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.