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.

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