I feel lucky to have been married.
It was a sunny and humid day. I was meeting up with a friend and one of her friends was pet-sitting at a house nearby.
“Let’s go hang out with her there, and relax in the pool,” my friend suggested.
“Sure. I won’t swim, but I’m down for hanging out,” I replied.
And as it goes when women get together, the topic inevitably heads towards men and relationships.
My friend’s friend was filling us in in her dating woes, and the two of them were having a fun time in the pool reading texts from one guy, while I was sitting on a lounge chair in the shade, listening to them.
After a while, the friend turned to me and asked me my current dating stories.
“I’m divorced,” I said, “and not currently in a relationship.”
Her eyebrows raised.
“Whoa, ok. So you actually went through the whole marriage schbang already. You’re way ahead of us. You don’t need to get married again if you don’t want to.”
I don’t remember what I said to make her come to this conclusion, but she was right.
I DON’T have the need, or the urge, to marry again. Because I’ve already done all that once.
Marriage is like a rite of passage. Mostly everyone thinks about it in some form or another, waiting for the day it comes his or her turn. Maybe women more than men.
The location, colors, number of bridesmaids and groomsmen, WHO’S going to be the bridesmaids and groomsmen, who to invite, what decorations, what kind of flowers/entertainment, chicken or fish… all that jazz.
I already went through all of that.
And frankly, given the two status choices at my age, to be divorced or not having been married before, I feel lucky to be the former.
Because those who have never been married, and who want to be, seem to have this intense yearning, especially as the years go by.
The longing, the desperation, the uncertainty of will it ever happen, all those emotions just swirling around.
That’s why all these reality shows about finding love are such a hit. Indian Matchmaking. Temptation Island. Bachelor/Bachelorette. 90 Day Fiance/Before the 90 Days/Pillow Talk/Whatever-Else-Spinoff.
It’s entertaining but also tugs at our heartstrings as well. Who doesn’t want happy endings for those people searching for love? Because they aren’t paid actors. They are regular people just like us, who go through ups and downs, and at the end of the day, we just want them to be together and happy so it gives us a bit of hope that we will eventually find our own too.
Because I’ve already went through the rite of passage, even though it’s no longer, I feel so much freer. There’s less pressure from myself to get hitched, and a lot easier to buck societal convention and think about what I truly want.
Do I even want to get married? Or have kids? Or live according to widely accepted principles?
And honestly speaking, it seems the status of divorce is slightly higher than the single-never-been-married status.
It’s bullshit thinking, but as one gets up there in age, society puts them in categories. If you happen to be someone who’s supposed to be married but not, and you’ve never been, society deems you as something inferior.
Being married at a certain point somehow makes you more capable and smarter. Maybe because it seems like someone actually found you worthwhile to marry, and so the thinking is you can’t be that bad of a person. And because of that, you should be smarter, more capable and responsible, able to make better decisions, etc. The halo effect.
My ex-husband used to say his clients and boss take him more seriously when they see a ring on his finger. I didn’t understand it then, but I understand it now.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of hardship and stigma for a divorced woman too, especially a divorced woman at a certain age, who’s not remarried or partnered up, and with no kids. My thoughts and opinions are second-guessed; people think they can encroach on my agency and say I should do this or feel that based on my status.
It used to bother me what conventional society thought, and that’s one of the things that made me stay in the relationship far longer than I should have. But now, I’ve learned to thicken up my skin and internalized that sooner or later, everyone dies. Even the judgmental ones. And when I’m on my deathbed, I don’t want to look back and wonder what my life could have been if I was brave enough to follow my heart.
Bucking norms was a really hard lesson to learn, and going through it without much support was extremely tough. But, I’m proud of my resilience, and I’m proud of finding my dignity more and more through loving who I am instead of relying on external validation.
In choosing between divorced or never been married, I feel lucky to be divorced.
I’ve gone through one of the most excruciating and painful events I could have ever imagined: a separation with my ex that ultimately led to my divorce.
