I still remember exactly what road we were on when she asked me. “How are you doing with everything? Are you happy?” Her question was genuine, and I finally felt safe enough to tell her the truth. I felt the uneasiness rise in my stomach as I struggled to decide on the right tone of voice to answer her.
“I am so happy.” I said it like an apology. My voice wasn’t bubbling over with joy or excitement. It was tentative, as I braced myself for a poor reaction. Ready to retreat back into ‘being more appropriate for the situation.’
I was at the end of a painfully young divorce [more on that here]. She had spent many hours on the phone with me as I cried to her and she tried to reassure me everything would be ok. The first time he said “I think this was a mistake, us getting married” she reassured me he didn’t mean it. He couldn’t mean it. The first year of marriage is tough, he was just going through a phase.
She knew the depth of my disappointment, hurt, anger, shame. I felt comfortable being real about those emotions with her. What I was afraid of was her reaction to my equally real emotion – happiness.
Will and I were freshly reunited. And I knew what I thought everyone was thinking – too soon. Why is she jumping into another relationship? I guess I felt like I was violating the appropriate length of “mourning” for my divorce. I felt like everyone was talking behind my back, whispering about my failure and how this relationship couldn’t possibly be healthy this soon. I would try and avoid conversations with acquaintances about the state of my life, my relationships. It was unbearably awkward to try to put on what I felt was the “appropriate” demeanor for a divorce. I ‘knew’ I was supposed to be sad, lost, and miserable. I had been there. But I wasn’t there anymore.
I knew deep in my heart, even that early on, that this was it. The place where I was meant to be forever, with him. I asked Will several nights ago if he knew it right away when we got back together. He answered yes without skipping a beat. To be honest, I was more sure of it than pretty much anything I have ever been sure about. I knew I was deliriously, madly, deeply in love with Will. The kind of love you want to tell everyone you know about, to declare over Facebook, to proudly show off because you are so happy your heart is just about to combust with pure joy and keeping it in is almost painful.
But here I was in the car with my best friend, afraid to express my happiness. Honestly, I can’t even remember exactly what she said in response. It was something supportive, I’m sure. I was too lost in my own “stuff” to really take in her reaction.
I think back to those days and cringe a little bit. I cringe because it was before I really knew about being genuine, authentic. I was too busy worrying about what other people were thinking about me to stop and think about why I felt like I had to explain my emotions to acquaintances. Because people probably did wonder if I was ok, and didn’t know what to think about my obviously awkward response to their questions. If I could go back in time I would have been a lot more kind to myself. Given myself permission to feel how I really felt and also be kind to people who didn’t know how to respond to my feelings. I would have gotten rid of the idea that there is a “right” way to feel or respond to a life changing event, good or bad.
I wish I had that “I don’t give a damn about what other people think” attitude back then. Truth is, I still haven’t mastered that attitude. I have more of an “I still care a little about what some people think, sometimes” attitude. But I do know one thing: life is far too short to hide your happiness. Especially when you are hiding it so some acquaintance says to themselves: “Oh good. She is miserable. That is the appropriate reaction. What a good girl.”
Years after this conversation in the car with my friend, I was planning Will and my wedding and the OneRepublic song “Good Life” was popular. I thought for a long while it might be the song I would walk down the aisle to. There is a line that says “When you’re happy like a fool, let it take you over/ When everything is out, you gotta take it in.” Do it, guys. This is your permission to be happy.