Back in April, I decided I was getting a divorce and moved to Portland.
Despite my fears when making this jump, I’ve experienced nothing but total support and love from the people who care about me. (There have been people who have been notably absent, but frankly, I’ll take that over open hostility and attempts to shame me any day.) What I can’t get over since moving and starting this next step of my life, though, is seeing how other people react to it.
Initially, I was planning on moving into Hillsboro to be closer to my family. But walking in Portland up NW 23rd after meeting with a friend, I stopped dead in my tracks in front of a building I’d wistfully gazed at for years.
It was a four-story brick building built in the 1920's, standing majestically above a dimly-lit speakeasy-turned-pub and a darling chocolate cafe. It was beautiful. An old theatre friend used to live there, and I loved listening to her stories about life as a newlywed living in such a wonderful neighborhood.
Being me, I instantly began to wonder at the cost of living in such a beautiful building. With the divorce, there was probably NO WAY I could afford a place like that, and that was assuming they even had any availability which was highly unlikely given Portland’s tight rental market. Besides, I needed to SAVE and be responsible since I was entering single motherhood territory.
That’s when I noticed the leasing office address.
The Harry Potter fan in me couldn’t resist. The place was magic. I nervously walked into the leasing office to ask about the place, and an imposing woman at the front desk said they had an opening coming up the next week. She hadn’t even posted it as available yet. If I passed the background and credit check, it was mine.
I held my breath the three days it took to get it back. My background check would come back fine, but my credit was not in the best shape. But there wasn’t anything I could do to fix it now. It was in the hands of the universe and a woman I was praying would become my landlord.
A week and a half later, I was moving into my lovely, new place with the big windows that let in the sunrise every morning. I filled it with fresh flowers and vision boards and bright pops of color and anything that brought me joy.
I created a corner for my kids’ art and toys, hanging their Mother’s Day paintings and kindergarten projects. I got some of those round paper lanterns from IKEA and added some whimsy to the room. They loved it, especially my daughter who loves anything bright and glitzy.
And as soon as I was settled in, I started having people over whenever I could.
That has been an eye-opener. Seeing the reactions of people who knew me before all of these changes began has been telling, and it’s never more pronounced than when I invite them over. They’re often taken aback by the change in my demeanor, but when they enter the apartment, there’s an instant shift in them that has nothing to do with me.
Other people (usually women) enter in my space and say, “You’re living my dream.”
The first time it happened, I was shocked. The second time, I was confused. The third time, I was curious.
Now, I’m not exactly known for my great life choices. On paper, I’m a predictable statistic I’m not particularly proud of perpetuating. High school dropout with two young children who ended up divorced? Sigh. Yep, that’s me.
And yet, what a revelation. I had managed to build a life that was not only a good fit for me and my foray into Self-Care Queen status, but one that had the trappings of the dreams of these women I loved and admired. How was that even possible? These women have good relationships, good careers, and consistently err on the side of brilliance.
And yet, there is something that appeals to them about my life.
I mean, I get it. Six months ago, I couldn’t have dreamed things would look the way they do now. A life that had fallen into shambles transformed into something rom-com worthy so quickly, it’s left me shaking my head in awe as I try to tease out exactly what happened to get me here.
Maybe it was me committing another act of arson, letting things go up in flames. Maybe it was the audacity to decide I deserved to be treated well. Maybe it was a late quarter life crisis.
But really, I think it came down to letting myself go mad.
In Shakespeare’s As You Like It, the disguised and ever-on-point Rosalind declares to her love interest that, “Love is merely a madness.” The science says she’s right. Falling in love is madness, a biochemical reaction that mimics the reaction of an addict who thinks they cannot live another moment without a fix. Infatuation exists so we can fool ourselves into thinking this other person is perfect long enough for us to procreate.
I’m very good at this. I am proficient at falling in love with projects and people and places. (And hell, I’m pretty good at procreating, too. I have produced most excellent offspring.)
The thing I’m less good at is figuring out what comes after the fall. In the past, I’ve been great at taking chances and leaps of faith, but the problem begins when the rush disappears. It gets quiet. Then that little, impertinent voice starts chattering in the back of my mind.
What happens next?
And that’s when the fear set in. Instead of remaining open and trusting to the original vision, I’d grab for any ounce of security I could reach. Sometimes, this looked like applying for jobs when it looked like my freelance clients were going to disappear into nothingness. Others, a struggling relationship would be made even worse by heaping on even more commitment or by completely cutting it off. I existed for so long in this cycle of fight or flight, build up and burn, I was never able to wait long to see what would happen before I was on the next thing.
