Gail Sheehy Shares Her Story of Heart break & Res

By YourTango

An intimate look at Gail Sheehy and Clay Felker’s long-term love affair

By Gail Sheehy

Yesterday my husband walked into our day-old home, a condo furnished with hundreds of boxes from our former house, and he didn’t smile. Moving isn’t easy. We had pulled up stakes from a place we loved. Our roots were still raw.

Clay Felker and I have been through many moves. Painful as they were, some of them saved our relationship. One may have saved his life. This year we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, a milestone that amazes friends who had to play Rolodex tag with each of us during the 17 years of our turbulent premarital relationship.

We were in diametrically opposing stages of life: Clay led a glamorous existence as the editor of New York magazine and The Village Voice, and had to be on the town night after night courting his first love—New York. I was a struggling freelance writer and divorced single mom who wanted to read bedtime stories to my young daughter. I would move into his imposing apartment, try it for a year, move out. I remember feeling as tiny as an envelope slipped under his door marked “addressee unknown.” Perverse though it might seem, those moves-out were among the most exciting times in my life.

I discovered that I could land on my feet within a few days and in apartments that always had something wonderful to offer. Of the hundreds of women I have interviewed who described moving associated with divorce—even when it meant radical downsizing— most say (in retrospect, mind you) that the benefits in recovered identity and independence made it a peak growing period. In a similar way, I needed to grow before I could fully join my life to Clay’s.

Like all change, moving dredges up strong, often startling emotions: confusion, fear, anger (one spouse is usually less in favor or downright hostile). You give up a familiar structure, and, like a lobster shedding its shell, you are left naked and vulnerable for a time. But I’ve come to believe that we need to shed old shells before they become confining.

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