Insomnia is a bitch, but something good came out of my recent bout.
I was trying everything and anything to get to sleep.
I recited The Lord’s Prayer over and over. I read a book. I did lots of deep breathing.
Nothing worked. Then I started stroking my arm.
I thought it might be soothing. I ran my fingers lightly across my skin – it felt tingly and alive.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a self-love tale that ends with a frolic in the lady garden.
I just had a realisation about how much has changed in my life.
I’m not in the habit of stroking my own skin, so I can’t be certain, but I suspect it didn’t always tingle.
Before my husband left, I’d become detached from everything: my emotions, my mental health, my body, my needs, my wants.
It can’t have been much fun being married to someone who was so removed.
But I’m rediscovering myself.
Anthropologist Margaret Mead reckoned you have three different loves in your life: the first, with whom you discover passion; the second, with whom you settle down and parent children; and the third, who is your soulmate for your mature years.
Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, author of a book called Late Love, notes: “I had always thought it was just a good theory, until it actually happened to me.”
Wittenberg-Cox’s first love was a Frenchman in Paris, when she was a student; the second was her husband, who she left after 22 years; and the third is her current partner and ‘soulmate’ Tim.
Leaving someone after 22 years is a big call. She says a moment that crystallised the decision for her was when a friend called to say he was having a party to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary.
“I said, ‘Wow! Congratulations. How did you do it?’ And he answered, cynically: ‘Lack of courage.’ I was adamant I didn’t want to be like my friend, unhappy in another 10 years, just because I was too scared to walk away.”
Wittenberg-Cox noted in an earlier article that most people are too scared to walk away. They try – and fail – for years to work things out, “to talk, to explain, to get help. Then they give up.”
“There are two ways to give up,” she muses. “One is to stay, resigned and often embittered. The other is to go.”
“The divorce books I read seemed to have a preference for the first approach. They recommended soldiering bravely on for years before you became civil again in older age, or developing satisfactions in your own life to compensate, or working on yourself because that’s the only half of any relationship you can change.”
I see a lot of people who stay and become embittered.
In my case, I stayed and became resigned. My ex stayed and became embittered by my resignation.
And one day he found the courage to leave.
Now we’re both in our later life relationships.
I don’t know whether he’s found his ‘soulmate’ because that’s a boundary I have no desire to cross.
His new life is his business. My obsession with it ebbed pretty quickly. I realised that my wounds were never going to heal if I kept picking at the scabs.
As for the word ‘soulmate’, it makes my eyes roll at bit. Way too hoopy-froody.
But I like how Wittenberg-Cox describes her realisation that she wanted something more.
“I watched as, suddenly, the majority of my close girlfriends decided, a couple of years on either side of 50, to jump ship after decades of marriage. All of them did it for love: love of self first, listening to that stubborn inner voice telling them they deserved more, and it was time to give it another shot – before it was too late; love of other next, as one after another they fell in love with a human of a closer kind of soul to theirs.
“In loving, they discovered they were loveable, and blossomed as I had never seen them before. Alive as if for the first time.”
Alive as if for the first time.
That’s exactly how it feels sometimes.
In reality, you’ve probably just forgotten what it felt like.
There was joy before, it just got a little buried in the “life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone” years.
Now, like Wittenberg-Cox and Mead, I’m enjoying my third love. I never expected that a relationship at my age would feel so different to the ones that came before it. All the life experience you bring means you appreciate what you have more.
If you’d have told me at 40 that I’d be much happier at 50 I’d never have believed you.
I thought ‘fabulous at 50’ was just a rallying cry to stave off the blahness of getting old.
But, as one of my favourite Kevin Bacon movie quotes goes: “I realised that I took more than I gave, I was trusted more than I trusted, and I was loved more than I loved. And what I was looking for was not to be found but to be made.”
No matter what the future holds, I’ll never regret throwing myself into my third love.
What I didn’t realise I was looking for has been made.
And it’s been worth it.
Song of the day: Savage Garden “Affirmation”