My divorce story

My most-clicked link on Colloquial.ly: the "divorce" category. The #1 in-site search term: "divorce."

You nosy bastards.

(it's okay, you're allowed to be nosy, this site is built on honesty).

Sure, I'll give the people what they want. So here goes. I'll tell you about how my marriage turned into not-a-marriage, how I healed (it wasn't pretty), and how I turned that trauma into a life of travel. Gear up, folks, this is a long one.

A couple notes before I start: I won't give you photos of my ex. The photos you get will be of me + my family + my friends, never of him. I also won't give you his name - not because it's a secret, but because this is only my side of the story. I don't want this to show up in Google results when people search for his name. He is a good person, he doesn't know about this blog (probably, actually I have no idea), and I'm not that mean. 

 

The background

I got married at 21. I told approximately three non-family members about that marriage, because at 21, all I could think was, I am so not that girl. I am a career-minded, independent person! I don't want to be married at 21! I kept it a secret for quite a while, out of shame and out of insecurity.

So why'd I do it in the first place? Because my college boyfriend, whom I loved dearly, had just applied for a green card and gotten denied. His life in America, his career in marketing, his entire future would be stripped away from him if he were to be deported to Uzbekistan - his home country.

So I married him, on a 100 degree day in July, four days after that rejection letter from US Immigration Services, in order to give someone I loved a life he wanted.

My dad and I, right after I got married. I love this picture.

My dad and I, right after I got married. I love this picture.

We didn't have a wedding, per se - we grabbed our favorite traffic lawyer (who happened to be an ordained minister), found some vows on the internet, did a 5-minute ceremony with our parents on our college campus, signed the papers, and ate some cake. A glorified courthouse-wedding-meets-elopement.

I told myself we'd have gotten married eventually, this just forced the point. Would we have? I'm not so sure. 21-year-old me, you thought you knew a whole lot about the world and life and the nature of love.

The Happy

My ex and I were together for five years (married for three and a half). We had four great years, half a good year, and a few months of a downward spiral.

It's tempting, after divorce, to want to forget the great and only remember the downward spiral. The degradation of a life together is, of course, more raw than the happy moments. Those happy moments feel like they belong to a different version of myself, a different life entirely.

But they existed. Those four years of wonderful existed, and I refuse to let myself forget that. For a while, I had a strong and happy marriage. A few of those happy moments, from those four years:

We had a dog, who we both adored. A dog that now lives with him. I miss that little ball of crazy fluff every day. 

We had a beautiful townhouse. I curated our collection of art and decorated our home in my own style, which my ex loved and would proudly brag about to our friends.

I learned to play the ukulele and sang him his favorite songs.

We traveled, we explored, we laughed, we grew.

So yeah. We had some happy years.

The half of a "good" year was the time in which we started to grow apart, though neither of us realized it. Nothing was really wrong, it was just a little less close, a little less bonded.

The downward spiral is more obvious, more raw. We had three months of feeling off. My ex became distant. He took little interest in my family, though my father was in and out of the hospital with his third bout of cancer. I'm still angry about that. My ex spent more time at the gym, more weekends downtown with the guys, away from me. He didn't pick me up from the airport when I got home from a business trip. After a previous business trip, he missed me so badly that he scooped me up at the airport and took me home to a perfect meal. Not this time. It was odd, confusing, but I dismissed it.

A hard patch, I thought.

 

The breakup

The end of my marriage happened at a gastropub in Durham on a chilly day, autumn of 2014. We drove to a spot near our townhouse in my little convertible. We talked about marriage things, like replacing my car (he wanted an SUV so that we could put kayaks on top of it) and our next adventures.

We talked about our future, moments before he told me he was questioning everything. A reflection of his confusion, certainly. He didn't know what he wanted.

There was a lull in our conversation. He looked troubled. He had just started a new job, and it had been extraordinarily stressful. I had been helping him through that stress, and I was prepared to help him a little more. I took his hand and said, are you okay?

