Some Advice on Starting Over

I was going through some old stuff I had written, and found this thing I had written a week after the event described, but never published. I lightly edited it and present it here, for the first time.  – HH 

Two years ago last week, I was in New York City on business. While I was there, I went with friends to a live presentation of The Moth, a storyslam of sorts. (If you ever get a chance to go, I highly recommend it.) It was awesome just being there, and, and to make it better, Ophira Eisenberg was the MC for the night. It was just a great night.

The theme for the night was “Blame”, and one of the people in my crowd, who I did not know, had just been left by her husband for another woman. Let’s call her Beth. Oh, and today was her birthday. So, Beth went to hear other stories of blame, maybe as a way to let herself off the hook.

After the event, we were all standing around, debating whether to adjourn to another place (I had to get up early, so I demurred). And then one of my friends asked Beth how it was going.

“It’s really hard. I don’t like this at all.”

I told her it gets better. She didn’t believe me. I told her that while no one gets married planning on getting a divorce, lots of people get them, and so she now has an experience in common with lots of people, and most of them (the vast majority, in fact) survived the experience and went on to have normal lives. I know this both anecdotally and as one who has survived a divorce myself.

I then shared with her my idea about fresh starts. I said something like this:

Here is the thing about starting over – you get to be who you want to be.

Living with someone, being in relationship with someone, means giving up little bits of who you are. You can’t be the person who sleeps in on Sunday, because he wants to go get lattes. Or you had a rough day at the office, and just want to eat cereal and stream Call The Midwife, but instead you have to go home and fix a real meal.

Maybe you like Jazz, and he doesn’t, and you feel guilty playing it on the speakers when he is home. You sleep best by yourself, and haven’t had a good night’s sleep since he moved in. Whatever – being in relationship means giving up part of who you are.

Most of the time, that’s OK, especially if you navigate that together. But you have been married for three years to someone who isn’t in your life anymore, and now you have all of this empty space, sitting around at night, and you don’t know what to do with yourself.

My advice? Create the you that you wish you were. Act like you are an author, and you are making a character who looks like you. So what is this character called Beth like?

She likes Jazz? She eats cereal for supper? She sleeps alone, and wears yoga pants around the house? She sleeps in on Sundays and spends Saturdays in the park and volunteers at the animal shelter? If you were creating a character that was the Beth you wish you were, what would she do? How would she act? Where would she work, and why? What sort of person would she partner with? Would she wear that outfit?

And after you sit down and create this person on paper, realize that there is not a thing anymore keeping you from actually being that person. You can be that person, and the new people you meet will never know the difference. They won’t know that you once didn’t listen to the music you liked, or that you one time gave up your dream of writing a novel or that you didn’t always wear a purple beret.

Being alone again means getting to be the person you wish you were. You get to write a whole new story, and you are the star. You are making a new story anyway – why not make it a good one?