This post is punching me right in the feels. It may do the same for some of you, too. For those of you who have known Allen and I over the years, I know this process for some of you has been emotional. And I get it… it was for us! This post is about the death of a long term relationship, friendship, life after marriage, hope, and some of what I have learned. This is about how break ups and divorce do NOT have to be bitter and nasty, and how we can let go of fear and move forward on a path that is true to ourselves and healthy.
Here we are last night… After finding out that our divorce went through this week. We have been completely apart and spiritually divorced for almost 2 years now… Hard to believe. It’s taken this long because North Carolina law is a little bit different than most states and requires a year waiting period to file once one person moves out. It took us awhile to figure out our situation and what we needed to do. So even though we have been apart for some time, this is a big chapter closing for us.
And we are now here…. to celebrate 11 years together of fruitful life,10 of those years being in a marriage. That is literally ONE THIRD OF OUR LIVES TOGETHER, aka a long ass time. There was a lot of joy between us, a lot of pain that was unearthed, and much to be grateful about and thank each other for.
What was seemingly so good in many ways for so many years started to turn deep in my soul later on. However, it started like this…
I met Allen the first week of college at Arizona State. He does not remember the first time we met, and he still thinks the second time we met is the first time we met lol. Buttttt, he walked in to the house with his ultra cool punk rock highlighted, spiked hair. He shook my hand and looked me in the eye and said, “Doctor.” I was like, “Who is this kid?!?!” I recall he was also wearing a handmade necklace that said, “Life is too short to eat grocery store cheese.” I immediately loved how Allen did not give a f***. He did him, and coming from a conformist small town, this was a breath of fresh air. My spirit naturally does not give a f***, and so the fact that we were both young punks was refreshing… however that does not mean my ego wasn’t in the background giving many f***s secretly at that time in my life.
I had just come off a bad breakup. I was seeing a guy prior to Allen, and turns out he was cheating on me with his ex girlfriend the whole time. The two prior relationships I had were emotional rollercoasters as well. I was in a place of deep mistrust toward men and relationships, and honestly didn’t know it. I was not conscious of how deep my wounds had become, or that I had any at all. Allen, to 19 year old Erika, was not only cool, but he felt so safe. He was kind, in both his actions and words. My brief and prior relationships were not exactly the kindest. I choose kindness towards others, and I craved someone who would be kind back. He spoke up against injustices to children in Africa. He went to church and loved Jesus. I was not religious, but went to church with him and his friends. I loved Jesus, always have, and have also always struggled with religious settings. I loved the friends I was making at this church, and so I tolerated what I had trouble stomaching and went anyways so I could spend time with all of them. I had just moved 2,500 miles away from everything I had ever known and was looking for people in my new home that was Arizona.
Oh, but the list of goodies continued. He had been cheated on before… he knew my pain! And he was an advocate for not watching porn and he wanted to save sex until marriage… OMG WHAT A GENTLEMEN!!! I wasn’t going to be simply pussy, tits, and ass to him!!!! I was going to be a real person… This man wasn’t going to objectify me, and would actually respect me as a woman!!! He was goofy as could be, made me laugh, and I love to laugh (now I am sobbing writing this post).
On paper, he was what I thought I should have (key word there is should, and I will get more to that later). We had lunch together everyday, talked a lot. I always looked forward to seeing him. We started dating spring semester of my freshman year, and then a few months later we were apart for a whole summer volunteering for separate things. I was living in South America in Chile, and he was in New Orleans doing hurricane clean-up. We wrote to each other all summer, plus using phone cards when we could. When we came back for fall semester, he picked me up at the airport. I was just so happy to have this nice, kind, handsome boyfriend.
