Are there certain moments in your life that you can look back on and pinpoint the exact moment of discovery? Where you can identify the moment where your perspective shifted, the moment that changed everything?
For me, it was stumbling upon an excerpt from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny, Beautiful Things. A reader wrote in and asked Strayed (known by her pseudonym “Sugar”) for insight regarding the reader’s marriage. The reader had a kind and supportive husband, the “perfect” man, but she was still aching with loneliness and unhappiness. There didn’t seem to be a reason to leave her marriage other than that she wanted to explore life and felt she had gotten married too young. Which made her feel guilty. Ungrateful. Ashamed.
Strayed answered with a poem, and it is this poem that has been echoing in my head:
Go, even though you love him.
Go, even though he’s kind and faithful and dear to you.
Go, even though he’s your best friend and you’re his.
Go, even though you can’t imagine your life without him.
Go, even though he adores you and your leaving will devastate him.
Go, even though your friends will be disappointed or surprised or pissed off or all three.
Go, even though you once said you would stay.
Go, even though you’re afraid of being alone.
Go, even though you’re sure no one will ever love you as well as he does.
Go, even though there is nowhere to go.
Go, even though you don’t know exactly why you can’t stay.
Go, because you want to.
Because wanting to leave is enough.
A little over two years ago, I left my husband. We had been together for almost 8 years. We’d met in college and fell into an innocent love. From the beginning, there were issues. His possessiveness. His jealousy. His dependency on parental approval. But he was a good man. He was handsome, ambitious, gentle, and loving. He would plan lovely and thoughtful dates for us, and he prioritized me above everything. Still, for all of our years together, I felt stifled. Vaguely dissatisfied. But he was the only man I had ever been with, and a vague discontentment was normal to me because I had nothing else to which I could compare. I thought it was normal for everyone in a relationship to regularly wonder what it would be like to be single (fun fact: it’s not). I thought it was normal to always feel like I was hiding little pieces of myself (again: it’s not).
During our first year of marriage (after almost 6 years together), I was completing an internship in New York City to accrue hours for my dietetics license. He was completing his first year of surgical residency in California and was therefore unavailable to me for entire days at a time.
His unavailability afforded me a freedom I had never known during my time with him. I made new friends. I began exploring New York City. I felt happy, energetic, excited in a way I never had before. I started lifting heavy weights and developed, for the first time in my life, a healthy relationship with my body. I became this sparkling beauty of a woman, this charming creature that I always felt I had to hide around him. That seemed to intimidate him, that made him uncomfortable when I showed her to him. And the idea of leaving her behind when I moved back to California was unfathomable. I could not be this person I discovered and still be with him. He deserved the love of a woman who would love him before anything. That is the love he wanted. And I wanted to love myself first.
After my internship in New York, I had moved back to California to be with him, because we were married and I had an obligation to him. But my obligation to myself finally, for the first time in over 7 years, was more important to me. Within a month, I had packed my bags and left him. My parents begged me to give it a year. To see if I could make it work. But I had already given him over 7 years of my life at that point. I had helped him get into medical school. Supported him through medical school, and then through his first year of residency. He didn’t need me anymore in the way he needed me then. I thought that this fact would lessen the pain of my leaving. The fact was that I had stifled myself for so long already, the idea of doing it for just one more day was unbearable.
And so I moved back to New York City, renting a tiny studio apartment in Manhattan during my first year (and working two jobs to afford it) and living with a close friend the second year. It was scary at first. And then I started dating. And making new friends. And traveling. I started living my life just for myself. Without having to report to anyone, without having to justify my daily decisions. It was thrilling.
But at night, I would still lie in bed and wonder. Wonder if leaving was worth it. Would I ever find a man who would love me so deeply again? Did I make the right choice?
In July of 2018 I found out my ex was had found someone – she was a pretty, tiny blonde thing, according to my mother. And according to his mother, who felt the need to call me and tell me. The new girlfriend was Russian and made my ex the center of her world. She was “family-oriented” according to my ex mother-in-law, somehow implying that I was not. They began dating shortly after he agreed to the divorce – it stung like few things have. A part of me thought he would wait, wait to get the flavor of me out of his heart before replacing me. It was a selfish thought, yes. But I am human, and that’s the truth.
And so began the anxiety attacks, the 2 am calls to my mother, sobbing so hard I thought my ribs would tear open from the pressure of it all. Did I make the right choice? He was such a good man. He loved me so much. He was faithful and kind. Why did I leave again? How had he found someone already, and I was still finding flaws in every man I dated?
I found myself justifying my reasons to leave to anyone who would listen. I could feel the waves of desperation emanating off of me like summer heat off of asphalt.
“He didn’t see all of me.”
“I couldn’t be myself.”
“Loving him in the way he needed to be loved meant hurting myself and limiting myself.”
“He needed a housewife.”
“Once he became a doctor, he changed.”
“He was possessive and controlling.”
“His parents were over-involved and he let them be.”
“His wants were more important than mine; they always would be, because of his profession.”
Reason after reason after reason of why it was a “good” thing that I left. Why it made sense. Why it was the best thing for me.
But really, none of it matters. The truth was unshakeable: I was not happy in that relationship. And that, that very fact, was the only thing that mattered. If nothing else in my life was certain, one thing was: I was unhappy enough to want to leave. And wanting to leave was enough. Is enough.
When I re-read that poem again over a month ago, something inside my chest released. My face relaxed and I felt myself take in the fullest breath I have taken in years.
This is what I have been searching for since I left: the understanding that it was perfectly okay for me to have taken agency over my own happiness and life. To make a decision that broke the hearts of my ex-husband and my family because I was not happy. And isn’t this my life? Shouldn’t I be the main character?
Sometimes doing the thing that’s best for you is hard. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. And it might hurt you. There will be growing pains. But once you get through them (and it’s true when they say that the only way out of pain is through it), once you’re on the other side of them, you’ll see it was all worth it.
It was by leaving him, by being brave enough to leave my comfort zone and go after a life I actually wanted, that I understood the depths of friendships I’d created. I healed my relationship with my father. I began writing again. I discovered how strong I truly am. I discovered a world filled with infinite possibility.
So know this: if you leave a relationship and no one understands why you did it, it’s okay. They don’t need to. No one needs to. All that matters is that you wanted to, that you did what you could to make it work (if that is what you wanted), and that now you’re ready to move forward. No one but you needs to be okay with it. This life is yours. And wanting to make it better is enough of a reason to leave.