Reclaiming Wife: The Road Not Taken

I was going to write some exciting (to me) APW news today, but I’m wiped out, so you’re getting it on Monday instead (whee!). I’ve been trying to take care of myself and get some physical healing stuff in order as part of my life list goals, and it’s funny, when you’re doing that sometimes your body says, “Slow down, heal.” So this week has been all about needing to slow down. Just when I was realizing I didn’t have serious writing in me today, Lauren of Suburbalicious Living (Lauren and I got married on the same day, so we’ve been in each others orbits for a long time now) sent me this amazing piece of writing.

This piece is about the choices we make and self-care, which seemed exactly on the page I was on today. But more than that, after yesterday’s amazing discussion that ended up being about choosing to support other women in community, even when they make different choices, or choices that make us question our own… well… I couldn’t dream up a better follow up than this. So I give you Lauren, with nothing but deep respect and love:

Ever since Meg posted about mothers and wives as separate entities, I have found myself deep in thought about the contrast between making a choice and being allowed to have mixed feelings about it, no matter how exciting and happy that choice might be.

I first discovered the idea of “tiny deaths” resulting from personal choices and life changes from Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes in her incredible book Women Who Run With The Wolves. (This book is a life-changer, I guarantee it.) She writes at length about how life is cyclical, and how some things must die in order for others to be born, and vice-versa. She calls this the Life/Death/Life nature, meaning that there is always one after and before the other. To apply this to marriage, for example, the joyful and loving decision you make to join your life to another person is probably one of the happiest choices you will make. Behind that, and before it, though, are the hard parts, the things you give up and trade and wave goodbye to (living alone, the freedom that comes with being single,) and the new things that you take on and the parts of yourself you discover along the way (two heads need to make decisions, defining yourself as “wife”.)

Or, in Dr. Pinkola Estes’ words, “Sometimes the one who is running from the Life/Death/Life nature insists on thinking of love as a boon only. Yet love in its fullest form is a series of deaths and rebirths. We let go of one phase, one aspect of love, and enter another. Passion dies and is brought back. Pain is chased away and surfaces another time. To love means to embrace and at the same time to withstand many endings, and many many beginnings- all in the same relationship.”

We are a community of women who are making some choices that are different from the “expected,” and that requires us to be strong. We have to defend what we do and what we believe to a host of friends, families, and strangers who think we should be doing something differently. So we make choices that are right for us, and we stand up for them with every fiber of our being. This is good, and it is also hard. And I believe that for all the time and energy that we pour into being strong and justifying our choices, we need to spend some time and energy mourning those choices we didn’t take.

I have a friend who is about 10 years older than me. She is in one of the happiest marriages I’ve ever seen, and she and her husband have known since they met that they did not want kids. We took a long walk one day, though, where she told me about meeting her friend’s brand new baby. She held him, and marveled at his perfect baby fingers and toes, and touched his perfect skin, and breathed in his powdery baby smell. And when she left, for the first time realized that she was sad that she would never have that, would never breathe in her own baby’s smell. She did not regret her decision, nor did she suddenly want kids. But she did need some moments of silence for the life she didn’t choose.

And how many of us can already hear the nay-sayers, upon hearing this story, who would immediately jump to the conclusion that her feelings meant that she screwed up her life?

“I told you so.”

“Too bad it’s too late for you.”

“How sad that you’ll regret that for the rest of your life.”

And those people are why we all have to stand up and shout about what we believe in– because we are not allowed to admit that decisions are hard, and that just like partners, there are a number of life choices that could bring us happiness, and for many of the big ones, you have to give something up to have something else. But those things are true. And maybe, just maybe, even though we can’t expect the rest of the world to understand, we can start to expect each other to understand.

I’m writing this because I believe we need to give each other permission, and perhaps more importantly we need to give ourselves permission, to mourn the path not taken. The one that might have been amazing, but for good and true and happy reasons, we didn’t choose. We need to know that it is ok to joyfully head into marriage, while simultaneously taking some days or weeks of quiet time to lay to rest the life we are leaving behind. We can choose confidently to have children, or not have children, and be equally confident about sharing how hard that choice was, and how we might wonder what the other life might have been like. We can embrace our decision to move across the country for a new job, while crying for the family we left behind. We should be able to share our frustrations with this week or month or year of marriage, while in the same breath, saying how grateful we are for our partner. This mourning, these tiny deaths– they don’t mean that you aren’t sure. It doesn’t mean that you didn’t choose what was right for you and your family. What it means is that you are human, and that you are able to acknowledge both the happy and the hard nuances of life.

One of my favorite quotes from Women Who Run With The Wolves is this: “Tears are a river that takes you somewhere…Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace better.” As we move along in life, let’s give ourselves and each other the space for these tears, so that we can grow not only from the life we do choose, but also into the life we don’t.

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