I had an epiphany about my marriage. And it came in the form of a houseplant.
I married Bryan in July 2001, when I was the ripe age of 25. We met in college and grew into adulthood together. We bought homes together and have an incredible 12-year-old daughter. We’ve endured the loss of pets together, as well as family members. We went through countless jobs together, including my shift to freelance writing. We had debt together. We paid off student loans and credit cards together. We were partners in every sense of the word.
In 2006, we decided to add some life to our house in San Diego. So we bought a houseplant. It was one of those crawly green leaf plants that soon grew too big for its pot, but we kept it there anyway. Every week, the soil dried out and it was in desperate need of water. One of us would glance over at “plant” (that was what we called it) and move it to the sink for life support.
We took turns doing this. I noticed and gave it water, and Bryan would also notice and make time to feed it. The plant lived in our master bathroom and we tended to its needs on a regular basis. Over the years, I noticed I became the primary caretaker of the plant. I felt bad if I let it go too long with dry soil. After all, the plant was fighting to live, and I had to help it survive.
In July 2016, 10 years after we brought that little plant home, we packed up our entire house and moved from San Diego to Indiana. We were moving to start a new career and a new life, one that had its promises of being better than what we left behind. The plant couldn’t go in the moving truck, but I wasn’t prepared to abandon it, either. So I took it inside my Honda CR-V for the four-day, 2,000-mile drive across the country.
When we arrived in Indiana, the plant was one of the first things I tended to, dutifully giving it water in the new kitchen sink. It soon made its way upstairs, where I gave it a new home in the light of the master bedroom. Over the next two years, I was the only one paying attention to the plant. I’d pick the dead leaves off its stems, but it always had green leaves left and there was still life left in the plant.
Bryan would occasionally see the plant soaking in the bathroom sink and say things like, “I really should repot that plant in a bigger container so it has more room.” But he never repotted that plant or gave it water. He never took any action to help it grow. He just let it stay stagnant and wither.
Over the years, like so many other couples, especially ones that met and “coupled” so young, we grew apart. Our goals changed. We ended up wanting different things out of life. We talked less and less. I found myself getting frustrated at things that, for many years, I just accepted as part of marriage and life.
One day, in December 2018, I took the plant into the bathroom, placed it in the sink, and filled the dry soil with water. It was at that moment that it suddenly became clear to me: I was the only one caring for that plant and the only one that cared for its survival. That’s when I realized that plant’s journey was a metaphor for my marriage and what it had become.
Like my marriage, the plant was withering away and I was the only one nurturing it. Five months later, I told Bryan I wanted a divorce.
When my ex-husband moved out of our home, he took the plant with him. He did not ask me whether he could take the plant—the same creature he had all but abandoned—to his new home. In a strange way, I was devastated. I had been nurturing that plant and keeping it alive for 13 years. And then one day, it was gone.
As sad as I was to lose the plant, I’ve come to realize that I needed to let it go and stop caring for it. I needed to move on and let it have a different life. Just like the two people in our marriage, my ex-husband and I needed to move on. Just like my marriage, the plant served its purpose for a long time. It helped me grow, just as much as I helped it.
My daughter and I recently moved into a new home, the first house I’ve purchased and lived in on my own. After hanging up a few wall decorations, I had an overwhelming urge to buy an indoor plant. I wanted to bring new life into my house, to care for that plant and help it grow and see what it will become.