2018 is bright with boundless possibility, and I'm able to see it with newly opened eyes, emerging from the aftermath of a painful ending to a three year relationship just before Christmas. I thought I had permanently lost my rose-colored glasses when cancer came out of nowhere to blindside me and knock them clean off my face during the magical phase of new motherhood with baby #2 when I was just hitting my stride. Five years of stark life or death reality during cancer treatment was followed by the sucker punch of unforeseen divorce…unforeseen because I naively* believed the "in sickness and in health" part of our vows.
*A 2009 study published in the journal Cancer found that a married woman diagnosed with a serious disease is six times more likely to be divorced or separated than a man with a similar diagnosis. Among study participants, the divorce rate was 21 percent for seriously ill women and 3 percent for seriously ill men.
After two years of therapy, soul-searching, a meaningful mission to help other modern, active survivors with Handful, and focusing on being the best single mom I could be, I resurfaced, blinking into the dawn of a new me, still cancer free, single and ready to mingle. I took the leap and put myself online at the urging of everyone and their mother. The very first person I met on a dating site, I fell hard for, as he gallantly removed his proverbial cloak, laid it across life’s mud puddles, picked up my rose-colored glasses, dusted them off, and firmly placed them back on my trusting face. I had found a second chance love affair in my 40s, the soulmate I had been looking for my whole life, and oh how romantic every text, stolen moment, bouquet of flowers, walk in the park, and dinner date became.
I have to let you in on an embarrassing secret. Despite working for a company run by women with a mission to fuel female empowerment while hyper-consciously raising two daughters to be strong, confident, and self-sufficient, I still harbored a Disney princess rescue fantasy. The one where the prince comes and sweeps me off my feet, forever altering the course of my life. So Valentine's Day always held the ultimate measure of whether I was on my way to finding the vision of happily ever after that the little girl in me always dreamed of -- did I have a man in my life who validated my worth, and did he do so with flowers and thoughtfully selected gifts on February 14th?
For the last three years, there were grand gestures galore and an overabundance of flowers. I was passing the Valentine's Day litmus test with flying colors, but I completely lost sight of the self-worth part. Turns out, I had fallen in love with a narcissist, and I was all too willing to live a fantasy, not knowing that I was no longer eligible for the role of innocent princess but instead was a shoo-in for Queen of Codependence, readily thrusting aside all my goals and dreams and dutifully training my eyes on the prize, focusing on a fixed point on the horizon where he had assured me our perfect forever after awaited…if we just followed every step on his map.
His vision of the future replaced mine, and I worked day and night to make sure I was checking the work box (his small business and my work for Handful), the family box (partner first, children second, he said), and household tasks (it was my house we were living in, and dinner wasn’t cooking itself). The friend box? I definitely stopped checking that one because I was too busy living his life for him. I had become so isolated, so single-minded in my devotion, so obsessed with solving his problems, that I was totally unprepared for it all to come crashing down just days before Christmas.
Cut to today, where I sit at my desk in the cozy Handful office (after 11 years of everyone satellite working from home, we finally have a space together!), turning the page to February and Valentine's Day 2018 appears as just another date on the calendar, but Galentine's Day this February 13th, once a funny haha holiday for my ladies who brunch to gather, has taken on a deeper, far more meaningful significance for me this year.
Because guess who was right there all along, waiting for me to figure out that this all-consuming love wasn't what it seemed to be on the surface? Guess who came rushing through after he moved out with calls, texts, happy hours, sleepovers, phone numbers for counselors and massage therapists, inspirational Pinterest quotes, and daily acts to reassure me that I am worthy of love? That's right, the women who I am so fortunate to call my friends. The ones who were there for me during cancer with meals and childcare. The ones who didn't shun me during my divorce but kept inviting me to couples events. The ones who encouraged me to try again when I was a scared single in my 40s. The ones who knew from day one he wasn't right for me, many who had the guts to tell me so but who also had the grace not to say, "I told you so" after the fact.
And guess what I realized? They are there, because I have been there for them. I just got lost in the weeds for the last few years. Fortunately, the women in my life are very good at rolling with life’s detours when you have to ditch the map, at keeping their eyes on the ever-shifting horizon, at knowing that change is guaranteed, but growth is optional. My wise friends trusted that I would grow through this, so grow I must. Self-worth and learning how to maintain healthy boundaries and relationships is ultimately up to me, but it sure helps to be surrounded by women who model some damn good unconditional Love!
On this Galentine's Day 2018, I will raise my mimosa glass and thank the women in my life who are always standing by, loyal, loving, time-tested, and true. I'm ready, 2018. Ladies, I've found my way back on the path, and it's my turn to be there for YOU. Let's keep climbing up this mountain together, but it's my turn at the back of the line, making sure no one gets left behind.