Allen showed me some acts of kindness and care that I will forever appreciate. For my birthday that fall (20 years old), he did one of the sweetest and most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me to this day. On my birthday, he woke me up at 530 am and I was like, “Wtf, girl needs her sleep.” He told me we were going somewhere, and said it was a surprise (I LOVE fun surprises). He blindfolded me and we were in his car. He got me a Filibertos burrito (a favorite treat of mine at the time), and I managed to eat that sucker blindfolded, and then I passed out. Next thing I know I hear the car engine stop. I had no idea how long I had been driving, or where we were. I heard Allen talking to some ladies, and they were giggling. They came by the car and put me in a wheelchair. They wheeled me into this room where I heard a tremendous amount of buzzing… It sounded like live electrical wires. He took the blindfold of, and I was surrounded by thousands of hummingbirds (one of my spirit animals and favorite creatures). He had driven me 2 hours south to Tucson to their wildlife sanctuary to see the hummingbirds. It was serendipitous and simply wonderful. It is still to this day one of the most thoughtful things anyone has ever done for me.
So when he asked me to marry him 3 months later, I said YES. Why would I say NO to something so good!?
We got married on April 4, 2007. I was 20 years old, he was 22. I wasn’t even legal to drink at my own wedding. We lost our virginities to each other on our wedding night. We started life together as older kids/young adults. In many ways, our relationship and each one of us were still very innocent, and under that innocence was a tremendous amount of pain and unresolved issues that we had no idea lurked underneath.
So we began married life as husband and wife. We moved in together 3 months prior to our wedding, and it was an adjustment. He had a certain way of doing things, as did I, and melding it together was a new life skill for us young adults. Again, we had tiffs, but not explosive fights. We generally tried to find solutions.
Allen graduated with his biomedical engineering degree in 2008. He applied for medical school but did not get into U of A that round, so he decided to use his degree for a little bit and got a job as an engineer. Caveat… this job was on the East Coast constantly traveling. So for 3 years, Allen was generally home on the weekends, but gone during the weekdays. We talked everyday, multiple times a day, and I was so busy with my nursing program at Arizona State that I saw the glass as half full… I would hardly be seeing him if he was there anyways! Even though many of those years we were busy, we did a lot in our time between the beginning of our marriage and medical/grad school. We traveled the world, we bought homes and started investing, we went through undergrad together. Life was happening, and we were doing it together.
And then we moved to California in 2014. That is when things started to shift…. majorly. We were arguing all of the time. We were becoming very impatient. This post is not to discuss the gritty details of it, but to give the overall picture. I was not too phased by this though, because every relationship has its hardships, and so you work through them. We eventually went to therapy, were picking up every self help book we could get our hands on, and relying on friends and family for support.
It was a difficult time, and it became very stressful. I started to grow and self discover at a very rapid pace… more than I had at any other chapter of my life. Even though we were making progress and coming to more understandings, things were getting harder and I was getting more and more frustrated. The fact that this was the case was so confusing and frustrating within itself, because how could things be getting better (with gaining more understanding, knowledge, insight, less arguing, and more productive conversations overall), but I feel worse?
The details of the end honestly do not matter. We kept working and working, each individually growing and coming into more of who we were. With coming into who I really am, the layers of needing safety started to become less important, and being true to myself started to become a priority.
This was a large part due to the book “Non-Violent Communication” by Marshall Rosenberg. I highly highly highly recommend this book for every single human being on the planet. This book talks about our underlying needs as humans being met or not translates into our emotions (turns out we need more than food, clothing, water, and shelter). I had NO IDEA what needs were in the emotional department, let alone what mine were. I read this book about 6 months prior to ending the marriage. That wasn’t on the radar yet (divorce), however it let me unearth the next layer to my healing. I needed to be seen, heard, passion, consistency, mutuality, and so so much more. And I was starting to wake up to what that looked like for me.
We had done the work. Although not perfect (no one ever is), we were in a deeper understanding of why we had been arguing, and communicating healthier than ever. And with all of that, it dawned on me then in the beginning of 2017 that I was in a marriage with a person that was not right for who I am, and I was not right for him. Part of our struggle was that we were trying to fit each other in our own containers, which are very different. What we wanted out of life was very different. What we each wanted to do on a daily basis was different. What we wanted and needed out of sex was different. We needed to come into acceptance we were different on every level. And to stay would’ve only been out of fear and “shoulding” ourselves.