But the next thing just continued the cycle. More projects started, more relationships left at the way side, more failure stacking up outside my door like unwanted phone books. Failure perpetuated more fear and then the fear would perpetuate the failure in a vicious cycle. I could never trust myself for more than a few moments at a time. I’d pull back from my vision in the name of false security.
When I moved into Portland, I decided I was done with living in fight or flight mode.
The amazing apartment that I love so much? That was not in the game plan. It wasn’t reasonable. Considering leaving my job almost as soon as I’d moved into said expensive apartment? It wasn’t responsible. Pursuing a relationship so quickly after the end of such a traumatic one? It wasn’t rational.
But the cost of not doing those things would have been predictable: continued repression.
I couldn’t abide by that any longer. It was time to choose to fall, to follow my instincts in a way I hadn’t before, and to commit to the vision I had for myself and for my life.
There is a certain amount of madness one must accept when they decide to make a big life change. To the outsider, it might not make sense. In fact, I’d wager it usually won’t. But people don’t know what goes on behind closed doors, and chances are, if they don’t get why you’re doing what you’re doing, they don’t really know you.
But to make the choice to trust that feeling of rightness, that your intuition will not lead you astray — is there a more dangerous thought than that? Especially as a woman, this is a radical notion. You can trust money in the bank and contracts that bind, but to trust yourself means that you think you know something, that a gut feeling deserves a say, that you might just innately know better than the picture presented in front of you.
The status quo says you should choose security because it will make you happy. But since after spending some time pursuing (and getting some) money, sex, and status, and realizing that happiness wasn’t any closer than before, I decided to try trusting myself instead.
I was going to try doing things that did make me happy.
I don’t think other women actually want my life. I don’t think it has anything to do with me at all. I think the desire these women are feeling runs much deeper than that.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes over the years, but what I have managed to accomplish over these past few months is learning to follow my instincts. I’ve built a life life on my terms. I do things I love simply because I want to. I surround myself with beauty.
Even for someone with a good life, that is a powerful image.
Especially for women, self-care often gets neglected in the name of taking care of everyone else around you. Husband, children, family, friends — we sacrifice everything because they mean everything. And for the women I know, it’s got nothing to do with martyrdom and everything to do with never having stopped long enough to realize just how valuable they are (and the difference that knowledge would make for them).
Because I know once I made the choice to make myself a priority, everything else fell into place.
For months now, I have been falling. I let my marriage fell apart. I let go of relationships that weren’t working, of things that didn’t serve me, of anything that didn’t allow me to be the person I wanted to.
I chose this. I accepted the fallout. I’ve chosen to trust myself and my intuition, to stay vulnerable, and it’s caused to me to fall madly into many things.
My wardrobe didn’t fit me anymore, what with the weight loss that inevitably comes with a breakup, or my personality, what with being over blending in, so I fell into full-on femininity, lipstick, and heels.
A job that wasn’t serving me was rapidly replaced by incredible clients, and I fell right back into freelancing, which opened up the time and space to start writing my next book.
I started taking care of myself and doing things I loved, and then I fell in love with someone brilliant and kind and considerate (and realized this was something I deserved all along).
It looks idyllic. And you know what? It is. I’m grateful down to my toes for so much goodness.
What isn’t as visible as a pretty apartment is what it took to get this far. The realization that I had become this person who was not me. The tough conversations with my kids about the changes they were going through. The struggle of trying to do things alone. The joys of getting triggered by my abusive ex. The loneliness that crops up. The fears of not enoughness, of not being able to keep it up, of failing beyond recovery, of getting up onstage to say… What exactly was I going to say again?
All joking aside, the reality is I made a choice to make all of this happen. And since that first choice, I’ve made a thousand others that have led me to this point. Every bite-size realization, every small hallmark of truth that led me to finally move on eventually led me back to my to my tiny box of truth, my essential personhood.
And as it turns out, that’s the only thing I can always bank on.
Every inch of this new life has been crafted by choices covered in my fingerprints. Are there things I’d like to change? Things I could improve? Certainly. Nothing is perfect.
In the midst of fear and tragedy and loss, each of us has a choice. As much as we like to think we’re in control, we’re not. A phone call, a missed stop sign, a conversation can change the entire course of our lives in an instant. And then, we find ourselves falling whether we want to or not.
And the lucky ones can choose to fall madly.