For years of my life, I was stuck thinking about her. I didn’t want to move on, let go, or do anything else in my life. I was struck with grief and stayed paralyzed, devastated, and in tears for years.
I went through years of doing the spiritual work and the emotional work to heal and overcome the grief of our relationship ending. I wished that I was one of those people who just woke up and moved on to the next person.
Not I. I thought of myself as the loyal person who was going to stand on the battlefield of love and fight until the deadly end. I was going to keep the memories of this relationship alive and keep her in my life like she was still there and the relationship never ended. I would just reject the notion that this relationship was no more.
So, I stayed and suffered for years; grieving for some of those years, hoping she’d come back some of those years or simply remaining numb for some of those years.
I felt this was the most special and holiest of relationships. I felt like this woman was my soulmate who had been sent to me through the cosmos and I had found through the most divine circumstances.
I never for a second thought this relationship could end. The relationship ending felt like my life should have ended as well.
When it did end, I wanted to know how she could have done this. I wanted to know why she did this. I wanted to know much longer she would remain away from what I knew was a holy relationship.
I was lost and confused without hope or motivation about my own life.
So, year after year, I struggled and stayed stuck in the past. I continued to do the work and went all over the world searching for answers. I looked for answers in the hundreds of books I read. I looked for answers in the many therapist’s visits I had. I looked for answers with the spiritual gurus I visited and the ashrams around the world.
I wanted to find answers about why the relationship ended and how I was to let go of this relationship ending.
What I found in my search instead
As I did the work over the last several years, most of the answers that I discovered were hardly about my ex.
In fact, what I discovered was that my ex was simply a mirror and helped me see very issues that I should work on in my life. She showed me my childhood traumas that I was never exposed to. She showed me my lack of self-love and lack of belief in myself. She showed me my habits of over-thinking, rumination, and living my life in the past.
She showed me my aversion to change and uncertainty in life. Finally, she showed me that I regularly saw myself stuck in my own circumstances and would rather suffer in the things that I couldn’t change than try to make some positive change in my life.
I went on a deep journey to discover how to let go of the relationship and move on from her. I did find the answers to that but this journey also exposed me to hidden pains and emotional wounds that I was never aware of.
What they say is true. Relationships are your greatest spiritual teachers. They will bring up all your crap so you can deal with it.
You may take the journey believing that it’s your ex is the problem and your ex is mean, abusive, or hurtful but what I realized ultimate is that…
Your Ex Is Your Teacher
Through your relationship and later through your breakup, you will examine what happened and what went wrong.
More than likely, if you do the work of healing, you will discover that many of the issues that came up in the relationship have to do with your life-long hurts that have not been healed.
As you progress through your breakup journey, you will continue to discover unresolved pain, childhood traumas and other emotional wounds. You will soon make the discovery that much of the issues from this breakup are internal ones that you have to work on understanding and healing.
You thought you only had to deal with the grief of the breakup but your breakup will open the floodgates to all the other issues that are lurking within.
Your job now is becoming aware, discovering the emotional wounds, and working on healing them. You will soon realize that all the problems and blame that you had put on your ex will turn inward. You will see how various emotional wounds and inner hurts contributed to the relationship deteriorating.
Now is the time to look within, become aware and work on healing life-long wounds. Your ex is your teacher in this classroom on heartbreak.
Your task is to do the homework assigned to you, learn the lessons that are available to you and grow through this experience.
To get started on the work with your parents, start with my book on Amazon here. To start on self-love, check out this book on self-love after heartbreak. If you are feeling stuck in life, check out How Do I Get Unstuck on Amazon.
Some of the most difficult times in my life were after my marriage ended. Everything from getting out of bed and getting to work was hard. It was so shell-shocking and devastating that I didn’t know how to process it.
Without question, this was the most difficult period that I’ve ever experienced in my life. My marriage unraveled, I lost the place that I was living in, we lost the house we had, I left the job that I had and I ended up leaving the state that I was living in and moving back to California.
In one short 6 month period, my life had turned completely upside down and I was more broken than I ever was in my life. I was mentally a wreck, I was emotionally tormented and spiritually broken. Nothing so big had gone so wrong in my life.
