Love Out of Love

Today would have been our 32nd wedding anniversary. But we fell out of love.

We’re human. We’re imperfect, and about half-way through those 32 years that might have been, we divorced.

Our status changed, and we tick Divorced on forms now, but that status, the divorce, didn’t define our relationship. Love, even when we were out of love, defined us.

Love out of love

My ex husband and I fell out of love and after almost sixteen years of marriage, we finalized our divorce. We went through rough patches during the transition, but even those rough patches didn’t define where we would land after we spun out.

Love did.

NOTE: I’m not sharing our story prescriptively. Our story can’t be every divorced couple’s story. I’m not suggesting that this is the better path, the good vs. the bad journey. This is not a lesson. I’m sharing this because the dates and numbers bring our story round to my heart. I’m sharing because I’m grateful.

I’ve written about this before, but today the numbers compel me to revisit. Almost 16 years of marriage. Just over 16 years divorced. Today would have been our 32nd anniversary. We lost something, sure. We lost a lot, but I learned to carry love forward and allow it to redefine itself. I’m sharing our story again because I’m still grateful.

Our story

I’m grateful for many things, but the first swell of gratitude to spring from that well is our children. They are the tether, the balance, the bond that helped redefine my feelings for and relationship to my ex. Thanks to them, I can make space to celebrate some of the good things these 32 years allowed, starting with the wedding.

We were married under two ancient oaks on my college roommate’s parents’ property, Deux chênes, where the stars and stripes of the U.S. flag alongside the cedar of the Lebanese flag hung on the gates to welcome guests. I’m grateful to Nora and Gerald for hosting our quirky wedding.

I’m grateful for my friends (former roommates) who stood with me for the ceremony. I’m grateful for all the family who attended and participated: my uncle who married us, my cousin who gifted us with hundreds of photos, my cousin who styled my hair, my cousin’s son who carried the rings. I’m grateful for my parents who supported me as I took that adult leap.

The day wasn’t perfect. August in Louisiana! A deluge just hours before the outdoor nuptials soaked the grounds. My dad had to find a giant swath of green tarp post haste. The pre-ceremony included meltdowns and nerves. Post ceremony found me standing in ants for a photo, then spending some time kicking and writhing as they scurried up my wedding gown. To seal the imperfections, when it came time to sign the certificate, we learned that ministers don’t bring the marriage certificates to the wedding. Oops!

You’re not really married, my uncle sighed.

It wasn’t perfect, but the things I remember most are the beautiful moments. The lush air as the ceremony began. The belly dancer who led us away post vows. The dresses my mom and my mother-in-law wore. The belly dancing during the reception. The food. The laughter and joy of family and friends.

Celebrate the love

I lift up those good memories of our wedding day. I also celebrate the 16 years inside the marriage: the adventures of raising three children; our two homes; the mutual friends we made along the way; the meals we shared as a family (chicken rice again, Baba?!) and with friends; the wine tastings; the vacations on a budget; the church we found together.

The church was one of several sacred spaces we discovered together. When things fell apart, the path through was a memory from that sanctuary. Years before the divorce, I sat in our church when Sharon Williams Andrews delivered a sermon on forgiveness as a guest minister. I can honestly say that her words took purchase in my heart and carried me through many moments of the 16 years after the divorce.

Post divorce, my ex and I moved on. We found new partners, new places, new circles, new journeys separate from each other, yet made space for love on the other side of being in love. We come together for holiday and special occasions. We’ve even squeezed in a beach trip together.

We’re divorced for many reasons. We made mistakes. We weren’t a match made in heaven, but we’re happily divorced for a more important reason. We allowed love. And reflecting on that, I would argue that, despite the divorce, I chose well when I married my ex.

He’s a keeper.

My dad called last week to tell me what a wonderful visit he and mom had with my ex. My ex went to the farm (bearing groceries as usual) two weekends in a row, not for a special occasion, not because the kids were there. Love carried him there. He knows my parents are limping through these months, mom’s Alzheimer’s and dad’s heart intensified by the isolation of COVID. He took time, spent time, cooked and visited. Love.

My grandmother would have said, “He’s a keeper.” Except I didn’t keep him. 

Love still wins.

We had a marriage that didn’t last, but the divorce didn’t define us. The divorce didn’t wreck the relationships that become entangled in a marriage. We still share love for each other’s parents, we still have mutual friends, and we are still a family.

Falling out of love didn’t define us. Love did. Love wins, and I’m grateful for this twisted road we took to know love.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved 2020

 

Living In Between

2019 forced me to face living in between.

