It has been a long time - a very, very long, measured in years, time - since I have loved my ex-husband. I remember the moment I fell out of it, and wailing like my limbs were being torn from my body. It was dramatic and the pain was that palpable. But once the feeling left, there was no turning back to watch that feeling wither into the ground.
Sometimes still, I am surprised at how quickly that happened, after eleven years into the relationship and a very smug, certain sense that we'd be together forever. But it did. Now when I meet people who never knew me married, they laugh and shake their heads and wonder aloud how it was that I was married to him. But I was.
I'm not sad I fell out of love. It actually made the process easier, I believe. There was no pining. I hold no jealousies. I am disconnected from that place where we were once tethered. I can remember it, of course, recall it in little vignettes to share with my son so he knows that once upon a very long time ago, his parents were truly, madly, deeply.
I thought of this all, as I do occasionally. It was 6:24 pm, just a few minutes from the buzzer ringing and my son speeding off with his dad for his weekly Wednesday night visitation, and I was standing in the bathroom mirror wiping away smudged eyeliner and putting on lip gloss.
It made me laugh. It has been nearly seven years since I loved this man, and without thinking, I still check myself in the mirror most times before he arrives at the door.
Why is that?
I want to say that it is because I do it for everyone but the nice old man who bounds up the four flights of stairs to deliver sushi too often to our home. And that's mostly true. When my mom stops by or the Not Boyfriend is on his way in, I freshen up quickly before the door handle turns. But my ex-husband is not that close in the family circle, not a person I feel the compulsion to look pretty for, not someone I care to impress. Or is he?
I think the reason for the lip gloss and the hair combing is actually more about me than him. If I am honest with myself, really digging below all that concealer, I think that the reason I fuss over my appearance before he arrives is because it is my way of presenting a clear and confident and together me to the person who represents the biggest pain and deception and heartbreak of my life.
I really, really (and I mean this, really) do not desire him to desire me - that isn't it (really). I don't fancy up because I want him to think, "Wow, Jessica looks great." Instead, I think it is my way of gearing myself up to open that door, my way of affirming for myself that I've got this, I've got myself and my life together - no smudges, no stains, no hair out of place.
It's superficial, I know. But something about that works, or can work.
Even before I met my ex-husband, I was teaching Introduction to Women Studies at a college as a grad student. One of my favorite essays to assign was by a young feminist who claimed her space in a room, and therefore in her life, after much abuse and misogyny, by wearing combat boots. The simple act of lacing them up and clomping around, making noise and announcing her presence with each step she boldly took, made her feel closer to her true self, to grabbing hold of an empowered life.
I feel that way when I wear heels. I stand taller, straighter, prouder, feel more professional, confident, focused. While we could debate for volume after volume of a gender studies thesis the contradiction of a feminist slipping into heels to feel her power, it works for me. If I am on a conference call with a new client or typing up a big proposal or putting my fingers to the keyboard to type a post about something vulnerable or hilarious or truth-telling, you can be sure there are heels on the feet that are firmly planted beneath me as I do. Even if I am in my home office, alone, at midnight.
The same, I really believe, goes for the lipstick and the ex at the door. This is who I am deciding to be at this moment - with a deep breath and eyes on the mirror.
I'm not saying this is right. Or all good. Or that my therapy here is done. Who I am in relationship with myself as this person's ex-wife is something that evolves, every other week for $185 an hour out-of-pocket. Or at least when it comes up that I've shifted, a situation has arisen, or it is time for me to revisit what I thought I knew about about moving through divorce with health and grace and calm.
And maybe that pause at the mirror was an important reflection. Maybe I was ready to realize that I don't have to present any certain thing at all when he is at my door. I just have to show up as I am - a woman who has moved on, a mother to our son, a lady who is not at all perfect at the core or on the surface.
Perhaps I will practice that, letting my hair go mussed and my not worrying if the concealer has worn off under my tired eyes. It might just be the time to see how it feels to be a little more naked in those moments and what new confidence might emerge if I do.
What about you? Do you still dress up or fix your makeup before you see your ex?
Why do you think you do - honestly? What advice do you have for me?