My entire life's trajectory changed in an instant.
I'll never forget that moment. I was standing in my cute, little, suburban kitchen holding my sweet four-month-old baby girl with her back against my chest, pudgy little legs dangling in front of me, smiling at her dad, when he looked away from her precious face and into my adoring eyes, mouthing the words, "I have feelings for someone else."
My heart stopped. What? Wait a minute. We have it all. We're college sweethearts. We were meant to be together. We have a 30-year mortgage on a split-foyer house, a gently used Volvo station wagon in the driveway, a loyal golden retriever, a two-year-old little boy and a beautiful baby girl. It's the American dream.
"What do you mean you have feelings for someone else?"
My life's trajectory changed in that second. After handing my innocent baby girl off to her pitiful and confused father, I fled. Minutes later, I found myself nestled from the rain, warm in my Mom wagon, crying in my church parking lot. God, how can this be happening?
My biggest fear had come true. As a child of divorce, I had been determined to do this right — having an intact, nuclear family for my future kids. I married this guy because I thought he was solid: the self-proclaimed staunch Republican, former president of the Ronald Reagan high school fan club that led me from my liberal, crunchy granola, California family all the way to Virginia.
Despite the red flags that tried to slap me in the face back in my college days, I took heed to the happily married, older ladies at work. They proudly advised, "Conservatives make better husbands. They have family values."
Hah! In 1997, just months after bringing a second child into the world, this particular GOP card-holder kicked those family values to the curb with his infidelity.
It took weeks to get the whole truth, but alas, he was in love with a newly married daughter of a preacher, a female firefighter he conveniently bunked just several feet away from during his 24-hour adrenaline-rush shifts. They were soulmates, of course. He loved me, but he was in love with her.
How would I survive this? I was grief-stricken. On the nights I snuggled with my two babies on my queen-sized marriage bed, I felt so alone.
It was a process, and not a short one, but day by day, one moment at a time, I learned to love myself again. I accepted that his betrayal wasn't about me; it was about him.
It wasn't the fact that his "soulmate" returned to her husband just days before my ex and she were to elope, and it wasn't even the fact that men found me attractive and I had opportunities for love again; it was that I learned to love myself and to accept that the challenges I was facing would help me to grow, to learn, and to hope again. And they did.
Four years later, I married the man of my dreams. This somewhat conservative yet open-minded and accepting guy loved me for who I was, and opened his heart to my children. We took it slowly to ensure that it was a good move for our kids before blending our two families. He sadly lost his young wife to breast cancer after having a little boy together at nearly the same time my marriage suddenly ended.
We didn't know one another then, but we later learned we lived parallel lives. Now, we've been together for 11 years and are going strong. No red flags, no doubts and no fears — only love, faith and moderate politics. Bliss!
Well, not really. Life hasn't been a fairy tale since we married. We've had our ups and downs, deaths and losses, hardships and challenges. Who wouldn't with three teens at home, a beautifully complicated blended/extended family, and many aging grandparents?
Yet, my ex has been a devoted dad and co-parent, and we've learned to forgive each other and ourselves over time.
Despite the rollercoaster ride, I've learned from my sadness and grown through my tears.
I'm thankful for every moment and I'm blessed to know true love — for my husband and for myself. My dream is to help women like me, who have loved and lost, rebuild their hearts, and find hope and happiness again. And they will.