I’ve been living a half truth. I suspect many people are. It seems that it is a popular thing within our culture to not “air our dirty laundry.” People call it oversharing (an ugly label). They say it’s not socially acceptable to shamelessly wave certain life-bits around in people’s faces and whatnot. We don’t air our dirty laundry here. We have dignity.
Being a perfectionist and also wanting to be vulnerable, to be known, and to be understood doesn’t help things either. I’ve thought hard about how to share these things, because my thought process (which you can laugh at, by the way. I laughed out loud) sounds something like this:
I’m going to show everyone how imperfect I am. But I need to do it PERFECTLY.
I’ve been separated since last December. This is our third time living apart. That’s a lot of times in five and a half years of marriage. That’s not very clean and tidy, as far as laundry goes.
I looked up the idiom “airing dirty laundry.” And the whole idea of it is that when company comes over, we should hide our laundry that “needs washing” in order to avoid embarrassing ourselves and our guests.
Why do our lives need to be embarrassing if they are presented as anything other than washed and pressed and smelling Downy fresh? Whose lives are like that anyway?
Why is this especially true within Christianity, where the very core of our beliefs comes from knowing on a heart and soul level that He is the one who has already made us white as snow?
It all seems very contradictory to me.
Some people know about my marriage. Anyone who I have actually shared this blog so far knows (which is not many people). Some people know because someone else told them. But it’s not something I’ve shared openly. In fact, when I do let people know, I make sure to tell them that I don’t go around telling others this information. I attach this qualifier to my sordid confession like its own little badge of honour. Like even though my failure is colossal, I’m at least succeeding at holding onto some semblance of “proper living” by not spreading it around unnecessarily.
“I’m separated. But it’s not something I’m advertising.”
It’s not something I share because that would be inappropriate, right? No one needs to know THAT. I’ve somehow sanitized the grimy part of my story by painting it and polishing it and smiling. Or by avoiding. Avoiding is my favourite.
My chosen separation experiences so far have been kind of like being 16 and pregnant in 1952. We’re going to try to remedy this by sending you off to your great aunt’s farm for the duration of the whole “unfortunate” experience. No one has to know. You’ll come back in 9 months a little bit chubbier and tired, but no one will be the wiser. It will be like it never happened. Because that’s how our hands are kept clean.
Dear 2012-2017 version of me: smarten up, man.
Because this ISN’T my dirty laundry; it isn’t my dirty little secret. This is my life that I live every day. And it’s about time that I’m NOT sorry for living it or for sharing it with other humans.
I’m so tired of smiling and saying “I’m good! How are you?” When someone says says “hi” and asks how I am. I’m sick of smiling being our default mode. I’m tired of hiding away and avoiding people who I’m afraid will judge me for it. I’m tired of trying to avoid conversations that might end with some of the gory details slipping out. I’m tired of being more comfortable talking with strangers than I am with people I have known for years, because if strangers know, somehow it won’t matter as much. I’m tired of cringing at the thought of separation and divorce, like it’s a more cringeworthy thing than any other life thing that happens.
I’m so sick and tired of marriage being considered to be a badge of honour and a mark of some kind of success, and anything other than marriage – including separation and divorce – being considered a failure (especially within the church).
I’m done with marriage, separation, and divorce being the things that define me.
Here are some truths:
– Being married and staying married doesn’t automatically equal success.
– Being separated or divorced doesn’t automatically equal failure.
– Presenting a marriage or relationship in the best way possible doesn’t mean much. Public plastered smiles don’t mean much. Especially if they’re plastered over tears that are begging to escape.
– We can be sorry for things we have done. This doesn’t mean we have to be apologetic about our lives.
I’ve lived the divorced life, and it’s not super fun to go to a new church when you’re a single woman with two kids. Not all of the people treat you badly. Some are actually really great. But it’s not an easy or natural fit in church culture. I don’t think many of them really know what to do with us sometimes. Sometimes they don’t trust us not to swoop in on their husbands. Sometimes they don’t know what kinds of things they’re allowed to ask us. Sometimes they just don’t know how to be loving while dutifully reminding us of our “sinful state of being.” It’s all kinds of awkward, and it’s lonely. It’s not something one generally desires to repeat once they’ve experienced it.
I’ve wanted to make a difference for a long time, to find my purpose. But I have also believed the lie that in order to live my purpose, my life needs to be pulled together first. For example, I want to help marriages and people within marriage – and also through divorce. But in order to do that, I have believed that my own marriage must be all stitched up and healed over and polished first. Because who will listen to or believe the wreckiest wreck of all?? I have no credibility here. So, I have changed my own mind.
My separation is a SUCCESS, not a failure.
I could be living with my husband right now. We would be showing up at places together, we would smile, and we could put on the ultimate marriage show. It would be easy in many ways. I would not have to wonder how to explain the fact that we are separated when sometimes we are together and other times we are not. I wouldn’t have to think about “who knows and who doesn’t know, and would this confuse them?” when I post a picture of my husband and I together on Facebook.
Trust me, when someone is in their second marriage, almost ANYTHING feels more appealing than another divorce. There’s a different kind of pressure for a second marriage to make it.
Even if we’re having a bad day, we can still claim some sort of “victory” over the fact that “marriage is hard” but we’re hanging in there. Because that’s the most important thing, right? That we endure living with each other for the sake of marriage itself?
No. Just no.
My separation is a success because sometimes, separation is what needs to happen in order to become truly healthy. It is a success because my marriage needs to be refined and redefined. It needs to be ripped open and picked apart. It is a success because I am becoming aware of who I am and how I have grown, how I am still growing. It is a success because I have grown closer to God as a result of it.
No matter what the outcome, if I become closer to God, that’s success.
My separation is a success because my marriage has been a polished car with a broken engine. And instead of putting it through the car wash, it’s in the shop.
Being broken and admitting I’m broken is a success. Not pretending to have it together, to be something I’m not, is a success. Being authentic about the messy parts of my life is a success. Giving all of my broken pieces to God so that He can put them back together – regardless of marriage or divorce – is a success.
So there it is, my laundry. It isn’t dirty; it just IS. And no one else has to wear it. But I’m done trying to hide it. It doesn’t define me. It isn’t how God sees me. And it isn’t how I’m going to see myself anymore.