He took a breath and said, not really.

He told me he was questioning every decision he'd made as an adult. Where to live, his job, career path... relationships...

The last one took a moment to sink in. I remember how my sympathy and feeling of warm, caring adoration shifted. First to confusion, then to a stabbing pain, then to panic. 

I drove home through the hysterics and the sobs, because he didn't know how to drive my stick shift convertible, and how else would we get back to Grapevine Trail?

I tried to help him as a wife, as a bit of a martyr in hindsight. It's a period of depression, I thought, we'll get through it. I tried everything I could think of, tried to be the only strong one, tried to pull him out of his malaise out of love.

But here's the thing. Both parties have to want to get through it. I couldn't be the only one fighting for us. He was convinced that marriage might not be for him, that our love was holding him back from the experiences he wanted to have in life.

He's stubborn, too, and he was convinced that he no longer believed in partnership as a concept.

I wasn't going to stay married to someone who didn't want to fight for it.

He told me that I was the perfect wife, that he loved me forever but that he couldn't give me commitment anymore. If I wanted a life partner, he told me, it would be you.

What?

So that's how my marriage ended. 

 

The Broken

I lost at least 20 pounds (on my already thin frame) because I couldn't eat for months. I got tinier and tinier. The longer my depression went on, the more beautiful I thought I looked. A tiny morsel of satisfaction in an era of terrible.

The photo on the left was two weeks after he left, the first day that I could pull myself together enough to dress nicely. The right was New Year's Eve, after two months of not being able to eat. I've never been that little.

To be clear: I wanted to eat. I desperately wanted a real meal, but every time I looked at food, I'd get nauseated. The taste was like acid in my mouth. Revolting, impossible to swallow. I lived off peppermint tea and white rice, the only things that didn't turn my stomach.

I gained it all back, and then some, when I was less broken. I developed all-consuming body insecurities because the tiny waif of a depressed Taylor was so much more conventionally beautiful than the one who doesn't get nauseated at the thought of food. I got used to being tiny, and suddenly my healthier frame wasn't good enough. Chloe would talk me through the days when I couldn't look in the mirror. She would reinforce health over beauty and remind me that my body was changed from my months of 100-calories-a-day. I was gaining weight because my biology was scared that I'd starve again. She reassured me that I was doing everything right. That it would normalize, and if it didn't, so what?

It's gotten better (and my body did normalize, back to my pre-divorce size), but I still struggle with body issues. I've never dealt with them before. It's all very new.

I slept maybe three hours a night, because my panicked brain couldn't stop obsessing over my trauma. I'd wake up screaming, sobbing, or shaking with cold sweats.

I burst into tears in public more times than I could count. Once, I collapsed into a panic attack on the floor of Nordstrom. I pulled myself together amidst the disapproving side-eyes of Durham's Most Affluent.

I could only just hold it together, and sometimes even that was asking too much.

 

The HealinG

I buried myself in my job, only to realize that I had come to dislike everything about it. Work only made me feel more trapped, more confined to the inevitability of anxiety and stress.

I reinvested my emotional energy into friendships, which blossomed in ways I couldn't have expected. This, perhaps, is what helped me heal more than anything.

"This can be our knight in shining armor," Amanda said, as we took this picture. This was two weeks after he left. Note my puffy eyes, tired from all the tears.

"This can be our knight in shining armor," Amanda said, as we took this picture. This was two weeks after he left. Note my puffy eyes, tired from all the tears.

I dated too early, because I was broken and trying to desperately find my way through trauma. It helped, though, I met people who taught me what I wanted and what I didn't. I found passion and connection, and I learned that intense connection and lasting connection are not synonymous. I found mundane, I found shitty people, I eventually found balance. I filled my calendar and learned the value of having nothing to do, how to say "hell no" to dates with a frustrating person.

I took solo trips and trips with friends. I climbed mountains, did cartwheels in the park, waterskiied behind my family's boat in the ocean.

