I had a revelation a couple years ago. I was living a life in which I was miserable.
I was a 34-year-old Jewish girl from California. I owned two businesses that most people would call successful. I was married and thinking about starting a family. I had a circle of friends whom I adored. I had a loving and supportive family who would be there for me no matter what. Sounds like a whole lot of #whitegirlproblems, right?
So, why the misery?
Most of it stemmed from the fact that my husband (now ex) was a serial cheater who traveled for business and spent more than half of the year on the road. While he was out doing his thing (with his thing), I was at home, running my businesses, running his business, and building and sustaining HIS dream. It turned out that I was the only one thinking of starting a family. This was nowhere near his realm of consciousness. Among a host of other issues, I realized that I had had enough. It was time to get out. Making the decision to get a divorce was one of the scariest things I had ever done, and I realized that I had prolonged an already dead marriage well past its expiration date. Once he moved out, though, I realized that being divorced isn’t as scary as THINKING about being divorced.
But how had I gotten to this place in my life?
My revelation came from months of introspection. It was time to take stock of my life, start living my dreams, and figuring out who I was now that I was no longer married. That’s when I realized that I was living according to what I started calling “The Jewish Girl Life Accomplishment Checklist.” It dawned on me that every one of my Jewish girlfriends grew up similarly, according to a template. It’s probably not all that different than the way most people do things, but growing up surrounded by Jewish mothers, the pressure to tick off the boxes seemed intense. The order of the checklist looks something like this:
Graduate from high school, go to college (while all my “other” friends were asking, “Are you going to college?” my Jewish friends would ask, “Where are you going to college?” as if to imply that NOT GOING wasn’t even an option…because it wasn’t), graduate, get a job (and if you’re really lucky – work for yourself), pay off student loans, get married, have kids, spend the next 50+ years waiting out your term on this planet.
After my divorce, I started thinking about my life and what I was doing with it. I love my businesses, and even as a Jewish girl, really enjoy working. But all of these other things – these expectations – didn’t work for me. I felt restricted and confined by my marriage. I gave myself wholly and completely and it never really felt comfortable. Did I pick the wrong guy? No, I realized.
Despite everything, I believe I married the right guy for me for that time in my life. My marriage taught me a lot – one of the biggest things I learned is that I want the freedom to dream. I’m not saying that my married friends don’t dream. I’m sure they do…some have even told me they dream of leaving their marriages! But, there are so many things that I want to do, so many places I want to see, so many things I want to experience, and my marriage got in the way of that.
My ex and I traveled a lot together as well. I saw so many parts of the world that I never thought I would see. But, our travel was always based around his business. I wanted to be able to pick up on a given day and just go somewhere. Just explore. So, after my divorce, I did. Some people teased me about my “Eat, Pray, Love” adventures. But it was so much more than that. It was me finally living for me. Doing the things that I wanted to do because I could. Fulfilling my dreams.
Today, when I say that I don’t want to get married again, and that I’m not sure that I want kids, most people tell me that my divorce is still fresh (2 years is fresh?), or that I must be pissed off still, or that I’m jaded, but I’ll change my mind. That may be true. I don’t say “NEVER” to anything. But, I know that, right now, I am doing me. Not the way my parents want me to, not the way my friends expect, not the way society tells me to. Just how I want. The only rule I live by is to not hurt anyone in the process.
Am I selfish? Only in the sense that I take care of myself first. Do I consider other people in the things that I do? To an extent, but only to the extent that I consider their feelings, not their opinions. There is no word to describe how liberating this feeling is. Of course, we all care, at some level, what people think of us, and I am no different. My divorce certainly didn’t free me of that, but I care far less about the approval of others, especially people who don’t know me.
Checklists, expectations, opinions of others…they’re not for me. They fit about as well as my wedding dress – obscenely tight, confining, but tolerable for a few hours until I can finally rip it off and be comfortable again.