Recently I have been privileged to companion a much younger friend as she agonized over whether to divorce her husband or not. I was clear that I would support whatever decision she made. Her process has been valiant and honorable; she has looked hard at her situation and herself. She has been counseled; she has prayed; she has read a multitude of books; she has stared into the abyss. She wants a divorce. I support her.
Imagine my surprise yesterday, when after she declared her hatred of her husband, I heard myself actually say to her, with great intensity, “you can divorce him but how can you say you don’t love him? He is not a jerk! You are not a better human being than he is!” Uh oh.
More than 35 years ago I was in her shoes. How well I remember the agony and the defeat; the relief and the freedom. At the time I thought I despised my first husband, convinced he was the source of all my guilt and pain. He was a failure as a husband and a father; how could I have been so stupid to marry someone so dense. With my guilt buried deep inside, my self-righteousness overflowed.
Yesterday, in a split second, my role shifted from supportive companion to judge, one who was deeply invested in someone else’s process. When I stepped back, I saw that I did not want her to make the mistakes I had made, but even more I did not want her to remind me of the mistakes I had made. All those years ago I had shut a precious human being out of my heart, blaming him for my self-hatred, and I clung tenaciously to my victimhood way too long.
I did not belong with that good man; our adult children today are amazed that he and I ever got together – we are not a good match. At the time I could not conceive of divorcing someone with love. I had to declare him a villain in order to extricate myself, and set him free.
Today I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that when I shut someone out of my heart, when I declare someone to be unlovable, I am out of step with Truth and will suffer as a result. In AlAnon we talk of “detachment with love.” What a profound concept. Most relationships are not life-long. People come into our lives for a season, and most go on their way. We make promises we find ourselves unable to keep. I just wish I had known then what I know today, that we can detach with love and gratitude.
I apologized to my friend for transplanting my regrets on to her current life. She must find her own way, her way. I am oddly grateful, though, that my old regret rose to the surface for me to revisit and forgive yet again.