I blocked my ex on every social network and cut off all contact, except for the absolute necessities. I'm a big believer in no contact. It worked wonders for me.

There's no magic formula, really. It just took a lot of time, a lot of love, a lot of finding joy. But mostly time.

 

The Jeff

I met Jeff in June of 2015. I was still pretty bruised, still not through the trauma, definitely not ready to fall in love again.

But we did fall. Because I could tell it would be him, because I love him more and differently than I've ever loved. I walked away from our first date with a massive grin on my face and an elated sense of hope. After two dates, we both knew. He added me to his October birthday reservation, after a week of knowing each other, before anything was official. I was scared because it was real and real, for me, only led to pain.

I was honest and open about my scars. I talked freely about divorce, my fear of abandonment, how I wanted to trust but didn't know how. He was (is) patient and understanding. I healed and fell at the same time. Perhaps not advisable, perhaps not conventional, but I don't regret it. There's my stubborn determination again, refusing to let this person become just a guy I went on a perfect date with, just because the timing wasn't right. We made our own timing. Jeff held my heart, gently and dearly.

I was terrified of falling in love. You can see the fear on my face in the photo below. We had been dating for just over a month. We both knew this was different, this wouldn't be a short relationship. For him, that was a peaceful contentment of finding a partner. For me, it was panic.

Raleigh, August 2015. His face says don't worry, babe, you're safe.

Mine says I don't believe you, not yet, no matter how much I want to.

We got there, eventually. My face rarely registers fear nowadays, and he doesn't begrudge me the months it took to believe that he wouldn't break my heart.

Jeff is a saint. His patience, his willingness to listen, his calm demeanor and his selfless heart are the compliments to my own traits. Things that I didn't know I was missing in marriage and that I didn't know I needed in a partner.

Contrast my face to Buenos Aires, March 2016. Even terrible, squinty pictures of us show the lack of fear these days.

 

Remote Year

I saw an ad for Remote Year in September and immediately felt as though it were my future. RY felt like the life of my own design, the one I had already started dreaming about with Jeff.

He wanted to move abroad for several months, working from his company's offices in other countries. I already knew I'd follow him anywhere, and I was so excited to fulfill my lifelong dream of living in Europe. Where would we go? Amsterdam, Spain, Paris, Denmark? How would I make money? Could I take that much time off from a career? Did I want to?

And then I found Remote Year and realized we could travel with 75 friends, and I wouldn't have to take a career break. I found out about remote work. It was a lightbulb. Everything that make me feel trapped, anxious, stressed about my job didn't have to be.

I could live and work on my own terms. Really and truly, not approaching career with a sense of terror and dread.

I could be free from a constant feeling that I was living someone else's life, free from the memories of marriage that confronted me in North Carolina. Sure, I joined Remote Year in part to run from something. But I'm also running toward travel, running toward a new life with my person.

I could climb Machu Picchu with my love, fall asleep in his arms on a sailboat off the coast of Croatia, stroll hand-in-hand through Angor Wat. All in a year and all as a part of daily life.

Also, this.

Also, this.

There are problems with Remote Year, certainly. It's not the easiest way to live and I feel the strain. But of course it's still surreal, of course it's worth it.

It's the start of living on my own terms.

Remote Year was the catalyst for living the way I choose, but honestly changing jobs has expedited my life satisfaction more than travel. Travel is a hobby. Tortuga fuels my passion. Remote Year led me to remote work, and Tortuga is what made me feel free.

 

Hindsight is 20-20

I felt like a bonafide adult in my marriage, but I wasn't - not really. I was responsible and had a career and didn't feel like a kid. 

In a lot of ways, to my current self, I wasn't quite there yet.

I did a lot of things right, but I also thought I understood things that I didn't.

Don't give me that look, younger self, it's true.

Don't give me that look, younger self, it's true.

