From when we are conceived we are on a timeline – with your birth mother answering how many weeks pregnant they are, to the milestones of growing infants (baby’s first tooth! baby’s first steps!), and as we progress into education, where we should have learnt to read by a certain time and will have our abilities audited at specific ages. Then when we leave the predetermined timeline of the school system, society has a whole other timeline ready for us. For myself, in the Western world, we were supposed to go into higher education, get a job, find a partner, and, finally, settle down and have children. Which then starts that timeline all over again…
To say it’s exhausting is an understatement. Realistically, the only time we’re able to break free of the confines of that which has been pre-set for us, is after mandatory education is complete. Even that is a matter of circumstance, however, as it can be incredibly easy to be swept along on society’s desires and, before you know it, your punch card is all punched out and you’re on your deathbed. Kind of depressing when you look at it that way, no?
I started by following the guidelines, like a good girl – I went to university even though I wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to do or that it was for me. I started dating the son of family friends and from the age of 21 I was building my life with him. Although I left university before completing my degree (was this the first sign of wayward-ness?), I still found a career I was starting to progress in by 23. By age 24 I was engaged and by 25 I was married. By 28, however, I was separated and by 29 I was divorced. Oh… oops.
While life has been entirely built around us following those constructed milestones, it’s not so much setup for those of us who find ourselves off the “intended” path. Figuring out what to do, how to not feel like a failure, or simply how not to lose your mind can be incredibly challenging.
For me, this was when life got truly interesting. And by “interesting”, I really mean absolutely horrific, then kinda fun, all the while challenging and scary as hell. Not to mention that I had no idea what I was doing and wasn’t sure I had the strength or mental fortitude to succeed at a game I no longer knew the rules or the objective of anymore. So where do you go and what do you do when your timeline now looks nothing like the one you were prescribed from birth?
Well, I moved continents. Choosing to make Vancouver my new home and leaving behind my life in Scotland. And then I had to figure out who the hell I was – both outside of my marriage, and now in a whole new country. Lou 2.0 was about to be born and I got to choose exactly who she would be, set my own goals, and discover parts of me I’d never fully explored before. Independence, sexuality, physical fitness – I always thought I’d experienced those before but now I had a complete blank slate.
It’s not to say it was easy. Coming to terms with the loss of the life I had always thought I would have was devastating. Rebuilding my self worth after it had been shattered from my difficult marriage and traumatic divorce required hours of therapy. Getting back into a world of dating that now consisted of apps, and swiping, and ghosting was, frankly, terrifying. I also had to find peace with the fact that I would likely always be on a different life trajectory from most of my friends and peers. The potential that my future wouldn’t include children was now a very real possibility. Made all the more so poignant as I watched friend after friend announce their pregnancies and document their growing children (again, back to those timelines).
Why is it that we are so prone to comparing ourselves to other people? Why do we ever think that is a helpful use of our time and mental energy?!
But in accepting the change, accepting the unknown, accepting that my life just wasn’t meant to be the way I thought it was, there came a freedom, a sense of relief. Even a sense of excitement. How exciting it is now to not know where I’m headed or what’s in store for me. How freeing to no longer feel tied to what society expects of me, to so defiantly start to prove that there are other milestones to be celebrated – getting a puppy, moving into a “grown up” apartment, publishing a book! There may not be Hallmark cards for those occasions, but it doesn’t mean they’re not important and it doesn’t mean they’re any less of an achievement than any of the graduating, marrying and birthing that others have done. There is space for all of it to be celebrated.
I don’t offer advice, because I am an expert on nothing other than my own life, but when I found myself adrift in life as my marriage ended, I wish someone had told me “this is your life to live now, you get to make it exactly the way you want and you’ll find strength you didn’t know you had in the process. It’s the most twisted gift you’ll ever receive”.
Forging our own path, creating our own milestones, feeling successful and accomplished and worthy regardless of what life events we’ve ticked off our list is paramount to happiness. At least, that’s what I’ve come to realize. Because who doesn’t love a “create your own story”?
The full story of my divorce and re-discovery can be read in Lou Who? my debut memoir, out now.