20 First Dates - Perspectives
[Editor's note - It's thrilling that others want to share in their dating and rediscovery journeys! We will be calling these posts, "20 First Dates - Perspectives". Here is our friend Patti writing about her journey.]
On Thursday, December 11th, 2008, daybreak seeped through tiny cracks in the blinds illuminating a room that should have seemed familiar. I had awoken here for the last ten years and though everything was still in its place, nothing was the same. Less than ten hours previous a marriage that had stretched through twenty-two years, enduring ups and downs and creating two precious children, came to an unexpected and emotionally brutal end. In one horrendous moment of betrayal my world slipped from its axis and everything changed. My husband was gone and my children were grown and on their own. I was alone for the first time in more than two decades and the silence around me was deafening. As I moved like a ghost through the house that first morning I couldn’t stop wondering who I was if I was not someone’s wife, someone’s mother, even someone’s daughter. Finding that answer would take me on a journey deep within myself.
When something catastrophic happens, time is transformed. Seconds drag on without mercy and only begrudgingly give way to minutes, hours, weeks, months, years. Though it is easy to lose yourself inside the span of a single second, finding yourself can take years. And so it was with me…seven years, really. After my divorce was final and my house was sold I moved to a small apartment and, surrounded by the remnants of that previous life, started to build a new one. Luckily, I had a good job and the demands of it required a lot of my time. In the beginning being busy was a comfort. It kept me from being alone with someone I barely knew; myself. The quiet moments were the worst as I would get lost in thought, unable to picture what the future might hold. For the first time in my adult life I was unencumbered by the needs, wants and desires of someone outside of myself. I was free to go, do, be whatever I wanted. The problem was, I had no idea what that was. What I did know was that I was going to figure it out.
Being both an artist and a scientist I often found my stable footing lies in the middle ground between emotion and logic. As the tumult of hurt, fear and worry swept in I would restrain it with logic and reason. I was not the first, and sadly would not be the last, to take this journey. The good path is knowable, I told myself, and I would learn the steps and everything would be okay. Easier said than done. In those first few years I really struggled with loneliness. I dated off and on and found myself in a relationship with someone that could not have been more different than my ex. This was by design. I was determined to avoid the same mistake I had made the first time around and had convinced myself that different was better. What I discovered is that different is just different. The more important thing I learned though was that wanting different was actually reactionary. This simple observation set the course for some really positive changes.
As grownups we come to understand that relationships are complicated and they fail for a lot of reasons and circumstances that build and change over time. To simply look at what you know about one person and decide that the opposite must be better is illogical. But we all know that logic has little to do with affairs-of-the-heart. As I moved to the inevitable end of this new relationship an awakening was taking place inside of me.
I began to analyze my personal interactions with a new perspective and learned to ask myself, “Am I doing or saying this because it is what I really want or need, or am I reacting based on how things have gone down in the past?” This little question made way for big advances in my self-awareness. Each time I answered this question it required some serious soul searching and though the process was hard it was worth every effort. This exercise helped me to discover that, to that point, my life had been directed by external expectations. I was my parent’s daughter and should act this certain way, and so I did. I was my husband’s wife and should act this certain way, and so I did… I found that, “shoulds” are almost always external. They may feel like they come from inside of yourself but, in reality, they come from the people we are closest to, typically our parents. “Shoulds” are formed early and are so deeply imbedded that we often identify them as our defining foundation. But there is a big difference between doing something because you should and doing it because you want to. “Should” is external and reactive. “Want to” is internal and proactive.
Working with this new understanding I was able to look at my past and present through fresh eyes. I began to understand that I could be deliberate in my choices. Proactive instead of reactive. That I could consciously, fearlessly, intelligently and methodically choose to create my best life and that doing this did not mean I was selfish. It actually meant that I was becoming conscious of my own true character, feelings, motives, and desires. I was discovering who I was if I was not someone’s wife, someone’s mother, even someone’s daughter.
Patti Lennon-Potter is a visual artist who has been living and working in Houston, TX since 1996. She uses her art as a means of supporting local charities by live painting at fundraising events. In 2016 she remarried a wonderful man and enjoys being mother to her son, daughter and three step-daughters.