A few weeks after I locked the door on my husband for the last time, I went out with friends to a bar. After twelve years in a relationship, I had no intention of dating anyone for a very long time. I wanted only a nice night out, away from all the worries of filing for divorce and the hard conversations I knew were coming.
I don’t even know if he came up to me, or I to him. But I remember he wore a soft, white turtleneck sweater, and he spoke with the most glorious accent.
His name was Ben*. Originally from South Africa, he went to boarding school in England and arrived stateside to train aspiring athletes in tennis for world-class competitions. Somehow, in the middle of Minnesota, on my first night out, I’d met a foreign tennis pro who wanted to take me out to dinner. Maybe it was the second glass of pinot grigio talking, but I said yes.
Next, over the course of a few months, I misplaced my mind.
With a divorce in the works, a young son to care for, a new job to learn, a novel to write, and my sanity to maintain, Ben was the perfect distraction. Instead of worrying about custody arrangements, I worried if Ben would text me back. Instead of fretting that my boss took a leave of absence only a couple of weeks after I started my new job, I obsessed over what he meant by, “See you later.” I’m not suggesting that I didn’t handle my business or stay devoted to my young son. I did. But, because I had Ben and this silly little romance to occupy my mind, I worried much less about the “real” stuff. The elephant-sized problem, however, had become obvious to me from my very first date with Ben. We had nothing whatsoever in common. He reminded me of my not-yet-ex-husband: a man-child struggling to grow up.
Though he had the best of manners and paid me all kinds of compliments—the very things I needed to hear at that moment—no topic of conversation interesting to me could hold his attention. I did not want to date him. Did not. But here I was, thinking about him, wondering when he’d text me and when I’d see him again.
He’d already told me he didn’t want to get too romantically involved with a not-yet-divorced woman. I’d agreed with him. We weren’t “involved.” The logical, rational part of my brain knew that. But, the other part, the emotional part, had other ideas.
This thing was going nowhere, and yet when I didn’t hear from him for a few days I found myself indignant and frustrated. Why didn’t this guy love me? Isn’t that my job, to get him to love me? I’m attractive enough, successful enough, smart enough. But he held firm. I demanded to know why he didn’t want to date me—not the whole “you’re not divorced yet” excuse but the REAL reason.
Ben, polite and firm, simply said, “That is the real reason. You don’t want to date me. You know you don’t.” I was forced to accept this answer, but my heart still stung. Over the next several months I dissected this tryst as I sorted through the mess of divorce, custody, finances, and all the rest.
Why had a guy I didn’t even really like beyond a polite interest, capture my full, almost desperate, attention?
I’d had the vague sensation through the whole of our “relationship” that something was wrong inside my head. I couldn’t stop myself, but I knew I was playing out the Cliff’s Notes version of my relationship with my ex-husband. How I had been so willing to give up what I wanted in order to serve what he needed. Worse, how I had thought these guys, both Ben and my ex, were the best I deserved and it was my job to engage their interest, never questioning if they truly had mine in return. (Or even if what I wanted mattered at all.)
The confident woman in me looks at that paragraph and cringes. But it’s the truth. I would have told you I deserved a mature, thoughtful, kind, generous, financially stable man. But I didn’t act like it. I acted like a woman desperate for a fixer-upper. Eventually, I understood that these men allowed me to hide. Instead of claiming what I wanted, I distracted myself from the very real business of building a meaningful, creative life.
It was easier to find a man to fix than to focus on myself. If I focused on myself I’d have to confront the truth: I had no idea who this person I called “myself” actually was.
For the first thirty-seven years of my life, I’d been an ostrich with her head in the sand. My single greatest responsibility from the moment I had courage enough to pick my head up, was to understand just how much I had been hiding and what hiding had cost me. Then, the work began to figure out not only who I was, but also who I wanted to be.
Now, five years later, much has changed. I met and married a man who needs no fixing. I’m healthier and happier than I’ve ever been. I’m writing, reading, and creating daily. But, the most important change has nothing to do with what I’m “doing” or how successful I may be.
The most important change is simply this: I’m not hiding anymore. I’ve found and continue to cultivate the courage to be present, to be wrong, to be afraid and yet still love this person—this “me” I get to be.
I am a portrait never finished, a garden ever growing, a clock in need of winding. In other words, I’m myself. And that’s enough.
About the Author:
Angela Noel lives and writes in Minneapolis. In between fiction projects, she posts inspiring stories about interesting ideas and compelling people on the You are Awesome blog. She enjoys yoga and loves books, humans, wine, and chocolate (but not necessarily in that order). Connect with her on Twitter at or Facebook or subscribe to her blog for a new post each week.