In between places, in between people, in between homes, in between climates.

I read a bit about the in between from a variety of perspectives: a Jewish journal, a family dealing with cancer and chemo, a parent of a fugitive son, and more. I discovered many different in betweens and ideas to chew on: the loss of clarity in that liminal space; living in the middle versus focusing on the goal; living between knowing and not-knowing.

Here are some of the lessons I am digesting as I emerge from 2019 and living in between. They aren’t unique to living in between, but these lessons became more pronounced in that threshold.

Transitions are hard.

I spent the last five to seven days before my first trips between Baton Rouge, Puerto Rico, and the farm grieving about leaving. This was particularly disturbing for those eight-day stints because I was wasting most of my stay sad about leaving and/or anxious about going.

Lesson: Be present.

Be present has become cliché because we’re reminded to do this from many corners. If it feels watered down, it’s not any less important or vital. After I recognized what I was doing, I made a mindful effort to be present up to the very last minute, wherever I was. The transition is still hard, but I learned to spend less time transitioning and more time living where I stood.

I don’t miss.

During my first trip to Puerto Rico, I experienced an aha! moment. For all the angsting I did before leaving for San Juan,

I don’t want to leave.
Will my dogs be ok?
How much more will mom decline while I’m gone?

the aha! came one evening when Steven was watching a show in which a character was expressing I miss you so much! I realized I hadn’t thought about my dogs in days. I hadn’t missed anything or anybody back home in days. My first thought was: I’m broken! How could I not miss anyone?

I started mulling over past absences and found a disturbing truth: I never miss anyone or any place. I look forward to reunions and visits to places, but I couldn’t find that yearning in me that we associate with absence.

Lesson: Be grateful.

The discussion was tricky, but I talked about this with Steven. I had to admit to him that I never miss him. I’m grateful that he didn’t fall apart and equate love with missing/yearning in absence, thankful that he helped me come round to a deeper understanding of myself. I’m grateful for Steven.

Burdens are often self-inflicted.

I’m especially grateful for Steven for taking this deployment to Puerto Rico. We’ve had a year of adventures.

Steven’s gig in Puerto Rico meant, however, being apart anywhere from a week to six weeks, together eight to fourteen days. My I don’t miss you was pretty damn handy for this. As a couple we experienced odd moments of relearning each other and settling territory (the Puerto Rico condo was his, not mine; the farm house was mine, not his; the house in Baton Rouge was no longer either of ours). The absences were hard on Steven, my pets, and my mom.

The hard part for me? I felt pulled in opposite directions, overwhelmed at times because wherever I showed up, someone needed something from me. Some days, I felt crushed by responsibilities. I held a couple of pity parties for myself, sharing them mainly with Steven and my daughter who was keeping the fort down at our main home.

I don’t want to [insert domestic tasks] everywhere I go!
Why can’t you [insert domestic tasks]?

Fussing never feels great and it certainly wasn’t how I wanted to spend the time I had with my people. One day I was sulking about this pattern, and then, the aha! No one was demanding anything from me. I was choosing to take on tasks.

Lesson: Be mindful.

Being mindful helped me set comfortable boundaries around the domestic tedium and tasks. Once I stopped blaming people I was doing things for and owning the responsibility of my choices, I was able to navigate to a more comfortable balance. In some instances, I didn’t change what I did. Understanding that it was my choice made the task less burdensome. In other instances, I chose differently and no one was less for it.

Relationships are a gift.

For each moment I spent with/between my parents, Steven, my friends, and my children, I spent much more time alone.

In solitude, I explored the wall around my heart. It’s not unrelated to why I don’t miss people. I’ve written about this wall before. I’m clearer now on what that wall is, why it’s there, even why I may have needed it at some point in my life. With mom’s health declining and my dad’s scary heart episodes, I’m motivated to keep the wall fortified. Who wants to be vulnerable at times like these?

The wall protects me from things I fear but that protection comes at a cost. I know it’s time to bring the wall down, but awareness doesn’t make that any easier or any less frightening.

Lesson: Let love.

I know that I love, but I have never loved with abandon. Years ago, when I first began exploring this and admitted that I thought I’d never have a soul mate, Steven begged to differ. (So grateful for him.)

I’m grateful for the love I have allowed in —my family, my friends, Steven— and I’m grateful for Steven’s patience and trust as I’ve discovered my wall, fortified it from time to time, defended it. I’m taking baby a-brick-at-a-time steps, but that wall is coming down. In this liminal space, I feel anxious and afraid, but even in the uncertainty of this threshold, I sense opportunity and new beginnings. It’s a beautiful thing to peek over my wall and discover a sea of love.

