Last week was my wedding anniversary. Had I stayed married the date would have marked nine years of marriage and almost fifteen years together.
For someone who barely even feels seventeen on the inside, those numbers are scary.
Last week was also the busiest time my inbox has been when it comes to ‘help, I think I’m getting a divorce’ emails. Forget Blue Monday, in my emails Splitting Up January is more of a thing.
There’s something about Christmas that brings out both the best and the worst in everyone, and I think festive pressure is a huge contributing factor in the spate of separations that happen come January. I remember my last married Christmas well: I had a raging infection so spent the days surrounding the 25th doing rounds of the open pharmacies hunting down antibiotics, in between doing a 5am Tesco run and preparing dinner for 12 family members. It was Hux’s first festive period so I also played Santa, staying up late on Christmas Eve to wrap presents that I’d unwrap myself on his behalf the next morning.
We argued, I didn’t sleep, It was very tough.
Of course all the family time was lovely and wonderful. But I was also really glad when real life returned to our antibiotic-induced normal in January.
Until real life meant splitting up.
We split up a couple of months post-Christmas, just as the first of the Spring daffodils were appearing. It was, as you’d expect, horrible.
Five years on and it really isn’t horrible any more. I used to see 12th January, my wedding anniversary, as a day almost full of regret and sadness, a time to sit and reflect on the mess I’d made of my marriage. I’d wonder if I’d thrown away my twenties as I spent them married, pregnant and sleep-deprived, and spend hours mulling on what-ifs.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in those five years, it’s that regrets and anger have no business in my life. And if I hadn’t married at the age of 23 I’d have probably spent the following years wondering the opposite ‘what ifs’. Looking at my marriage as a waste of time rather than a learning experience is silly: it was a personality-former, a time that helped me discover the person I really wanted to be.
At 27 when I was facing a life alone I never would have predicted what was in store in my future. I didn’t want to be a single mum, I was so ashamed for people to find out my marital status that when meeting new acquaintances I’d do anything to steer conversations away from husbands or family life. I hid my left hand behind my back, hoping nobody would clock my lack of a wedding ring, and when out alone with the children I’d talk loudly about Daddy being away lest a stranger judged me for being on my own with kids. Everywhere I looked I saw nuclear families, mummies and daddies playing happy parents with their 2.4 good looking children.
It felt so lonely, but more to the point it was so unlike anything I’ve ever wanted for myself and my family. I hated feeling ashamed of what I’d become, and I made an unconscious decision that if I was going to be relegated to the rubbish pile of society’s assumptions then I’d be the best darn single mum I could be.
And that’s exactly what I reflected on this January 12th, an event-filled 5 years post-separation. Through happy tears I looked at photos of the journey the kids and I have come on since 2013, the literal and figurative steps we’ve all taken on this road called life. I looked around the home I have created for the three of us, the books we love, the sofa we snuggle on, the music we listen to. I read my work emails and felt proud of the career I have forged, thanking whichever deity exists that I’ve been able to carve such a lovely existence for my family from what I thought would be a life of struggle and shame. I even thought about my ex-husband who, though he was never the man for me, along with his lovely fiancé are both very dear parts of our puzzle.
I’m not sure when I realised it would all be OK. It was quite a while after the split when it dawned on me that we would survive, though to be honest I still have the odd (read: regular) sweaty night tossing and turning, worrying that I’ve peaked and all my positivity, parenting skills and hard work will disappear in a poof of smoke.
Spoiler: that hasn’t happened yet. It may be too late for my frown lines, a result of hours of fretting, but it really is all going to be OK.
And it will be for you, too.