White gloved servers traverse the dining space, stepping around and between linen covered tables and well-heeled guests. Impressive shrimp dangle from cocktail glasses and decadent chocolate  desserts abound. Giant topiary spheres encrusted in twinkly white lights hang from the ceiling on invisible tethers. A highly professional band plays Motown classics as well as current pop tunes. It’s December and a fancy party is underway at the boathouse in Central Park.

It is the 100th anniversary of the company my husband recently joined.  I feel extremely grateful to be part of such a grand event.  The company has a sterling and lengthy track-record. They are safe and stable unlike my husband’s previous employer.

As the band continues with its dance numbers, my husband, Jeff, and I decide to take a break and step outside.  We want a glimpse of Central Park at night. Although one wall of the boathouse club is all windows, nightfall makes it impossible to see the park. Only reflections of table candles and topiary lights glow in the glass.

We exit through a door near the bar.  Jeff holds the door as I walk through in my sleeveless silk blouse and skirt.  A cold  gush of air hits me and I hesitate.  Instantly, Jeff places his jacket over my shoulders. In that moment I feel completely cared for and protected.

Choosing Vulnerability

The Central Park celebration took place three years ago.  Since then I have given up the security of being a successful executive’s wife. No one is here now to throw their jacket over my shoulders and I don’t see any glossy galas in my near future.

It feels damn cold and scary some days.

The loss of extravagant parties is not what bothers me.  I am just as delighted with cheap wine, Triscuits and a sunset. The loss I feel has more to do with vulnerability. I felt a sense of protection when I was married.  I was not fighting battles as myself.  I was part of a team. I had backup.

Life can be a bully on the playground, asking more of us than we want to give.  It corners us and demands we juggle impossible schedules, pay exorbitant bills or handle illness.  It’s a relief to have a partner to fight with you or scare off the bully altogether.

I have family members who have spent decades hoping someone will rescue them – put their jacket around their shoulders, stick up for them. I know people so terrified of separating from the married with children herd that they stay in abusive soul-sucking relationships.

The quest for security can be all-consuming.

When You Are Single You Represent Yourself 

I choose to represent myself and it is both liberating and frightening.  For me, the price for marital protection was self-subversion.  I felt lost and desperate in the relationship. I do not blame this on my soon-to-be ex-husband.  He was himself.  I deferred to him because I could and he had answers.  He took care of things and I liked it until I couldn’t breathe. Until I felt so bad about myself I knew being on my own fully exposed to life’s knuckle sandwiches was a risk I had to take.

Stepping out on my own definitely feels unstable at times.  I’m a table with a short leg when it comes to financial matters, travel coordination and home repairs.  Those were areas where Jeff shielded me with his knowledge and decision-making skills.

He also served as an aggression buffer.  As an introvert, I get energy from internal feelings and impressions.  I dislike confrontation and constant external stimulation.  Jeff deflected some of the bullish*t and buzz. Now I have to speak up when service is underwhelming or  someone is talking my ear off. I have to make all the follow-up phone calls and God forbid, I have to be assertive.

Where True Safety Lies

While going through the soul-searching of an unhappy marriage, I discovered the safest strongest part of me.  It’s unseen and lives deep within.  It’s untouchable. It’s my essence, my being. No one can break or damage that core spirit.  It doesn’t cost anything to maintain.  No one else has to provide for it.  I can return to it again and again without fear of wearing it out or losing it. It’s love, forgiveness, stillness and deep satisfaction all rolled into one. I access this tough center through meditation, writing, alone time and by being present in my senses.

End of the Party Epiphany

As mesmerizing and wonderfully grand as the party in Central Park was, I distinctly remember spending the majority of the evening in search of a genuine conversation. I shook a lot of hands, generated small talk and listened to work stories but amidst all the luxury and stability I felt different, separate.

On the bus ride back to the hotel from the party, a slightly tipsy wife of one of the company founders sat in front of us and tried to convince Jeff and me to move to New York so he could make the REALLY big money. When she saw that we had no interest, she quieted down and  stared out the bus window. Privately but indirectly (speaking to each other’s reflections in the glass) she revealed her true self to me. As we passed expensive homes on the park and the Guggenheim , she described the happiest days of her life.  The days she worked in a rodeo and traveled around Europe with less than $200 to live on for the whole summer. The days she was on her own with little money and no husband.

Why do we value stability above all?  What other things signify stability besides money and relationships?  What are you sacrificing to maintain some form of protection?

Further reading:

Lone Stars: Being Single – Psychology Today

Reframing Emptiness: Gaining Perspective When a Relationship Ends

How a Sad Life Change Can Make You Extraordinary