Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My life is a Neil Sedaka song

Last week I broke up with the person I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. We had been together 15 years. And good old Neil Sedaka had it right – breaking up IS hard to do, even when it’s the right thing, and even when the handwriting has been on the wall for a million years.

Dr. Wonderful and I had been together since I was 24. Most of my life experience, not to mention my sexual experience, was with him. I have very few memories in my adult life that do not include him. Our families are friends. We went to church together for many years. We share a set of cousins, for crying out loud (no, we are not related, unlike SOME couples I know. For more on that, see this post by Jenny over at Mommin’ It Up).

Cutting him out of my life after all this time was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Why did I stay with someone so long without marrying him, you ask? Good question. The easy answer is that he never asked. So why did I stick around? Because he kept saying he was GOING to ask, and I believed him. Time after time. Disappointment after disappointment. If you had asked me, two or three years ago, why I consistently let him treat me as his personal doormat, I would have said I loved him, whether we were married or not. I would have said it didn’t matter if we ever got married, as long as we could be together. I would have told you I had reached a point where marriage didn’t matter to me as much as the partnership did. And all of that would have been true. I DID love him. I DID reach a point (at precisely the moment when my dad was led from a courtroom to a jail cell) when marriage didn’t seem important. So what changed?

I had a daughter.

And that changed everything. Suddenly I looked at my relationship with Dr. Wonderful and I didn’t see a partnership minus the marriage license. I saw a one-sided love affair in which Dr. Wonderful was the beater, figuratively speaking, and I was the beatee. I saw my life, which included him in every aspect, compared to his life, which compartmentalized me into non-existence. I saw a man with a unique talent for saying all the right things without ever DOING anything to back up his promises, and for getting me to fall for it over and over again. And when I looked at all those things through my daughter’s eyes, I was ashamed of myself.

Here’s the thing: everyone in my entire life (except me) knew Dr. Wonderful wasn’t so wonderful, and someday, in the not-too-distant future, Ellie would see it, too. I was the only one who refused to see that Dr. Wonderful would never put his money where his mouth was, and the day was fast approaching when I would have to explain his actions, as well as my own, to my child. I was okay with making excuses for him, as long as the only person who had to buy the excuses was me.

But when I thought about having to sell those same excuses to my daughter, I was embarrassed on my own behalf. I pictured myself 20 years from now, still “dating” Dr. Wonderful and trying to explain to Ellie why I had allowed him to hijack her life as well as mine. Maybe I could sentence myself to that and even convince myself it was what I wanted. But I could never accept that reality on her behalf. She deserves better, I told myself. And if that’s true, who is there to make sure that happens but me? I’m her mother.

I discovered a strength I didn’t know I had – I was capable of standing up for my daughter when I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) stand up for myself. You want to break your promises to me? Fine. I can live with that. But don’t you dare disappoint my child. You want to buy my affection with a well-timed gift? That’s one thing. But you’re not going to play with my daughter’s emotions like that. You want to shove excuses down my throat for the rest of my life? I can swallow them, but I won’t let her.

I find that I’m looking at a lot of things about my life not just through my own eyes, but my daughter’s as well. It’s an education. Things I’ve always thought were perfectly fine suddenly don’t seem so great when I think about having to explain myself to a child – things like my potty mouth, and the religious beliefs I held for years. In my very first religion class in college, I learned that you have to be able to defend what you believe and why – the fact that it’s what you’ve always been taught or what you've always done isn’t good enough. So that’s what I’m trying to do – I’m trying to examine all my attitudes, views, beliefs, hopes and dreams in the light of what my daughter will say someday when I'm called upon to defend them to her. Being her mom is making me a better person -- for her sake, and for my own.

12 comments:

  1. I am amazed by your strength! You have an amazing little girl, and you're showing her how to be a woman. I applaud you!

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  2. Wow, that was so powerful! I am very, very proud of you! I have always thought that it's amazing how different the world looks when viewed through our children's eyes (which I used to explain why I prefer the Wiggles now to Duran Duran, but...) I was thinking of the media at the time, but you've shown that is is much more personal and more urgent than that! You've taken a step that sadly too many other women are either too afraid or too lazy to take, and so many times end with tragic results. But your daughter has led you to discover a strength and conviction that you never predicted, and I dare say, shown you that you are more valuable than you gave yourself credit for. Bravo baby girl, and bravo Emilie!

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  3. Beautiful, Emilie! I am so proud of you! You won't regret this. As I was reading this, Sophie came up beside me and laid her head on my arm, and I thought, "Amen."

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  4. Wow - this is beautiful! Things are so much different when your kids' emotions are involved. You are a great mom...it just shows right here in this post!

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  5. Great post. I do believe changing us for the better is the gift that our children give us.

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  6. Strength and parenting go hand in hand, and I'm so glad your daughter has you to teach her to stand for what she needs out of life. Thank you for sharing that.

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  7. It is amazing what gifts motherhood brings our way! Thank you for sharing your story. Well done.

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  8. I am so proud of you. Actually I didn't realize you were even still with him. Remember, I met him many years ago and you were hoping for a wedding ring then. His loss for never giving it to you. You will be a great mom because you know where your priorities are in your life. Good for you!!!

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  9. I m sure this was very hard for you to share with everyone, but I hope this will be cathartic for you and help you get through this. He obviously had no idea what he had and what he has lost but one day he will realize what a HUGE mistake he had made.

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  10. It really is amazing how things really come into focus so clearly once we become parents. In fact, the clarity can be somewhat startling. Good for you for making the necessary changes to ensure that both the Davis girls take top billing. I have a quote stickied to my computer that says "Change is inevitable. Growth is optional. Choose wisely." You have chosen to make a significant change in your life and you will no doubt grow in some spectacular ways as a result. Yay for you!

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  11. Parenting is nothing if not an education. I admire your strength and your love for your daughter. The longest relationship I've ever been in that came to an end was two years, and I was in high school, and that was painful enough. I can't imagine what it would be like after 15. I hope you realize that Ellie isn't the only one who deserves more -- you do, too!

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  12. Emilie, I really liked reading your post. I was helped by it. I appreciate your sharing these personal things with us. I had someone like this in my life. My ex. We hung on to each other after we broke up 7 years ago. I considered him a close friend. But since I moved 40 minutes away 5 yrs ago, he has never been willing to see me socially. But called every day. Said "I love you". After I adopted Lily, that turned into "I love you guys". He asked to be her godfather. I said, "that means you have to show up." I invited her to Lily's 2nd b-day party. He was a no-show; didn't call & didn't send a gift or card. We haven't spoken since. I feel as you do: "dis" me and maybe I can take it... but "dis" my little girl? NO WAY. Now, we'll know we're REALLY healthy when we can stand up for ourselves the way we do for our children. From now on I'll ask myself, "what would I think about so-and-so if he/she did this to my daughter?"

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