Until this point, it had all been smooth sailing: a good education, a career as a lawyer, an early marriage to a woman I loved, and us purchasing a house together. We had so many dreams and things we wanted to do in life together. All of it just vanished when our relationship fell apart and the divorce papers were signed.
How to cope with the unimaginable?
I really did not know how I got through that period in my life. I honestly felt like I died and I was a ghost in the world. My ghostly body was going to work, going to yoga, and preparing food to eat. My soul was stuck deep underground and refused to see the light of day.
There was no future. There was no hope. There was no happiness. Or joy.
I shut myself off to the world around me. I stopped talking to all of the people in my life including my family, colleagues and friends.
I questioned the meaning of life and what was the point of it all.
This incident broke my happy-go-lucky spirit and shattered my soul into a million pieces. I was floating around in the world, not sure how to function as a human anymore.
The light in this broken place
It was in this depth of despair when everything had fallen apart that everything about me unraveled. Everything that I had known to be true was no longer true. This was the rock bottom moment in my life.
And it was in this moment that something special came about that I want to share with you if you’re in this moment in your life. When all of the walls in your life have fallen apart and when my human existence had cracked, I found myself in a sacred place.
This was a place of brokenness and nothingness.
I was lightly treading on this place where I nothing and knew no one. It was in this dark and lonely place that I discovered myself for the first time.
All of the joy and happiness had left. All of the people and love had left. All of the normalcy and familiarity had left. All that remained was me, myself and I.
The sacredness of brokenness
It was in this place where I knew no one and nothing that I created a temple for myself. This was when I became intimately familiar with the real me. The external trappings fell aside and I got to meet the real “Vishnu”.
This was the first proper introduction to who I was as a person. My life had become so shaken up that I was left to literally find myself and get to know this person. I found out about my hurts, my traumas, my pains. I started earnestly discovering who this person was, what he was like, and what he wanted.
In this soulful place is where I was able to see the broken parts. It was in this sacred place where I was able to work on healing the broken heart.
In retrospect, this place was not a welcoming or familiar place. It was dark, alone, and terrifying. I was a miserable wreck during this process but I had no choice. There was nothing else to hold onto. I had no choice but to see myself and work on myself which is what I started doing from that day onward.
The sacred work in front of you
Not everyone will be given this sacred space or get to visit this place you might find yourself in. Not everyone will have everything taken away from them as their life deteriorates completely.
If you’re reading this, you may be one of the few people who have the honor and privilege of being here in this dark, lonely and unsettling place.
Yet, it’s right here where you have no boundaries, no railings, and no familiarity that you can begin doing the work of healing, growing and becoming familiar with who you are.
It’s in this place of brokenness you can align with the divine. It’s in this place you can let the light in. It’s in this place that you can become fully who you were meant to be.
There are no distractions or noise here. Just you, the universe, your soul, and the light.
Take a moment to put your hands together, bow and honor this space.
This may feel like the most broken place you’ve found yourself in but this is also where the healing begins.
This space here is your temple.
This is where the divine can be found.
This is where the light enters you.
In early 2015, I was divorced from my husband.
It was clean, in terms of assets. It was a short marriage and relationship, so we didn’t amass too much, and we didn’t have kids. He didn’t want to contest anything, which I much appreciated. I can’t even imagine having to fight and drag this out in court, while my life seemingly ended.
Truthfully, though, this marriage should have ended long ago, maybe not even have happened. Escalating commitments and a strong desire for this not to be a failure was what kept me going. I was afraid, afraid that if it did not last, I would experience something again that played a huge role in my life growing up. It shaped most my decisions, and even the anticipation of it kept me on path, however wrong.
That something was shame, and I’m all too familiar it.
When I was 7 or 8, my parents separated. We were the first family I knew that had divorced parents, much less the first Asian family.
