How Divorce Helped Me Learn To Be Present

When my plans for life dissolved around me, I learned to be content right where I was.

There’s a line in the classic musical “Hello Dolly” that really resonates with me: “I have always been a woman who arranges things, like furniture and daffodils and lives.”

The inimitable Barbra Streisand, who plays Dolly Levi, goes on to list all the different things she could arrange and services she renders. Passing her card out to every passerby on the street. 

This is me. I love the hustle. I love planning. When a friend needs a job or an apartment I’m the first to step in to help: “Just leave everything to me.”  I plan trips, parties, events, podcasts that never get off the ground, and my life. I like having a plan for my life: graduate school, buy a house, kids.

But about two months ago all my planning ground to a screeching halt. My husband decided our marriage was over. In the end, I agree with the decision, but the upheaval of all our plans was a blow to this type-A arranger of things.

In the weeks that followed I would tell people about the split and a slew of questions would follow:

“Will you stay in Reno?”

“Where will you live?”

“Are you still going to graduate school?”

“What was he thinking?”

“Are we still doing that big camping trip in Lassen this August?”

“How will you manage to have kids before your ovaries dry up?”

Ok, no one asked me that last one. But the answer to every one of those questions for a time was “I don’t know.”

Everything was in flux. Nothing was planned because there was no way to know what I was going to be feeling from one minute to the next.

And for a planner this was absolutely terrifying.

It’s been two months and things are falling into place, but the process has taught me how to stay present. I don’t know when I’m going to have kids, but I’m loving being with my goddaughter and holding her little hands as she toddles around a picnic blanket. I don’t know if I’ll stay in Reno, but I’m here now and I’m making great friends and getting to know this quirky big little city.

We did cancel the trip to Lassen; but I let my friends step up and plan numerous other camping trips and excursions. I’m taking a break and letting things happen. I’m letting go of things I would’ve controlled before. I’m spending more time just being and less time planning to be at some point in the future.

I started casually dating; not looking for someone who checks all my boxes. Instead of sizing people up by what they might add to my life as a partner, I spent time with people I simply enjoy being around. The end. I get to like them just for exactly who they are — no plans, no agenda, maybe no tomorrow. Just right now.

It’s not easy letting go and staying present. It took months of therapy before the divorce to be emotionally stable enough to be proactive and take care of myself. I had to do the work — and it’s paying off.

In addition to therapy, here are a few more resources I’ve found helpful for repairing my heart and leaning into mindfulness during my divorce:

Mend  — It’s been great hearing how what I’m feeling/going through is perfectly normal and getting hands-on suggestions for dealing with all the feels.

The Power of Vulnerability by Brene Brown — This book is not directly related to a breakup but as we work toward wholeheartedness in general it helps with all relationships, past, present and future. This is a 6.5 hour audio book, so it’s perfect for your next super long car trip.

Journaling — I’ve always been a writer and getting my thoughts and feelings down on paper has helped ground me and bring me into the present.

It’s still very much a journey. Some days I’m full of hope and joy and other days I’m a puddle of tears on my bed — and that’s ok. In each moment I find ways to enjoy what I have, feel my feelings and take the next step forward.

Making Up My Own Rules To Mark The End Of My Marriage

We need culturally appropriate rituals for divorce.

Two months ago my husband of almost 11 years told me he didn’t want to be married anymore. Things had been rough for years and despite trying to leave him on multiple occasions I was still surprised by the news.

After a day or two of crying and lots of real talk with friends, I began moving forward. I downloaded Mend, started seeing a therapist, tried meditating and continued to lean on great friends.

This was all great, but I got to wondering — what do I do about social media? I’ve built a name for myself, under my married name. Who am I now?

I immediately unfriended and blocked my ex-husband. I changed my name to my first and middle. But these subtle changes went unnoticed by most.

For every other major life event we announce it. We celebrate the bittersweet transitions in life with cake, flowers and parties. Births, deaths, graduations, weddings, new jobs, job losses. Everything gets posted and celebrated or grieved. Except breakups.

A coworker from several jobs ago recently changed her name on Facebook to her first and middle, just like mine. Seriously, we have the same middle name. In the past I wouldn’t have thought about it, but now I know, and I reached out to tell her my story. She told me hers. We can see each other now — while the rest of social media posts about their new babies, engagements and anniversaries. 

There’s still so much shame and stigma around a “failed” marriage. I didn’t fail. I tried everything. I read all the books. We spent thousands on therapy. We gave it everything — and it’s ok that it’s over. I want to celebrate the hard work I did and the exciting new chapter I’m starting.

I threw myself a little “the divorce is finalized” party at my favorite brewery. A friend got me a beautiful bouquet in honor of the event.

So I got dressed up, did my make up, went down to the courthouse with a friend who’s very good with a camera and we did a photoshoot. I even threw my (super cheap) wedding band into the Truckee river, per Reno tradition.

I posted a picture of me on Instagram announcing the split. Some people expressed surprise, some sadness, most support. One recent acquaintance reached out to tell me he’s been divorced and he was here for me. So we got lunch and compared stories.

It’s like divorced people are this secret society of broken people. Except, we’re all broken and most of us have experienced major life-changing losses — why is divorce so taboo? Why do we have to be subtle about this?

Why don’t we have any culturally appropriate rituals to mark this transition?

I’m making up my own rules. I’m still sad. Today I broke down thinking about the loss and the unknowns I’m facing; but that doesn’t mean this isn’t a time to celebrate, to mark the occasion with flowers and photos.