I didn't yet understand the difference between the things I wanted (or didn't want) versus what I was "supposed" to want.

I didn't realize that I could make my own reality.

I didn't yet understand the things about a partner that don't work with core aspects of my personality. I didn't understand that stubborn determination and constant loyalty weren't enough.

I knew that love was an action, a choice rather than a feeling. But I didn't yet understand how much innate aspects of the who matters in that choice.

My ex and I were perfect for each other as kidults. As we grew into our grown versions of ourselves, that compatibility started to dissipate. I didn't realize it. Perhaps he did, perhaps that's what triggered his quarter life crisis and intense FOMO.

He grew into a downtown, social guy, a pretty traditional Millennial male. He's gorgeous, funny, easy to be around, fashionable, and the kind of guy who everyone wants to know. His presence translates well to a social atmosphere, and I'm sure he's a regular at the cocktail joints in downtown Raleigh. Probably with multiple gals swooning after him. There were always gals swooning over him. It's part of what made me feel so loved when we were together. He only had eyes for me.

I grew into something quite different. I'm not a social butterfly - I have a small circle, but a tight and deep one. I'd rather wake up for a sunrise hike than go to a bar the night before. I want to camp in the Rockies for weeks at a time or summer in Europe, not spend my money on nightly cocktails. I'm a polarizing personality (you definitely cannot say "everyone likes Taylor") and I'm more of a quiet power than a commander of a social scene.

If I have a partner, I need another quiet power like Jeff, one to compliment my strengths. Not Mr. Raleigh, whose personality walks all over mine.

Our goals changed, too, though I didn't realize it. I tried to fit myself into the box of future homeowner, future mother, but honestly - that box didn't fit at all. I didn't want the little bungalow on Six Forks Road, I didn't want the dark-haired children named Armen and Emilia, I didn't want to work in the Durham startup scene. 

I hope I'd have realized one day that I didn't want the life we built together. That I wanted to see the world, soon. That I wanted West Coast cities, frequent travel, and downtime in nature. That I probably didn't want kids.

But I didn't realize any of those things, not until after he left. And when I did allow myself to examine what I wanted, I didn't make those desires priorities. I put "us" before "me" every single time, and as a result lost a big part of my essential being.

I got there. I don't do that anymore.

In the end, I'm grateful things turned out this way.

I could have lived a happy life with my ex, loyally and lovingly growing together. And perhaps a different version of us in a different reality did pursue that path. But that path came with a lot of sacrifice... sacrifice that I don't have to make anymore. 

Divorce gave me deeper empathy, way more strength, and the ability to pursue a life of my own design. It made me a better person. I hope he feels the same way.

 

The constant struggle

Most days, I feel as though my ex is far in the past. It feels like a life that I've said goodbye to, a life I'm glad to have lived but am glad to have left.

I remember sitting on the plane from Toronto to Santiago, missing Jeff desperately and wanting to be on the same continent again. I remember cocking my head, thinking of how I felt that way about my ex several years ago on a plane from San Francisco to Raleigh. How that felt like a different person, almost like a passage from a book rather than my own memory. It felt like closure, real closure.

It doesn't always feel like closure. Sometimes a song or a photo or a man with his features will set off a jolt of pain. I went through serious trauma when he left. I don't know if that trauma will ever truly leave me.

Sometimes, I walk a new city and see it through my ex's eyes, however much I want to evict him from my mind. I order a particular meal or watch a couple tango in the square, and hear his commentary in my head. In Buenos Aires, I saw a piece of street art that I know he'd love and burst into tears, right in the middle of the street.

The trauma is not gone. I don't think it'll ever be truly gone.

But that's okay.

We all have bruises.

Header image: a flower on UNC campus, the day I got married.


Taylor Coil is traveling the world with Remote Year, living in 12 countries in 12 months, while working as a marketing manager. Follow along to read more philosophies on work, stories from the road, and general (mis)adventures. Sign up for the weekly email or read more from the blog.