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April 18, 2023

One Question that Rocked my World—& Saved my Relationship.

Sometimes, I imagine running into Andrew while I’m grocery shopping.

There I am, picking up every Gala apple, inspecting them for bruises before placing them in my cart, and I bump elbows with him.

I say, “Excuse me,” look up, and there he is—tall, lanky, a head of brown, floppy hair, a dorky, doctor version of Tom Selleck in “Magnum P.I.,” but with a longer, more prominent nose.

This grocery store run-in would give me the chance to tell him how the one, very simple and seemingly innocuous question he asked me in his office seven years ago changed the course of my life.

I would have the chance to tell him how I carry his question with me every day.

It’s in the pocket of my favorite jeans.

It’s written in green gel pen on a hot pink Post-it on my desk.

It pops up in my iPhone reminders every morning at 9 a.m. like a message from the divine.

It’s also nestled in the back corner of my heart.

Yah. It’s always with me.

~

I spent several years with Andrew.

No, he wasn’t my lover (although I have to admit, I did find his brain quite sexy).

He was our couples’ therapist.

S and I met with Dr. G every Wednesday morning at 10 a.m. for what felt like 105 years (it was more like six) before he retired in June of 2018.

If I close my eyes, I can still see everything in his tiny, three-flights up, beige-themed therapy office:

The brown leather couch on the back wall that went unused, although many mornings I wished I could close my eyes and take a quick nap to avoid all the hard stuff that would inevitably surface in our 50 minutes together.

The black and white photos of beach dunes in Truro, Massachusetts, where I later learned from our mutual massage therapist he retired. And no, I haven’t stalked him, although I’ve thought about it, naturally.

And the Pothos plant that reminded me of “Little Shop of Horrors,” and weaved and stretched its long, green tendrils over his bookcases and desk, tirelessly hauling itself toward the light of the oversized window, much like my toddler would reach for the organic, non-Oreos that I hid in the back of the highest kitchen cabinet.

~

Andrew was kind and patient and direct.

So, maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised when he asked me that pointed question that rocked my world six years ago and continues to reverberate through my current reality.

You see, I was done.

Done with the fighting.

Done with the icy stand-offs.

Done with the late-night crying on the cold bathroom floor sessions.

And I finally declared it out loud during one of our Wednesday morning sessions in October of 2015.

“I want a divorce. And I have a lawyer.”

And then Andrew dropped his bomb.

~

If this story were a movie and you were watching it at your local theater with a bucket of buttery popcorn in your lap, I would want to be played by Charlize Theron.

S would be played by Javier Bardem. (I didn’t ask S who should play him, I just want to be married to Javier Bardem in my movie. And it’s my movie, so…)

And just to be clear, we don’t even remotely resemble either of these actors.

Let me set the stage.

S and I met at a club in NYC.

S owned the club and I was invited by my dearest, oldest childhood friend, Molly (that’s her real name and she would be played by Molly herself because Molly can act).

I spent the first part of the evening dancing on tables and drinking champagne with Molly.

I spent the latter part of the night nestled at the bar talking to S about our families and our lives and also making out with him.  He was a good kisser.

S was smart.

He did the New York Times Crossword puzzle.

He was a lawyer before he was a bar owner.

He was one of three kids.

He was handsome and kind and had a big, gap-toothed smile and a scruffy beard.

He loved music.

And he talked a lot (still does).

We were both dating other people. But it didn’t matter.

Six months later we were engaged to be married.

Two months later we moved to Tokyo for S’s work (he went back to lawyering).

Seven months later we were married.

Nineteen months later we welcomed to the world the first of our three kids.

Three years later we had three kids under four and a mortgage.

And 14 years after meeting in a New York City club, we are sitting in Andrew’s office and I’m dropping the divorce bomb.

It happened fast.

As life does, especially in movies.

~

“What do you really want, Natalie?”

This was the first question he asked me after I announced the attainment of a lawyer and the fact that I was done.

(But, hold tight. This isn’t the question that ripples through my every day.)

This was my answer:

A condo in the center of town.

Someone to shovel the snow and mow the lawn and empty the dishwasher.

Someone to help with the kids and play with them when I was too tired.

Probably a lover. Yes, definitely a lover.

