I wasn’t officially divorced until much later, far after we’d stopped speaking. He was gone in November, but I was still living in hospital housing until April. The irony wasn’t lost on me that I’d move across the park but still live on our exact same street. 71st street. Only I’d be on the west side of things, near the Museum of Natural History, the most boring museum ever created. My mother and sister said they were worried about me. I seemed too happy, they said. “You haven’t grieved yet,” they told me, the three of us in my king size bed, the one I’d be leaving behind once I made the pilgrimage west to a much smaller apartment, where I’d mock myself by joking about the best peanut butter sandwich I ever had… because I made it in my very own apartment. St. Elmo’s Fire and an assortment of other clitfest films were now allowed to dominate the DVD lineup. “Too happy,” they said shaking their heads.
“Stop doing that. Stop making me feel like I’m doing something wrong by moving on,” I said. But they just looked at each other, as if to say, “she still doesn’t get it.” “I can see you looking at each other,” I said. “What do you want me to do, curl up in bed and refuse to go on living?”
“Well, no. It’s just that it’s going to hit you hard,” my mother said. “Really hard, and at least we’re here now, so if you want to–“
“So if I want to fall apart, I’d better do it now while you guys are here?”
People kept saying I was strong. They couldn’t believe I was back at work, never mind back at dating. What no one seemed to get was that it wasn’t about strength. It was need. I had to move on, and moving on meant finding someone who’d love me faster than he found someone to love him. People would ask me how I was doing, how I had the strength to get back out there–again with that word. I couldn’t NOT date. I needed someone to want me, to tell me I was amazing and beautiful, to say they’d always want me, that their life would never be the same without me. I needed to be wanted, to feel desired, and I wouldn’t learn, not until years later that I needed to give that to myself. Until I did, I’d plunge into one bad “crash and burn” relationship after the next because inevitably it would be hard for any guy to sustain the infatuation period where all I heard was how amazing I was. Soon he’d choose to spend a night at his place instead of mine, and I’d feel rejected, even in the smallest way. No one could need me or want me enough. And when they could, it meant they were even more of a fuck up than I was because they had no life of their own.
I don’t know that people realize how much this is true, but when my marriage ended, I was ready to pick up where he and I left off with anyone who was willing to play the part. I wasn’t gun-shy. I wasn’t afraid of jumping in too fast. I wanted someone to fill his shoes, to step up without moving slowly. I wanted to pick right up with someone else who was ready, then and there, to start a life with me. I didn’t want to ease into it, get to know each other. I was irritated by the idea that I now had to start all over again, had to learn someone’s likes and dislikes, had to learn what they liked in bed. I saw it as a chore instead of seeing it as the fun part.
I think people who’ve been removed from that experience just assume that you’re going to be gun-shy. They assume you’re going to close yourself off and swear off the opposite sex just to avoid rejection. But that’s not how it happened for me. And as for the crash and burn everyone was waiting for, it didn’t happen until a year later, if that. Because each time a mini-relationship ended, I held it close to the chest. It burned, and the only way I knew how to kill it was to update my online profile and hit the bars. A new guy who showed interest was my constant salve. The cycle repeated, over and over, man after man, break up after break up, until I decided I didn’t want to live like that anymore. That’s when I crawled into fetal position, terrified, that I’d finally need to face what scared me: being alone.