It took me about a month to shake enough fear to be able to say the words, “I do not want to be married to you anymore.” I was terrified. I did not want to hurt his feelings (I actually at this time still had no idea about codependency, so I still felt VERY responsible for how he felt. And even though my intentions always had been good and I never did anything to intentionally hurt him, I still was deep in that pattern). But I came home after a weekend of camping and said it. He was in shock initially, and then some anger, and has since been accepting and has found his truth in it and has felt a great shift since we ended (per his report to me). The divorce process has been quite amicable between us. We used mediators and not lawyers (so if you’re looking to work together in a separation process and not against, I recommend mediator. SOOOO much cheaper too). And it was relatively stress free in that way.
I do not see our marriage as a failure, but that it ran its course. We knew at our young age we were meant to journey together. We had so much pushback when we got engaged, but we knew. I can look back and say, “Dang we were brave for doing this, and for going into the unknown together.” And so we did.
I have been single for almost 2 years now. I have done more living in these last 2 years than the combined 30 total beforehand. I haven’t had a set relationship since; however, I have had a handful of lovers, and I have learned so much more about relationships in addition to what I already had from my marriage. I want to share a few of those things I have learned.
Right after Allen there was a guy I saw exclusively for a hot minute. This guy brought to the table the alchemy of everything I have ever wanted between me and a man. He was IT. Our chemistry was explosive, passionate, caring, genuine and authentic (you can’t make this kind of connection up), and when things were good, they were amazing. We could talk for 6 hours straight without missing a beat, and would want to talk for 6 hours more. We had a blast spending time together. It was so fulfilling. It felt like home.
But there was a problem… this guy, come to find, was terrified of love, intimacy, and connection. He had more issues than Sports Illustrated. It didn’t take long before it became an emotional rollercoaster from hell. He would pull me close, then push me away. When he sensed I was falling away (which was his own form of self fulfilling prophecy and self sabotage), he would become emotionally abusive out of his own fear of abandonment and loss. I was like, “OH HELL NO YOU CANNOT TALK TO ME LIKE THAT!” Whenever he was unkind, I would say no. He would respond, always say he was sorry. I was so angry and searing underneath, while trying to be patient and understanding. Many days I felt so held by him…then on the flip side when he started pushing me away, I felt so alone. UGHHHHHHHH.
It eventually came to a head and then hit a wall. I wanted to keep growing and going, and it was too much for him. He pushed me away further than ever. We broke it off several times; the first time I did, but then I came back. Then a few months later he broke it off by stating, “I cannot give you what you need in a relationship right now.” The thing was, it was true. It was so true; however, I felt so so hurt and angry that it was unreal.
What I did not realize at the time was that he was a gift into my healing. I was SOOOOOOO angry at him for treating me like dogs*** when he did, for disrespecting me, for having poor boundary issues with me. Here is the kicker that I had to learn the hard way…. no one can do anything to you unless you let them. All in all, I was angry at MYSELF for tolerating such behavior toward me. That’s who I was actually angry with… me. I AM NOT CONDONING PEOPLE’S POOR BEHAVIOR. What I am saying is that I found I had a choice, and I have a choice. But first, I needed to heal and figured out why I stayed as long as I did in the first place (even though it wasn’t long overall, it still lasted longer than what was healthy). Why did I stay so long in a relationship that was inconsistent and could not give me what I needed on the regular?
HERE’S THE WHY: Because I depended on him for the greatest joy I had ever felt at that point in my life. I had not yet found my way yet into giving it (it being joy and love) to myself first and foremost. Therefore, I made it his job to do so. And then when he failed, I was like, “OH hell no!” The difference between me now and then, is that me now would’ve immediately been like, “I see you are acting abusively (his was saying cruel things). Because that is not part of what I deserve and let into my life, I am walking away.” It was never his job to treat me well… it was my job to treat myself well and walk away. Again, does not condone his behavior or excuse it. Matt Kahn, a spiritual teacher, states that when we get into adult relationships we make soul contracts with these people we meet. He does say though, that as soon as abuse shows up (which is basically defined as mistreatment with either cruelty or violence), that contract is null and void. I do agree with this… where there isn’t space for love, it does not serve us past the initial learning piece.