It was a tumultuous time; I didn’t know what it would mean for us as a family anymore. None of the adults talked to my older brother and I to try to make any sense of it for us. It was probably thought that it was best not to involve the kids, as we may not understand anyway. But I remember the feeling of someone talking about you behind your back. The hushed tones and quieting up when you come into a room. That feeling.
And, I acutely remember instructions from my aunt. She was the only person who ever mentioned my parents’ divorce to us, just so we would know what to say, or not say.
“Don’t tell anyone your parents are divorced, or they will make fun of you. They will make fun of you that you’re from a broken family. If anyone asked where your mom is, just say she went on vacation.”
Laughable now, but that was the beginning of the long road of internalizing shame.
She could have never known that, while trying to protect us and upholding her values, she set off a decades-long, deep-seated feeling of inferiority and not belonging within me. After that, I hoped to God no one would ever ask me about my parents, because then I’d have to lie. It didn’t feel good to lie. So a few times, I told the truth.
The reactions, especially from other Asians, confirmed my aunt’s truth. They didn’t make fun, but they were shocked. Then, always the awkward silence, and the look of pity. And that didn’t feel good either.
I kept that shame with me wherever I went. I never learned the skills to fight it, as Asians do not believe in mental health disorders or getting therapy. You just dealt by not thinking about it, by numbing, hoping the passage of time would heal all wounds. Seeing my dad today, I venture to say it’s largely true. He’s no longer bitter, but it took him a long time to get there, and during that process, he unloaded an unhealthy amount of baggage on me. It was too much for a barely-tween to handle.
In 2010, I met my ex-husband. Red flags and gut feelings surfaced, but I just dismissed them, not wanting to rock the boat. More arguments would inevitably lead to the divorce discussion, and that was a topic best kept at bay.
And so I soldiered on… longer, harder than I ever have before, until I physically and mentally just couldn’t anymore. I remembered looking at myself in the mirror, and thinking that I was just a shell of who I used to be. I no longer was that vibrant, laughing, silly girl. It was in that moment, that I decided the pain of staying was far greater than the pain of leaving. And so I left. But I knew the real battle was about to begin.
In my mind, I had already begun prepping myself for when I was to face my family. I consoled myself, telling myself that in a couple of years, when the dust settled, no one would even remember and blink an eye. No one would see you as a failure and an embarrassment. More importantly, no one would die from your dishonor, from your family sustaining yet another divorce, from you being over 25 and now unmarried, which solidly classified you as a leftover woman in Chinese culture. A divorced leftover woman. Basically used goods.
It was easier said than done.
I was living overseas with him, and did not tell my immediate family I was back stateside, for good, until about a month in. I couldn’t. No matter how logically I thought about it, there was no way to override that emotional imprint that shame left when I was a kid.
Not only that, people carried the shame for me. My mother, not wanting her coworkers to see me with her, lest they ask questions. My family not talking to me about it, or talking to me about anything. Awkward silences.
That is shame at its best: silencer, isolater, inferior complex.
I decided this time around the shame outcome was going to be different. I am older, and have much more resources available. The next few years, I took my time to really unpack it. I no longer want shame to tag along wherever I went. I wanted to finally live my life for me, hold my head up high and know that a broken marriage should not, and does not, define me. I wanted to break the cycle and not give it the power it clearly does not deserve. The journey was tough and intense, but needed to happen.
Today, shame is no longer my shadow. This past Thanksgiving, my aunt… the same aunt who long ago unwittingly set my path of shame in motion, also the person I love and respect the most in this world… spoke about my divorce to me in hushed tones along with some hurtful words. She did not mean to hurt. She was actually being very loving, loving in the only way she knew how. Because I’ve since let go of shame presiding, I was able to take what she said in stride, which was meant for my best, and no longer feel the burden to carry.
The divorced status brought me down, but also set me free.
*Sunny is a Medium writer who writes about persona growth and spirituality. You can read more of her stories here on the Turning Point.
Hi, I’m Vishnu
I’m a writer and coach who helps people overcome devastating breakups and divorces. Instead of moving to the Himalayas, people find healing, clarity, and direction here. Learn more about me here.
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