Emerging from living in between (or into a new one?)

In 2019, I lived in between the suburbs, the island, and the farm, an experience that was a gift of travel adventures, self-awareness, healing, and mindfulness. The experience was also a microcosm of life because don’t we all always live in the in between?

On the largest scale, in between birth and death.
On smaller scales: in between milestones and celebrations, in between semesters and jobs, in between Mondays and Fridays, Fridays and Sundays, in between appointments and dates, in between waking and sleeping.

We are all living in between something.

As we enter a new year, my wish is that we find peace in that in between. Be present, be grateful, be mindful, and be love. Best of everything to you in 2020.

©Pennie Nichols. All Rights Reserved. 2019

Thanksgiving Leftovers

Part 1: A circle of thanksgiving

We stand in a circle holding hands, a tradition that evolved in my parents’ home from a combination two traditions, leftovers, if you will: grace before a meal and gratefuls during meals.

Boil these down for gumbo tomorrow.

Every link in our circle has suffered at least one wrench or break from another link in this circle. Yet, here we are. “First, we’ll take turns expressing what we’re grateful for . . . It can be anything,” to ease the younger links into the tradition.

“I’m thankful for this family . . . “

Gratitude has become a bandwagon for those anxious to reap the emotional, spiritual, as well as fiduciary benefits of thankfulness. Rewire your brain! Relieve stress. Improve sleep. Improve relationships. I ride that bandwagon. Gratitude helps me deal with leftovers of relationships, disasters, even meals.

What are we going to do with all of these potatoes?

In gratitude we push away shortcomings to focus on our strengths, we see beyond our losses to be joyful for our blessings, we displace grudges with forgiveness.

“I’m grateful for this time together . . .”

We acknowledge that, like all families, there have been unfortunate turns in our family. Ours comes back to this circle of thanksgiving, woven with the strength of our love for each other, the joy of the blessings we share, and the magic of forgiveness. And food.

Can we freeze the rest of the cranberry relish?

Thankfulness in many ways is magical. When divides —whether political, religious, social, or emotional— feel irreparably deep, gratitude for the leftover goodness mends, a circle of thankfulness bridges gaps between us.

“I’m grateful to be included in this family.”

We all have at least one thing in common, at least one thing we can be grateful for together.

How many pies?

I’m thankful for common ground.

“. . . and for the children, who are present and engaged.”

My dad closes the circle of gratitude with a prayer.

” . . . and for these blessings, we give thanks.”

We squeeze hands and chime in “Amen” before we dig in and begin creating . . . the leftovers.

Part 2: Leftovers

Stacks of dishes, naps on recliners, impossible puzzles, long walks through the fields, disappointing football games, and then the question.

What should I do with this?

For those of you who tuned in for leftover recipes, here are a few ideas.

Turkey Gumbo

In Louisiana, we often pull the okra and sausage out of the freezer and cook up a pot of turkey gumbo on Black Friday. Online recipes for exact ingredients and measurements are plentiful. This is the basic process.

  • Start with a stock.
    • Boil the bones alone or with some herbs (bay leaf, oregano, for example) and vegetable scraps (onion ends and skin, a head of garlic cut down the middle).
  • Make a roux.
    • About 1 cup each of flour and vegetable oil for a big pot of gumbo.
    • Slowly heat the flour in the pot until it becomes golden.
    • Add oil and whisk until it blends smoothly with the flour.
    • Continue to heat slowly until the roux is dark.
  • Add vegetables.
    • Add chopped onion, bell pepper, and celery (1-2 cups of each).
    • Once these are soft, follow with minced garlic (4-5 cloves).
  • Add the stock, leftover (and chopped) turkey, Andouille sausage medallions (Italian sausage will do), sliced okra (1-2 cups), and 2-4 tbsp of Worcester sauce (to taste).
  • Season (salt, cayenne, Tabasco, black pepper) to taste.
  • Bring the gumbo to a boil, then simmer for 20-30 minutes.
  • Serve with rice.

Dressing BallsThanksgiving-2

If you end up with extra dressing or stuffing, make dressing croquettes.

  • Work a beaten egg into a bowl of about 3 cups of dressing.
  • Form balls (slightly bigger than a golf ball).
  • Optional: Fill the balls with cranberry relish or any compatible leftover.
    • Poke a hole.
    • Fill.
    • Reclose.
  • Cook for about 5 minutes:
    • To fry, roll in a little flour then deep fry.
    • To bake, place on cooking sheets and bake at 400º.
    • To air fry, place balls in Airfryer and cook at 330º.

