It took me six months to realize I still owned a toaster.
It was buried in a cupboard among a hodgepodge of forgotten kitchen appliances and accoutrements, stashed away in a careless hurry. This is what most of my cupboards’ insides look like: as if someone shoved pieces of their life into nooks and crannies in a space-saving desperation and with little regard for order or discoverability.
Clearly I haven’t bothered to take inventory of the material minutiae carried over from my former married life, all refugee items from a cutthroat downsizing – which is necessary work when losing an extra 1,500 square feet of living space and fleeing domestication. I used to do things like bake pies from scratch and assemble my husband’s homemade lunches with affectionate Post-it notes tucked between sandwich bags. Now it takes me 30 minutes to figure out if I even still own a pie dish. RIP domestic goddess; you had a good run while it lasted.
But these unorganized cupboards and limited square feet of apartment space are all mine, decorated and feng shuied just the way I like them. I get to load the dishwasher however I like, a trivial luxury that dawned on me after two months of habitually still arranging it in a way to please someone who wasn’t there anymore.
Adjusting to divorced life wasn’t what I thought it would be. I wish I could say Oh of course I kept up my running routine, it was a wonderful escape and stress relief method and an all-natural antidepressant. I mean, I can barely keep track of my appliances.
Instead I retreated away from it.
Sometimes, on a run, you dig into things that mentally need some digging into. Sometimes you avoid running altogether so you won’t have to dig, or because what you need is a glass of wine in your pajamas instead. And then sometimes you sprint 3 miles through a torrential downpour, on purpose, because it sounds good for an insane moment.
I’ve made limited space for running in the past year and a half, but I come back sporadically when I can – and like a dear old friend, it always greets me warmly, in spite of why I’ve been gone.
This week my favorite column, which often speaks directly to my heart, instead spoke directly to my inner divorcee:
“It wasn’t until I moved out that I began to see there hadn’t been room for me in my relationship. And not merely because my ex hadn’t offered it – it had never occurred to me to ask.”
She was describing losing herself – her own habits and preferences, the essence of who she was – because of falling in love. I’m not talking about loading dishwashers the right way or making common relationship compromises. I’m talking about the feeling that you’ve melded yourself into a situation and sacrificed bits and pieces of yourself you didn’t think to miss. I’m talking about the pattern of letting another person lead you down a rabbit hole so deep you forget where you began.
I don’t have room for me in my relationships because I give my partners all the square footage they need, and more – a flaw on my part, not theirs. As a result, parts of me get pushed out of the picture, tucked away in a cupboard like a forgotten toaster.
Untangling yourself is messy, awful business, made even worse by legal bounds. Simply as an act of self-preservation, I probably won’t ever get married again. I don’t say that as a cynic or a realist or a scorned woman. I don’t say it as an affront to married people. Make no mistake: I’ll get tangled up in relationships again and again, for certain. I just need a less-messy path back to me when necessary.
For now, I’ll enjoy giving myself all the square footage to do whatever I please, to bake pies or not, to toss things carelessly in the dishwasher or to be an unorganized hot mess if I want. Maybe the longer I give myself space to be me, the harder it will be to forget to ask for it again.
And when I’m ready to dig into that place inside my head, I know my old friend running will be waiting for me, always with an endless supply of space to give.