Do you ever ask yourself, why can’t I be happy? What’s wrong with me? I asked myself those questions almost every day. For more than a decade.
I was a S-A-H-M, a stay-at-home mother on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. I’d had a modest, rural upbringing but was now married to a “wealthy” man. Educated, white, privileged, I knew I was lucky. I was raising my children from home. And I loved my children – more than I had ever dreamed or predicted I could love anything. But my marriage wasn’t working. And I felt utterly incapable, incapable of divorce, incapable of anything.
The facts of my failing—and ultimately, failed—marriage are singular, as are the facts of any relationship. Some divorces are friendly, some are chilly and a few are horribly acrimonious. What is not singular is that I—like many, many women I know—felt trapped. The marriage wasn’t working but the alternative was simply too terrifying to consider.
That’s where I was. If I was divorced, what would I do? I felt unemployable, unheard and increasingly panicky. “Fixing” my circumstances would require unspeakable change. I didn’t know where to begin. Whom to ask. I was ashamed. How did a college-educated woman get to this place?
I worried how divorce would affect my daughters. So I self-justified. I clung to the perverse normalcy that “staying in the marriage for the children” was for the best. All the while I did, the more deeply ashamed I felt and the poorer role model I became.
Then one day, after years of hiding from myself, I saw that I was staying in a marriage that was a war zone and that there was nobody coming to save me. What was worse, what finally triggered me, was that nobody was coming to save my daughters.
I wish I could say my epiphany transformed me overnight. That the following morning when I rubbed my eyes in front of the mirror, I was SHAZZAM’ed: cinched up like Linda Carter in a red and blue bustier, now wielding titanium-plated bracelets and updated Microsoft Office skills. But it would be years before I could do it; years, and hundreds of baby steps and missteps and discarded exit plans before I finally sourced the guts. To even think about being alone required an education and support — the very process of which made me bolder and less ashamed. The previous step gave me courage.
Ultimately I learned that if I wanted something more than a flat, empty life, it was up to me.
But today when I ask myself, “Am I happy?” I don’t blush. I know how to savor the Now, like the funny selfie my daughter just sent me from college, or the deep satisfaction I feel at last for standing on my own two feet.
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