Sweet Potato Chips

Leftover baked sweet potatoes?

  • Slice the cooked sweet potatoes about ¼ inch thin.
  • Season to taste (salt and cayenne or cinnamon and brown sugar).
  • Cook.
    • 300º for 10 minutes in Airfryer.
    • Deep fry for 2-3 minutes.
    • 400º for 10-15 minutes in the oven.

I was the last to leave my parents’, which means my mom filled my car with the leftovers she didn’t want. As I repurposed the turkey, dressing, potatoes, and relish, I reminisced about the week our family spent together. I’m grateful for that leftover lagniappe.

 

Copyright © 2015 by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.

Love Is a Four-Letter Word

“You never loved me!”

I didn’t answer back. At the time, I didn’t know how. The accusation wasn’t true, yet there was truth in it. I had loved my ex-husband, even in that moment, but my love wasn’t that our-hearts-beat-as-one love. The soulmate, I-can’t-live-without-you “true” love.

You never loved me!

I felt the raw pain in his accusation. After three children and more than fifteen years of marriage, there it was, this half-truth squatting uncomfortably on the shards of our relationship.

That moment haunted me for years. The untrue truth didn’t prompt the demise of our marriage (we had other problems), yet for years, I struggled with the notion that I had a defect in my love gears that made me incapable of “true” love.

Is true love a childish fantasy or daydream? I don’t think so. I know couples who have “true” love, who feel they are soulmates. At times, I felt envious. I compared myself and wondered, “Why can’t I have that? Am I broken?”

In an effort to untangle the nature of my love mechanism and hoping to find out what was broken, I committed hours of thought and energy to these questions.  I looked in, but I also looked out.

Looking out, I became aware that assumptions often made about “true” love and other relationships fall apart on scrutiny. Couples who feel they are soulmates are not without their ups and downs and missteps. Even soulmates must work on right relationship. Couples who don’t fancy themselves soulmates can enjoy depth of commitment and compassion. Old solid relationships may still have embarrassing middle-school moments, and budding ones often work through hurdles with maturity and wisdom.

Love

My parents paddling into the 60th year of their journey

Looking out, I confirmed what I already knew:

Romantic love comes in many sizes, shapes, and tones.

 

Looking in, I started defining the expectations I had going into a relationship and understanding the qualities I wanted in a partner and partnership. Pretty damn practical. Share in all things domestic, complete projects together yet have projects of our own, communicate with compassion and patience, journey together and journey apart. My list did not include requisites such as “must be my soulmate” or “I would die without him.”

The observations and introspection helped me understand that I wasn’t broken at all. Perhaps I guard my heart, perhaps my love is not “true” love as conceived by many. Yet I would argue that my love is true.

What makes it “true”?

 

I love my partner of ten years. We share, we fuss, we communicate, we have projects, we take trips, and we have independent interests and endeavors. Even though I don’t feel like we’re soulmates (he would argue we are), our love is good. True love? I would say that my love is true, yet I would hasten to point out that, were he to die tomorrow, I would not feel lost or devastated. I would be sad, deeply sad. I would mourn and grieve, but I would not fall apart. Is that because he’s not my soulmate? Is it because I guard my heart? I’m not sure what the answer is. I do believe, however, that the “trueness” of my love should not be measured by my dependence on the presence of that person.

For those who would accuse me of settling for a partner I can love instead of waiting for the soulmate I can’t live without, let me assure I didn’t settle. I chose. We chose each other. That said, I’m not writing this for those doubters. I’m writing this for the other people like me, who, at some point wondered if they were getting it all wrong, if they were incapable of true love, if they were broken because they couldn’t surrender their hearts with abandon. Perhaps our hearts are not wired for a soulmate quest or unfettered falls. Even so, our love is true.

Love is love.

We can make generalizations about love, define it, classify it, even qualify it. Those intellectual exercises confuse the love we live. I don’t believe in hard edges that define where you cross into or out of true love. Instead of ideals and definitions, I would have been better served as a young adult by this kind of advice:

  • Don’t chastise yourself if your love doesn’t fit a standard definition.
  • Observe others in love but don’t belittle your love for being different.
  • Your unique love journey should start from within, loving yourself, understanding your expectations and needs.
  • Be true to yourself and your love will be true.

My ex was a little right but mostly wrong. I did love him. In some ways I still do.

In the end, no matter what size, shape, or tone, love is love. Be true to it.

Copyright © 2015 (updated 2017) by Pennie Nichols, All Rights Reserved.