What could be more romantic than being together every day, every night?
My first marriage was a nine year exercise in co-dependence. Believe me, I don't say that lightly. We dove head first into a relationship built on controlling one another and indulging a neediness that knew no bounds.
We should have known from day one that we were setting ourselves up for massive failure.
I'd just gotten out of a relationship that ended with an explosive break-up that left me emotionally bruised, needy, and fragile. He'd just received a discharge from the military and left an epic ordeal behind in the Pacific Northwest, one that required his immediate departure from a very bad, very violent scene. We were damaged goods.
Naturally, we latched onto each other. We decided we would create our own world, that we were all we needed. We fell into a vacuum, never staying apart for long and feeling like we were exquisitely connected.
What could be more romantic than desperately needing each other and being together every day, every night?
I don’t know when that romance turned ugly. I know that after a while I felt claustrophobic and I didn’t know how to handle it. The rules of our marriage, decided upon in a semi-mutual manner, dictated that we weren’t allowed to spend the night apart.
We spent every night together for nine years, even when we really didn’t want to. No overnight trips alone, no going to a friend’s house for the night to get away.
Distancing ourselves from fights was never allowed; the fights just had to continue, often until dawn, knock down, drag out, full-on emotional battles that never seemed to end. We forced the togetherness and closed in on each other tighter and tighter until we were both struggling to breathe.
He would suspect me of cheating, or I would hear a rumor about him and another woman, and there we would be, screaming, throwing of household objects, restraining each other. I would try to leave; he wouldn’t let me.
We would fight until the sun came up, never getting anywhere because neither one of us would budge, our voices getting weak and scratchy. Somehow, we'd reach peace for a short while before we would suddenly be at it again.
Nine years of this elapsed, along with money issues, questions of and lapses in fidelity, clashes of personality. One day, it was all enough. I had asked for a divorce on and off for years and every time it led to a huge fight.
But this time was different; he looked at me and said he agreed that we couldn’t do this anymore. At first I thought it was a sucker punch that knocked the wind out of me, but it was more like taking off a corset that I’d been wearing for years: I could finally draw a real breath. It was shaky and unsure but it was something.
About a month before my 30th birthday, my divorce was finalized. There was no fuss or muss. We both wanted out of this dysfunctional catastrophe we had created. All reasonable requests were met and we walked away amicably. And that’s when everything changed.
I had never lived alone. I'd always envied my friends who had their own apartments or even their own dorm rooms because it felt like something out of my grasp.
All of a sudden, I found myself spending nights alone in the home we had purchased together. This big, old, rambling house was all for me.
The three dogs and three cats were mine to look after. I could eat anything I wanted, any time I wanted. I didn’t have to check with anyone before I went grocery shopping. It was heavenly but terrifying.
I didn’t know if I could support myself or protect myself or even function on my own. The fear that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own two feet is what had kept me in that dysfunctional marriage for so long.
It was rocky at first but I got the hang of it. I figured it out and made adjustments day by day.
Somehow — I just really love being in love — I came out of my first marriage surprisingly upbeat about romance. And that’s where my second husband comes in. He moved in with me a few months after my divorce and although I was once again moving rapidly, I was no longer doing it blindly.
From the start, we didn’t place a lot of pressure on the relationship. We weren’t even sure if we wanted to stay together long term.
Living together was part of an arrangement designed to help us both financially, and while we were exclusive from the beginning, we weren’t determined to stay together forever. We allowed our relationship to evolve organically, letting it, and us, just be.
This time I understood how to maintain my independence while connecting with another human being. I knew that it's not necessary to spend every moment together in order to form a bond. I learned to trust my instincts and speak up for myself.
I learned how to fight and resolve conflict without tearing myself apart. I felt okay letting us both have our own space, being affectionate out of love, not out of necessity. I realized that although I love this man with all my heart, my existence does not depend on us being together.
When our relationship began, I was determined to remain an individual and I still have that determination a full year into our marriage. After my divorce I went back to my maiden name, and when I remarried I kept it.
I remembered the loss of identity I felt in my first marriage and decided once was enough. It’s symbolic but it’s important to me. Copeland is who I am and I refuse to change that for anyone.
Sometimes I think it's sad that I spent my 20s in a relationship that was so mutually destructive, but it taught me lessons I never would have learned otherwise.
I know now what I will and won’t tolerate. I've discovered who I am and what I think in a meaningful way. I've learned it’s never too late to reinvent yourself, and I've invented something I love.