Getting to the Roots of a Problem

One thing that’s becoming quite clear to me (as I write what is turning out to be something of a post series here) is that I’m feeling particularly drawn right now to imaginative ways of approaching my life.

I think it’s because I’ve been struggling. And there are two ways to look at that kind of struggle. As laid out in The Alchemist:

“He recalled that when the sun had risen that morning, he was on another continent, still a shepherd with sixty sheep, and looking forward to meeting with a girl. That morning he had known everything that was going to happen to him as he walked through the familiar fields. But now, as the sun began to set, he was in a different country, a stranger in a strange land, where he couldn’t even speak the language. He was no longer a shepherd, and he had nothing, not even the money to return and start everything over.

All this happened between sunrise and sunset, the boy thought. He was feeling sorry for himself, and lamenting the fact that his life could have changed so suddenly and so drastically….

…When I had my sheep, I was happy, and I made those around me happy, he thought. But now I’m sad and alone. I’m going to become bitter and distrustful of people because one person betrayed me. I’m going to hate those who found their treasure because I never found mine. And I’m going to hold on to what I have, because I’m too insignificant to conquer the world.”

But then he remembered a bit of wisdom he’d been given:

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

And he re-thought his situation.

“He looked around at the empty plaza again, feeling less desperate than before. This wasn’t a strange place; it was a new one.

After all, what he had always wanted was just that: to know new places. Even if he never got to the Pyramids, he had already traveled farther than any shepherd he knew…As he mused about these things, he realized that he had to choose between thinking of himself as the poor victim of a thief and as an adventurer in quest of his treasure.

‘I’m an adventurer, looking for treasure,’ he said to himself.”

~Paulo Coelho, in The Alchemist, pg. 38-42


I very much need to believe that my life is open-ended, that there’s possibility and potential in it, that I can make things happen. If I’m compelled to do anything in my life, it’s to peel back layers, to learn, to explore. To “search for treasure.”

But lately, I’ve been feeling really under-confident. A bit lost…a bit lonely. And I think I’ve been drifting back toward thinking about The Alchemist and its framework for living as a means of trying to bolster myself up a little.

The question is: Why do I need bolstering? Where is this insecurity coming from?

Trying to unearth those answers is part of why I’m doing all this writing. And I think it already might have led me to one answer – an important one.


My ex and I are readying right now to finally, finally fully legalize our split. And (to my surprise) I’m having a hard time with that.

You might say, “Well of course you are! It’s divorce!”

But you see, that’s not it. That’s the perplexing thing. It’s nothing about that, actually. It’s not at all because of him and me, or the idea of being finally (finally!!) legally divorced. On the contrary – this final legalization is a long-awaited and highly anticipated, happily anticipated event.

We split up four years ago. That’s a long time ago! And we’ve worked really hard in that time to rebuild our relationship. Each successive year has improved it – to the point that right now, we have this really comfortable rapport. We’re honestly friends; we’re not just “amicably separated.”

I’m grateful he’s the father of my kids – because he’s a really good dad and a really good and supportive co-parent. And I’m grateful he’s my friend. There’s a reason we came together in the first place: we genuinely liked each other and had fun. And we’ve managed to re-capture that, post-marriage – and that’s been a really wonderful thing.

What I’m saying is: I wouldn’t change where we are. I like where we are. It works. I like it immensely better than being married to him, in fact. That did not work.

So it’s really not about him…or any remnant of “us.”


It’s about ME. But again, not in the way you’d perhaps be inclined to think.

I do not in fact mind in the slightest degree the idea of being a divorced person. On the contrary, I am very ready to leave the idea of marriage behind me.

I really think I might not be cut out for marriage. I don’t think it, as an institution, meshes with who I am or what I believe.

I do believe in long-term partnership. I can see that being a possibility, perhaps – with the right person. But I don’t see any benefit whatsoever to being legally tied again. I don’t want to “have to” do anything…ever. I want free choice…perpetually free choice. If I’m with somebody, I want it to be because I choose to be with them (and vice versa) every single day.

At this point, it feels really strange to think that I am still legally married. It was such a long time ago now that we split up, and so much has happened in the meantime.

