I have a story that used to be a confession.
On the day I got married I wore a pretty, silk white off-the-rack evening gown (because that’s the kind of no-fuss bride I was!), and my mom (again, irreverent!) escorted me to my groom-in-waiting. I was happy and felt lovely and proud and the sight of my soon-to-be husband in his tailored black suit and orange shirt (again!) made me smile. Genuinely smile. Not a phoney “Say Cheese!” for the wedding photographer or a nervous grin. A real, for-real smile.
At the same time I heard a voice — clear as day — ring out in my mind. It said, “Emmanuel will not be the last man you love.”
It was simple as that. It was not a call to jump on the nearest white steed and bolt. It was not an ominous omen. It was a statement of fact. I was supposed to marry this man. And then there would be at least one other man.
I never told that story to anyone until the last year or two, when it has come up with girlfriends or lovers or therapists. After all, Emmanuel and I didn’t spend all that money on that faux low-key wedding and commit to each other for ever and ever and ever for the sake of me knowing it would end. It’s taken me a while to process it, but the takeaway is this:
My marriage to my husband was perfect for that time of my life. And divorcing when we did was also perfect.
My marriage was a success, even though — and maybe especially because — it ended.
When we were married, I chose to push aside all the things that made us wrong for each other (constant arguing, competing, tension, lack of sexual chemistry), to make room for all the things that were amazingly right: We were both highly ambitious, creative media professionals who loved to take crazy trips around the world. We come from similarly dysfunctional families and were equally committed to raising our children differently. We loved it when our many friends oohed and ahhed over our pretty apartment and we loved nothing more than giving or attending parties. We were spontaneous and adventurous and we laughed and laughed and laughed together. I loved him so much. I still do.
And so for eight years starting when I was 25 I had the perfect partner, and then we had two perfect children together. I did so many things with that man and accomplished so much.
I think about all that I have done and accomplished since then. How the sustaining of so much disappointment and heartbreak and upheaval forced me to tap into a stronger, more tender part of myself than I would have known without those challenges. How that makes me a better mother. And how that — paired with financial necessity — has led me to professional and creative highs that were impossible under the stress and economic arrangements of my marriage.
And men and love. I am still finding my way in romance, but I have found sex and passion in new chapters and spades – mind and heart and body-reckoning experiences that would have eluded me had I honored the “death-do-us part.”
Instead, whether it was a soothsaying higher being whispering my fortune, or my own subconscious calling for me to find my joy, I don’t know. But since my husband I have loved one man in a full, whole way that convinces me that the world is indeed abundant with love, and gives me the confidence that I am equipped to survive love’s end — again and again.
By accepting that successful relationships often have a time limit opens me up to experiences that I would otherwise pass up.
Until recently I spent a lot of time with a man who was both intoxicating and unfamiliar to me. On one hand he made sense – his kids and his career and his interests aligned with my kids and career and interests. He was attractive and good and strong. We enjoyed each other very much.
Yet there was a wildness in his intelligence and in his mannerisms and stories. It both drew me in and scared me. He had a family pedigree that tormented him and rendered him to me exotic, foreign. Despite his affection, he felt always different than me, and made me wonder if I should turn away. But I couldn’t help myself. I was compelled to turn towards him again and again. Each time I did, I heard that same voice, the one I heard on my wedding day.
It said, “Go to him. You have something to learn there. But do not stay too long.”
One night when it got so late that it was then early, we were talking under the bedside light and he smiled at me with one eye closed. I teased him about it a bit, and he explained in a few words — words that were not wild or tormented or foreign. The words were straight and plain and real. He explained that his eye was lazy, and when he gets tired it looks away. It’s been that way his whole life. I saw him then as a little boy with that eye, and I saw him now as a man.
And I saw in him that quiet place that mirrored the quiet place in me. For the first time I found where two people — people who may not completely match — can be together for a time, and that can be better than being alone. In realizing that, the new tender and stronger place in me started to fill up with him. Up in a way that is ancient, and up in a way that is also new.
********** THE 10-YEAR MARRIAGE CONTRACT PROJECT **********
- A 10-year contract will save marriage
- Marriage is dead
- One spouse is not enough
- Let’s stop celebrating wedding anniversaries
**My 10-year marriage contract has been mentioned in:**
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post’s ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.
A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.