Walk a Mile

Switching Teams ShoesLet’s talk about blame, assumptions, and jumping to conclusions. One of the many reasons I wrote Switching Teams was to clarify how challenging the whole experience was. It was just as much a means of clearing up assumptions many had about our situation as it was a way for me to process the experience. The concept of walking a mile in another’s shoes is a good starting place when we find ourselves judging the lives of others or forming opinions about situations we are not a party to.

Interestingly enough, many have commented they did not realize how hard my divorce and coming out process was because they could not tell from looking at me. Was I supposed to fall apart? Everyone else was falling apart. Someone had to keep it together and steer the damaged boat. But in reality, I was wrecked in every way imaginable. I was responsible for the wreckage, had a front row seat for the aftermath, and was surrounded by sadness and pain that slowly subsided after a few years.

This pain did not slide off me. It stuck like pollen to lawn furniture in spring. I carried it inside and waited for my time to fall apart. There never seemed to be a good or convenient time for a breakdown. I had one good semi breakdown the day I signed my divorce papers. I curled up in a ball and laid in my youngest son’s bed for hours. Other than that, nothing. I put one foot in front of the other and kept moving forward while carefully making sure everyone else’s wounds were healing properly after the wreck.

In the eyes of many, the only reason I got divorced was because “I turned lesbian.” This is a hard one for me. While it’s an obvious conclusion, it does not entirely represent the scope of the circumstances. Of course, it was the precipitating factor in my actually leaving, but there were other issues between my ex and I that were less apparent to the outside world. Explaining these issues on the back end has been frustrating because the gay umbrella covered the rain that had been puddling beneath our relationship for years.

The issues we had were not blatantly obvious to anyone other than ourselves. We worked privately to address the areas we struggled with. Airing our marital laundry was never how we rolled. Only a select few, in my very small inner circle, knew of the struggles. Everyone else’s opinion of our relationship was based on what they saw on the surface. Of course they did not know that my marriage was not perfect, it was not their place to know.

The truth was, we were much better friends than spouses to one another. We were different people in many ways, but we cared deeply for one another and tried our best to mitigate the differences as we began a family and created a life together for almost 20 years.

Our lack of communication skills and understanding of how to meet each other’s needs on an emotional level was an obstacle we could never quite conquer. The truth is, our marriage was not going to withstand the test of time.

There came a point when we both were able to verbalize and accept this fact shortly before our divorce. It was a hard pill to swallow, but reaching this mutual acceptance was one of the first things we agreed on during our entire time together. This problem predated my delayed awareness and acceptance of my sexual orientation.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard “I did not know that” while answering questions from those who were brave enough to ask, I would be writing this from my yacht. Looking back, I wonder if I should have been more vocal about the issues in my marriage. Would this have made everything less confusing for those around us? Did I drop the ball? These creeping doubts pop up in my mind each time someone expresses their shock about the fact that our marriage was not perfect. They saw what we showed them, but their conclusions were based on incomplete and/or inaccurate information.

Assigning blame for outcomes is a natural reaction when things do not go as planned. We all do it. Having the ability to evaluate ourselves and our part in situations is something that is not very enjoyable. Who wants to admit to their own shortcomings and how they may have played a part in how it all went down? He never blamed me for being gay or for why our marriage eventually failed. I never blamed him either. We both learned how to be better spouses to our current spouses because of what we went through together.

It is important to remember that figuring out fault is best saved for insurance adjusters or ambulance chasing attorneys after a car accident. Florida is a no fault state for divorce, but that is a legal term and does not stop people from searching for a target to direct the blame toward. In my situation, gay became the perfect scapegoat. Contending with this has been a constant theme when I tell my story.

For those who believe this was easy for me because of how I appeared outwardly, I will share my secret. I was in survival mode. In the quiet moments alone, my super hero cape helped soak up the tears, absorbed the pain, and was my blanket while I endured absolute heartbreak. My takeaway has been to be more open and honest with those in my life who ask the hard questions or seek clarity when confused about my situation or reasoning. I have also had to let go of feeling alienated by those who acted on the assumption that I happily breezed through this challenging time.

Learning to resist the urge to make assumptions and jump to conclusions based on pieces of a story is not easy, but it’s an important part of supporting each other, regardless of the circumstance. As tempting as it may be to blame someone else for a breakdown in a relationship or outcome of an event, carefully considering our own role should be the first step in the process. Accepting responsibility for our part is how we learn to move forward and feel peace in the future.

While some may never understand the intricacies of my journey or completely accept the path my life has taken, correcting inaccurate assumptions is an opportunity to help create a better understanding of each other and our stories. Our shoe sizes or styles vary but our collective journey will be better understood if we choose to look at the wear marks on the soles instead of the pretty boxes they sit on the shelves in.


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