I had to talk to somebody at the bank the other day, and I had to say something about “my husband” – and it felt so weird! It felt fake. It felt like I was lying or playacting or something – like trying to buy alcohol with a fake I.D. when you’re underage, passing yourself off as someone you’re not. (Not that I EVER did that.)

It’s been so long since I’ve felt like I was anybody’s wife, or that I had a husband – or that this guy, my ex, my kids’ dad, was anything but my friend and temporary apartment-mate. To think that we are actually still married is a strange and slightly uncomfortable place to be. It’s in-authentic. It bothers me.


There’s also the fact that it would be really nice to, you know, date or something. I haven’t so much as dipped my toe into that pond in four years.

And it’s not because I’m still legally married – I mean, that’s not an inhibiting factor in the way you might think. The marriage is a legal tie at this point solely. I am 100% certain my ex would not care in the slightest degree if he, say, knew that the reason he had the kids that night was so that I could spend time out romantically with some other guy. I wouldn’t be causing him pain, or disrespecting our relationship in doing that. That relationship ended four years ago – and we’re both pretty comfortable with the idea of moving on.

The problem is that I just can’t quite figure out how to present myself in that area to new people – not while I’m still legally tied. It’s a hump I just can’t get over. What would I even say?

I wouldn’t lie. I don’t think lying is exactly conducive to building nice new friendships/romances/whatever with people. And, as a rule, I prefer to be authentic in the way I live my life.

But the truth doesn’t sound all that great, does it?: Separated for four years…not officially divorced yet…two kids…ex-as-friend/part-time roommate.

Wow…that sounds like somebody you want to get involved with, doesn’t it? That doesn’t sound complicated at all.

Even though it’s actually not complicated…or messy, or problematic. It’s really not! It’s actually pretty straightforward. But…how to express that???

There have been plenty of times in my life when I’ve been between boyfriends or crushes or just otherwise experiencing dry-spells in the romance area. But where I am now (and have been for the last four years) just feels way, way worse.

I think it’s because even those dry-spell times had “possibility” in them. And that was always kind of fun – even if the inherent celibacy/etc was a drag. (I thrive on “possibility!”) But something about the prospect of this explanation that currently has to take place at the beginning of any new relationship is sucking all that feeling of possibility and fun out of the entire idea of re-entering the dating arena for me.

It’s not just about things-romantic either. I have a hard time with making new friends (including women friends) for the same reason. It’s just awkward. I’m better with the friend thing than I used to be; I’m more confident, I guess. But I still haven’t quite managed to reach a comfort level with the possibly-more-than-friends relationships. I haven’t managed to find a comfort zone with the potential awkwardness of that explanation.

I don’t know how to get around that…and really, it’d be better (certainly easier) to just get divorced. That would clear up the whole problem.

So that’s just one more reason to be happy that we can finally make that happen now.


(And just to be clear: finances are the only reason the separation has dragged for so long without becoming officially divorce. Lack of ability to pay a lawyer, nervousness about doing it ourselves and potentially messing up something to do with custody arrangements, worry over how to handle taxes/insurance/student loan debts/etc within a new legal arrangement, etc, etc. It’s been very daunting.

It’s so EASY to get married…and way, way, way more complicated to get divorced – particularly when you have kids.

Divorce is such an intimidating process. I know the complicated stuff is complicated for a reason: to protect the kids, or to protect spouses who are inclined to hurt each other legally. And if you can afford a lawyer, you can just hand everything to them and let them deal with it. But if you can’t??

The legalities (without a lawyer) have been very intimidating for us. So we’ve been taking things very, very slow there.)


So anyway, I should be pretty happy right now…right? It is SO beyond time to get this legal monkey off our backs.

But I’m feeling all this anxiety. Why???

It makes no sense. If I don’t want to be married, and I don’t regret divorcing my ex, and there are lots of benefits (like being able to approach new people and new experiences without the burden of weighty explanations or an inherent feeling of inauthenticity) – then why am I not jumping for joy at the idea of filing the paperwork in a few weeks???

What’s wrong with me??


