I spent New Year’s Eve 2014 alone.
The friends I told were a little worried for my mental health. I don’t blame them. What kind of weirdo spends the last night of the year without company and booze and an at least medium-sized celebration, by choice? Although, to be fair, I did have booze.
But I couldn’t face it. The idea of smiling and being all positive and ra ra about 2015 felt phony and exhausting. Because, if you haven’t already guessed it, 2014 was the year Tony and I decided to go our separate ways.
I’m not under any Gwyneth Paltrow delusions here, but when one writes about one's personal life in a blog, certain things eventually need to be shared. There are two sides to every relationship. I would never try to tell Tony’s story, but here, very briefly, is mine.
My name is Natalie, and I’m a perfectionist.
Since I was old enough to watch movies, I longed for a Hollywood romance. I thought I'd found it when I met Tony. I got the soul mate, the spontaneous (and very early) engagement, the beautiful wedding. Despite not doing anything else in my life by the book, I felt, at least, like I’d done this right. Like I’d scored some kind of victory. And then, since all those boxes had been ticked, I proceeded with what I believed to be the next logical step to Happily Ever After: I took virtually every emotional need I had and put them all on him.
Sure, I still had girlfriends. And guy friends, and therapists. But when the shit hit the fan – which it does a whole lot, when you’re a perfectionist – I turned to my husband. And when he didn’t provide support on every level, because – what? He’s human? - I became convinced that something was wrong, with our marriage, with us, or sometimes, I’ll admit, really just with him.
By the time I accepted that I’d been doing this, the damage had been done.
Again, let me be clear: we both had our parts to play in the path our relationship took. But despite how cliché this sounds, when I met Tony at the ripe old age of 29, I didn’t know who I was. Or rather, I did know, but didn’t admit it to myself. I loved him madly, ferociously, completely. If that wasn’t enough to compensate for all the other stuff I was leaving behind, I didn’t know what was.
Last year, after eight years together, I took off traveling for seven months. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, aside from that I wanted to do something positive in the world. I didn’t know how long I’d be gone, or what I hoped to find. Here’s what I didn’t expect would become painfully obvious: that I didn’t know who I was without a man in my life.
I mean, talk about a Feminist Fail. It shouldn't add up: educated, world traveled, outspoken women’s rights advocates are not supposed to look to men for for validation. But the more my journey went on, the more I realized this was exactly what I’d been doing, for as long as I could remember. Which is pretty ironic, since none of them had ever been able to give it to me. Not even the one I married.
The clearer this became, the less I was able to ignore that the mirror I was holding up to myself almost exclusively reflected my flaws and failures. My determination to succeed at my marriage had been as much out of love as out of a conviction that I wasn’t complete or even acceptable without someone else’s love. And love, I’d believed, meant living in a universe built for two. I didn’t understand that for a relationship to be healthy, neither person can look to the other for completion. And that both people need a community - love of all kinds, coming from different directions.
Luckily, Tony and I have both owned up to our respective contributions to all this, and how the baggage we brought to the relationship just wasn't sustainable. I don’t know what it’s like to have the kind of split where there is blame and rage and serious conflict, not to mention when children are involved. Still, ending my marriage was one of the most difficult periods of my life. Hence my solo New Year’s Eve.
Which is not to say I didn’t feel somewhat pathetic about being alone and in my sweatpants on the big 12/31.
So. Close to midnight, I piled the winter gear, opened a bottle of sparkling wine and went outside. There was a perfect, clear waxing moon lighting up the sky, and when the clock hit twelve, I stood and listened to the cheers and the snaps of firecrackers echoing from the surrounding houses. And then, totally without warning, I burst into tears.
I must have stood there for 10 minutes, much to the amusement of the people smoking on the other side of the fence, clutching my glass and sobbing. But here's the thing: I wasn’t crying from sadness. 2014 was a motherfucker of a year, but now that it was over, I was overcome with gratitude for all of it. Because despite what I have lost, what I've learned and gained is beyond measure. Don't worry - I still have bad days. I still get caught in the idea that I failed at marriage, or that I let people down – friends, family, the people who believed in us. Our wedding was in a movie, for godsakes. Ours was supposed to the happy ending, the victory before the credits roll. But it wasn’t. And pretending otherwise would have been at the expense of too much.
Sometimes I feel it would be easier if I hated Tony, but we still love and care for each other, a lot. We also still have spikes of anger and misunderstanding and heartache, but I think we’re on our way to becoming great friends. In fact, we probably get along better now than we ever did. Lack of power struggles will do that, I guess. He is my family and he always will be.
And so, in a few weeks, I’ll be heading back on the road. I’ve found something like a community in New Zealand, although it looks nothing like I’d imagined it would. (This applies, I’m learning, to most things.) I don’t know how I’m going to make it work, or long I’ll stay. I don’t know what’s going to happen at all, really. I still want a home, love, to be a parent. But I don’t know what any of that would look like, either.
Here's what I do know: what things do look like have very little do do with what they're made of.
That there's no right way of doing anything.
And most importantly, that I am, even on my own, madly, completely okay.