And then Andew dropped the real bomb—the question that pops up on my iPhone reminders every morning at 9 a.m.

“Natalie, how do you want to feel?”

I stumbled.

My mind went blank.

I searched for words.

I had none.

Feeling? What’s that?

I was stumped.

So we sat in silence. I always hated this—when your therapist just sits there and waits for you to come up with something to say. And then, something magical happened.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and my imagination took over.

I began to paint the picture in my mind of what happiness looked like to me.

And it looked like this in my mind:

I am standing at the stove top, wooden spoon in hand, stirring a pot of my family’s ragu—my grandmother’s recipe that uses shredded carrots instead of sugar for a little sweetness.

Jerry Garcia is playing, “The Way You Do The Things You Do” through the speakers in our kitchen. Our three kids are dancing wildly, tossing their bodies around and laughing in the kitchen.

And the holy grail of this movie scene that’s playing out in my head is when S comes up behind me, pours me a glass of red wine, places it next to me, and then wraps his arms around my waist. He drops his head and rests it on my neck. I can feel the tickle of his beard hairs. He kisses me gently in that place behind my ear that makes all of the hair on my body stand up.

I opened my eyes and it all poured out. Tears and, in between the crying, these words:

I want to feel loved. 

I want to feel adored.

I want to feel seen.

I want to feel taken care of.

I want to relax.

I want lightness and playfulness.

I want connection.

I want intimacy and coziness and sweetness.

I want time together.

I kept my head down, afraid to meet S’s gaze.

I was embarrassed by the softness of my share.

I wanted to run. I wanted to hide. I wanted to barf into the rubbish bin in the corner of Andrew’s office.

And this is why:

I was born the youngest of three kids and the only girl. I pushed hard to be the fastest, the strongest, the whatever-est of whatever thing I was striving for, just like my brothers. Gold stars, blue ribbons, invitations to your guys-only ski weekends. Sign me up. I wanted it all.

And most of the time, I got it.

Because I pushed.

I strived.

I excelled.

I made it happen for myself, by myself.

I had that take-no-prisoners, get outta my way, I can do it all and win all the big prizes kind of energy.

And I took that powerful energy into my life—and my marriage.

I never asked for help.

I mowed the lawn at seven months pregnant.

I learned how to drill through brick so I could build shelves in our garage.

I cooked homemade, organic, sugar-free meals for my family every damn day.

I taught yoga to kids, worked at a local food pantry, and made sure my kids were the politest ones in the neighborhood (or at least I tried).

I was moving so damn fast, I didn’t know what I really wanted and I definitely had no idea how I wanted to feel.

Several years later, I was sitting in Andrew’s office.

Numb. Overwhelmed. On a cocktail of antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds and wanting to run away from all of it.

~

S took my hand and moved his chair closer to mine.

He lifted my chin and looked me in the eyes.

“I want to give you all of that. Please let me.”

I wish I could wrap this story up with a beautiful (all-natural, organic, jute) bow, but I won’t do that. After all, this isn’t really a 90-minute movie. And I’m not really Charlize Theron.

The past seven years have been a messy and winding journey of unraveling, unbecoming, and remembering what it means to feel again.

I’ve had to ask for help (this is the hardest).

I’ve had to communicate how I’m feeling to S, even when it’s embarrassing.

I’ve had to let go of relationships where I couldn’t show up with all of me.

I’ve had to learn how to say no to things, even when I know I can do them but also know in my heart they will exhaust me.

I’ve had to let go of my perfectionism and my desire to get it right all the time.

I’ve had to learn how to process my rage, anger, grief, and sadness in safe ways.

I’ve had to learn how to trust myself and know deep in my bones that I matter, my feelings matter, and what I want matters.

And no, my marriage isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. We still fight.

My kids aren’t perfect. They have their own sh*t…every human does. And parenting is the hardest job on the planet.

But life is a little sweeter when you allow yourself to slow down and feel again.

So, if you have a Post-it and a pen handy, write this down:

“How do I want to feel today?”

Then stick it on your laptop, on your bathroom mirror, on the dashboard of your car.

And as often as you can, check back in with yourself.

How am I feeling right now and how do I want to feel?

Adjust your life accordingly.

And let me know how it goes. I’m always up for connection.

~

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