Well, as I said, I think I might have finally figured it out. And it’s thanks to this post series, and the way it’s compelling me to look at myself with fresh eyes:

My problem has to do with the fact that I’m still figuring out how to go forward with my dreams/goals/ideas. And I’m having trouble, in my gut, dealing with the way the decisions I made when I was married affected those things.


Now let me be clear that what I’m about to say doesn’t make intellectual sense. It’s a totally and completely emotional feeling – and really stupid. (You’ll see.) But it’s there.

(I’m hoping maybe it’ll go away if I write it out here in black and white.)


It comes down to the fact that I made certain sacrifices and compromises when I was married. Like sacrificing my own ability to get an interesting job, for example, so that we wouldn’t be separated while he attended grad school in a little town where there was no work for me but at a horrible bookstore (and I was lucky to get that.)

But let’s be honest: it’s not like I sacrificed some meaningful career path to, say, move with him. I didn’t have a clear career path. I really didn’t know what I wanted. And the fact is, I wasn’t doing what I needed to do to figure it out.

And that issue began before I even met him. That quarterlife crisis thing hit me extremely hard – and I never really overcame it. Not until the last couple of years, when I left the marriage and basically took the reins of my life fully for the first time. That’s when I really started figuring things out – myself, my life, my dreams, what I wanted from my future. (I guess you could call me a “late bloomer.”)

Intellectually, I can see that I’ve in fact come quite a long way in a short period of time. I’m actually doing a pretty good job!

I might even be proud of myself.


But that little voice!! The “inner critic” Julia Cameron calls it. Amanda Palmer calls it the “fraud police.”

It’s been really loud lately – so loud. Louder and louder the closer I’ve drawn to filing the divorce paperwork. And it’s saying things I honestly don’t even believe in or respect.

I think that little voice is basically full of shit – and yet, it’s making me feel really uncomfortable lately.

It’s saying that the fact that I don’t have more to show for myself, career-wise/goal-accomplishment-wise, is an acceptable thing from within the framework of marriage, because married people sacrifice for each other. You have to balance your needs and another person’s…right? That’s how it works.

But if I’m not married?

Well if I’m not married, then suddenly the fact that I don’t have more security, achievements, etc, to show for myself by this point in my life (like a solid, successful career) means that I’m a LOSER. I’ve amounted to nothing.

And more: I’m delusional to think I’ll actually be able to bring all of these big plans and dreams I have to fruition. What makes me think I can possibly do that? Who the hell am I to do big things? What am I even doing with my life anyway??

Nice, right?


So you see, my anxiety isn’t about the divorce at all – not the divorce in and of itself. It’s not about my ex or my feelings for him or some sort of unforeseen regret for what was between us and is now over. It’s not about any of that.

It’s about ME – and my losing, through getting officially divorced, what I apparently (in some inner part of myself that I don’t even respect) see as a part of marriage: which is that marriage is a very valid excuse for not accomplishing things. And if I don’t have that excuse anymore, then my life is an embarrassment and I’ll amount to nothing.

Which is so incredibly disrespectful – not only to all married people (especially the ones who have wonderful, positive, edifying marriages.) It’s also really quite disrespectful to myself and to all that I’ve worked for and accomplished in the last few years.

I’ve done so much – I really have. And I’ve done it all pretty much on my own. I’ve figured things out. I’ve made things happen, positive things – for myself, for my kids, for my ex. I am proud of myself for this! I’ve worked really, really hard.

I really need to muzzle that little voice.


But how can you do that when you can’t even identify it because it’s got you so worked up? That’s been the central issue of the last few weeks. I see that now.

It’s like being plagued by a mosquito. And you respond to that by jumping around and swatting yourself and going crazy trying to make it stop biting you. And what you really need to do is just sit still and pay attention – because then you’ll see it and you can slap it. Done.

Writing these last few posts has helped me to do that – to sit still, to pay attention. To breathe. (It always comes back around to that, doesn’t it?)

As I said yesterday, writing is a tool like no other for me, in sifting through the emotional muck.

I think these last few posts have functioned for me as a kind of meditation.

I like that blogging can be that.



3 thoughts on “Getting to the Roots of a Problem

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