What he is doing right now or where he is in life or on his healing journey, I don’t know. I have empathy for him, and I see how he got to where he was. He was a badly hurt human who took on a victim mentality to being hurt and stayed in that space. I heard once, “Hurting humans hurt humans.” People who are hurting will sometimes choose to spew venom on others out of their own fear and guards, and its not right, it just simply is, and continues unless THEY decide to heal. That is on them. And even though it had nothing to do with me, I deserve to be treated well at all times no matter what. It is as simple as that.
After that ended, I continued to put myself out in the world. I have dated, met men from all over the world in my travels. I have let myself live. In the whirlwind of it all, I knew I wasn’t going to settle. In this process I started to form the container of what my next relationship would be like.
I thought I loved myself, but I started to question that as I looked back at my life and saw how many people had walked all over me, had disrespected me, bullied me, took advantage of my kindness, and steamrolled me. I was like, “Hmmm. This was not just a one time occurrence.” I have gone down the rabbit hole of my soul, psyche, subconscious, and have been focusing on me. For the first time in my life, I have been focused inwardly on me and not outwardly trying to fix things. In all of this, the only person I am going to be with the rest of my life is myself. It’s all we are ever going to have from the day we are born to the day we die. I definitely needed the space to work on this, and the universe has provided. Sometimes we don’t know what we need, and can only see it in hindsight. I can see it in hindsight how perfectly this has all worked out, and how badly I needed this time to myself to heal.
Every lover I have had has taught me something. Some things have been hard to look at, while others more welcoming. I am grateful for all of it and wouldn’t be where I am today without allowing myself to live life this much. With all of this life has come the lessons, which some I have shared with you all today.
If one wants a healthy relationship, I see these as necessary.
Some people have said, “Good thing you didn’t have kids.” I do not deny that not having kids takes away a serious layer of complexity. I will say this… my parents got divorced when I was 14. They stayed together way way longer than they wanted to because it was “for the kids.” I will say in my experience as the child, even though they (my parents) were well intended, they did not do us any favors. They appeared civil on the outside, but the toxic energy and resentment that filled our house was very palpable to my brother and I. Kids know what is going on whether you show it or not. I truly believe kids don’t need a picture of something to look a certain way… kids need parents who are joyful and living authentic lives, whether it be separate or apart. When parents do this, they can love their kids so much more genuinely and share a space of joy, which is what allows children to thrive. When my parents divorced it was initially very devastating and overwhelming. It is the death of a family, and I had to go through the grieving process. However, once the dust settled, things felt so much better than prior to them breaking up. I have no judgment for people who stay together for the kids, I am merely saying in my experience as the child it was absolutely not best. That is all I will say on the topic.
Life is not supposed to be this neat and rule filled experience. Life is meant to be real and lived. I do not regret my marriage in the slightest. It was meant to be part of my path, and if it hadn’t, I wouldn’t have learned what I did. The men I’ve met along the way, same thing. The key here is I allowed myself to learn. I allowed myself to feel all of the joy, pain, anger, and heartaches and not hide from them. Because of this, I am in such a place of self acceptance and respect. I feel the love I have for myself now… not just consciously think it. It is to my core. I walk away from conversations where I am not being respected and the invitation to is denied. I do not engage in relationships that do not serve me (I can love people from a distance). I own my own needs and wants.
My container has room for love, kindness, respect, mutuality, nurturance, creativity, spontaneity, willingness to work and show up, travel all over, hike, camp, can talk for hours straight, be intellectually intrigued, wants the same things out of life as me, attraction, sexually compatible, space for me to be and the other way around. It doesn’t mean there aren’t compromises or sacrifices here and there… it is a dance. But overall I love the dance with this person. So whenever it happens, it will happen.
In this single period of my life, I have married myself, and it is healthy. I am no longer hard on myself, treat myself well, and that includes saying no thank you to those who do not. It is true freedom, because I don’t need someone else to do it for me anymore. I invite you all to journey on the path to loving yourselves.