, my brain knows that.
It was harder to be judgmental and angry at her once she began to speak about her shame. I know what living with that dark shadow feels like. I know how it contaminates every part of your life. I don’t wish it on anyone. Nothing good comes of shame, for anyone. Ever. It is singularly destructive.
It seems as though she is in a better place now. I hope that’s true. I would not want her mired in unending shame. It shouldn’t be a life sentence. She should not have to apologize forever, but I do hope that she apologized to Hillary. I hope she did it in a private way. Not to a camera. Not in a magazine. I hope she sent her a letter or an email, simply saying she was sorry. That what she did was wrong. Unequivocally. I hope the apology didn’t contain the word, “but.” Real apologies never do.
I hope she gets the chance to live a full and happy life, not one defined by this one chapter. I hope she gets the opportunity to give us other contexts for her. Reputations may be lost in an instant, but they are rebuilt slowly, bit by bit. I think this speech was a good first step.
That’s where this post was originally going to end. Then I had a really bad night’s sleep. I dreamed vivid dreams about all of those nights when I would stay up wondering where my husband was. When my texts, emails and phonecalls would go unanswered. When I was put in the position of almost having to hope he was with someone else, because the alternative was that something terrible had happened.
I went back to the days where I would have epic tirades at the other women in my head, crafting what I would say to them should we ever meet face to face. The thing is, as much as I wanted to berate them and tell them off, I realize now I didn’t actually want to meet them in person. Because then they would be, well, people. I am much more adept at hating the IDEA of people than actual people.
I have friends on both sides of infidelity. I have friends who’ve been betrayed, and friends who’ve been unfaithful. In some ways I am glad about that. It is so much harder to judge close up. If I didn’t know anyone who’d made that mistake, I would likely not require myself to feel any compassion or to think about the “other” person as a fallible, flawed human being, rather than an enemy.
I love my friends. They are not that one mistake. We are none of us all one thing. Nobody- not Ms. Lewinsky, and no, not even the other women in my story. I also had to ask myself why I’ve been able to forgive my ex-husband and not these other women.
I thought about that A LOT in the wee hours of the morning. I think it’s the same reason we’ve forgiven Bill and not Monica. As much as he hurt me- shattered me, really- I have other contexts for my ex-husband. The other women are just…other women. One-dimensional, unwanted strangers who invaded my life.
Except they’re not. They are someone’s daughters, someone’s friends, someone’s sisters. They are the apple of someone’s eye. And, my faith tells me, they are beloved children of God. Just like me. Just like you. Just like Monica.
Knowing what I do now, I think about shame and worthiness in this way: ‘It’s the album, not the picture.’ If you imagine opening up a photo album, and many of the pages are full eight-by-ten photos of shaming events, you’ll close that album and walk away thinking, Shame defines that story. If, on the other hand, you open that album and see a few small photos of shame experiences, but each one is surrounded by pictures of worthiness, hope, struggle, resilience, courage, failure, success, and vulnerability, the shame experience are only a part of a larger story. They don’t define the album.
Hold it! Hold it! Grandpa, you read that wrong. She doesn’t marry Humperdinck. She marries Westley. I’m just sure of it. After all he did for her, if she didn’t marry him, it wouldn’t be fair. Well who says life is fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair. Who gets Humperdinck? I don’t understand. Who kills Prince Humperdinck? At the end, somebody’s got to do it! Is it Inigo? Who? Nobody. Nobody kills him. He lives. You mean he WINS? JESUS, Grandpa, what did you read me this thing for?
William Goldman, The Princess Bride
Kids are big on fair. Things need to be fair. Parents spend an inordinate amount of time making sure everyone has the exact same number of Gummi worms, or the same allotment of time on the X-box. Making sure everyone takes a turn picking tv shows, and no one gets to stay up ten minutes later than anyone else. That seems to be the childhood barometer of fair, by and large- EVEN. EQUAL. THE SAME.
I hear adults telling children life isn’t fair all the time. They’re right.
It is not fair that in a wealthy country like ours as many as 17 million children go hungry on any given night. It isn’t fair that the quality of a child’s education frequently depends on their zip code. It is not fair that racism and homophobia still rear their ugly heads every day, intent on convincing wide swathes of our population that they matter less. It isn’t fair that women make 73 cents on the dollar for doing the same jobs that men do. It is not fair that innocent children get cancer, and that some people do terrible things and are never held accountable.
It is brutally, deeply, fundamentally, crushingly UNfair.
While we get frustrated with our kids for single mindedly insisting all things be equitable all the time, let’s examine where on earth they’d have gotten the notion that’s the way the world works.
How many Disney movies have you seen where the hero dies? Where the villain is not vanquished? That’d be zero- because the smart people at Mickey’s headquarters know that shit will. not. fly. The princess must get her prince, and whatever evil beings stood in their way must get their comeuppance. Happily ever after is a given. You need only look to the grandson’s reaction in The Princess Bride to see what it looks like when a kid is served up an ending that doesn’t fit that mold.
We tell them life’s not fair, and then feed them a steady diet of stories and movies where everything’s coming up rainbows and unicorns. We insulate them from life’s biggest inequalities, and strive to make everything fair all the time at the micro level. No wonder they’re shocked when confronted with the unbelievable harshness of the real world. We pay them lip service by telling them not to expect fairness, but we do precious little to prepare them to face that in reality.
When I hear the Life’s not fair mantra coming out of adults’ mouths (including my own) it’s almost always done in a ‘get over it’ tone. But I don’t think we, as grown ups, have gotten over it.
It strikes me that while a child’s perception of fair frequently seems to be centered around everybody getting the same whatever, adults fixate on fairness, too- but we’ve re-branded it. We call it JUSTICE.
I’m not sure how much time I spent being an actual child. I learned life isn’t fair pretty early on- so I don’t remember spending a lot of time angst-ing over the perceived inequality of things. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know there was imbalance and darkness in the world. I think I skipped straight to adult mode. I didn’t automatically assume things would be okay, or people would always be good- but when they weren’t, I wanted things RIGHTED.
That happens less often than you might think.
Adults have moved through the world enough to know things are not equal. Not everybody gets the same. Not even close. This is new information to kids. They still have the luxury of outrage. Sadly, most of us have moved past that.
Perhaps it’s because, as we get older and fully understand how profoundly unfair the world is, we can’t let ourselves think about it too much. If, while we’re hollering at our kids for taking epically long showers, we let ourselves think about the fact that somewhere in the world a small child is walking miles every day for potable drinking water, the staggering injustice would paralyze us. Maybe that’s why we’re dismissive when our kids complain about things not being fair.
I think the difference between the way children think about this and the way we do is pretty simple when you get right down to it. Children still believe the world CAN be fair. They haven’t given up on the idea. I think we have, to a certain extent. I think we look at everything that is wrong, and devastating, and imbalanced in the world, and we throw our hands up. We focus on punishing the evil-doers. We give ourselves a pass on fixing the inequalities in the first place.
I want to get back to looking at the world through the eyes of a child. I want to watch the news and not sigh hopelessly. I want to be freshly outraged- because outrage precipitates action. I want to, when faced with how unfair this beautiful world of ours can be, say JESUS, Grandpa! And then DO something about it.