I Was A Happy Homemaker, But When That Blew Up, I Went On A Sexual Journey And Became A Writer

Photo: Courtesy of the Author
working on my book proposal in 2019 in my friend's office

In February 2018, when I debased myself by searching my husband’s phone to figure out why he had become cold and distant from me, I found myself smack in the center of a cliched midlife crisis story.

I had, until that fateful night, led a fairly quiet albeit hectic life as a stay-home mom to three children. The older kids were teenagers, but the youngest was seven years old and still required plenty of hands-on momming.

We structured our lives around holidays and seasons, papering our front door with hand-drawn signs that read “May the Luck Of the Irish Always Be With You” or “Kisses to Our Valentines.”

After ushering the teens out the door for their subway commutes to school, my daughter and I would rush out the door ourselves, stopping to admire Halloween decorations on brownstone doors or crocuses pushing through frozen soil.

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I would pass off her backpack and lunch with a quick kiss on the top of her head and linger for a few minutes, catching up with other moms. I was fully immersed in this community, having been a parent here for thirteen years and serving a two-year stint as PTA president.

Then I would amble over to a Pilates class, stop at the farmers market on my way back home to buy fresh flowers and eggs, and blast NPR so I could hear it from every room while I made beds, fluffed pillows, washed breakfast dishes, threw the laundry in the machine.

I’m painting a picture of a happy homemaker, possibly even one from another, much earlier, decade, and that’s what I was.

I had given up a career in book publishing to have this life. I missed having my own paycheck and the feeling of achievement that comes with professional success, but I had long ago made peace with this being my life instead. I was content, possibly not greeting each morning as Snow White did at her peak, but grateful nonetheless.

When I read text messages that made it undeniable that my husband was in love with another woman — and simultaneously disenchanted with the life he had been leading with me — my “happy homemaker” role was written off our family show. Now what?

I didn’t imagine outcomes for myself minus financial ruin, loneliness, single motherhood, and the layering on of bitter toxicity I had cringed to see in other divorced women. I was on the one hand scorched-earth angry and on the other hand, utterly dejected.

What kind of pathetic woman can’t hold onto her partner of twenty-seven years? I looked around at women I knew — they weren’t as fit as I was, as hands-on with their kids, as thrifty, as neat, as good a cook — yet their marriages were intact. How damaged must I be that I could be so easily tossed on a scrap heap?

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Thus I found myself still a homemaker, but not a happy one.

I dropped my daughter at school and scurried away, embarrassed and on the verge of tears. I did my errands quickly so that I could return home for the main event of the day: weeping. The house stayed tidy-ish, and dinner got served — sometimes it was mac ‘n cheese out of a box, sometimes Lucky Charms, but we were all fed and that was going to have to be good enough.

Months passed. I perceived my world in its new state as a black and white affair: there was the before and the after; the good times and the bad; the times I had been part of a whole and the now of being alone; the memory of when I had actively been living, and the moment I started slowly dying inside.

I knew that I had to find a gray area, and fast before I was completely unrecognizable.

I had a light-bulb moment, one summer night, alone in the room that was once ours. I was trapped in the bedroom, but I was both the prisoner and the captor, and it dawned on me that I could unlock the door and escape. I did just that, and subsequently started having sex, a lot of sex, with a lot of men, then dating some of them, then writing some of the more amusing anecdotes down.

As if I was learning an entirely new language in a foreign country, I started to see myself as a woman, not just a mother, no longer a wife.

I forgave myself for wanting more — more than I’d had in my marriage, more than what I was giving to my kids, more than what society deemed acceptable for a middle-aged woman with children to raise and a reputation to keep intact. I wanted, in fact, as much as I could get, sometimes posing the question to myself and to the men I was sleeping with: is this too much?

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What is too much for a woman in her late forties whose sex drive has been dormant for decades but who is now insatiable?

What is too much for a woman who always believed marriage was the goal, but since losing her own, never wants to be married (or even monogamous) again? What is too much for a woman who no longer believes that happily ever after has anything to do with romantic attachment? What is too much for a woman who has for decades put her love of the written word into PTA newsletters but now wants to write about the fire burning inside her?

So I wrote a book. It started out as a few pages here and there, random anecdotes about my new life as a single woman.

It took almost a year to turn my musings into a formal proposal, but then I paused.

It seemed inauthentic to write about my sexual coming-of-age and the thrill of my newfound freedom, which I hadn’t even wanted, without also writing about my grief, and about how challenging it is to become the woman you never even wanted to be while also continuing to be the mother you’ve always been.

I decided it had to be both, the real story of what it means to reinvent yourself in midlife.

Years ago, my eldest daughter, then in middle school, explained to me that her essay for her exacting English teacher had to answer all the then what’s — the premise being, you have to keep going deeper into the question until there are no more then what’s left.

“But how can there ever be an end?” I asked. I played it out with Cinderella. Her mother dies. Then what? Her father remarries a petty, cruel woman. Then what? Her father dies. Then what? Her stepmother elevates her own daughters and shuns Cinderella. Then what? This keeps going, until the wedding. Then what? But now the story has ended, the rest is merely speculation. The then what is the happily ever after.

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My own tale of happily ever after did not end with the wedding, as I thought it would.

Nor did it end with the passage of decades, the birth of three children, and the divorce. I was happily married, or so I thought, and then I was devastatingly dumped, and then I was happily unmarried, and I wrote a book about it. Then what?

Then I kept writing — I keep writing. The book was not my ending, my happily ever after, but the dawning of a new role for me as a writer.

I am a character in development, shifting from one role to another like an actor in a one-woman play. Right now, here is who I am: a fifty-one-year-old woman, a mother whose second child has left for college, a writer, a daughter who has a mother but has lost two fathers, and, yes, a homemaker, if you stick to the definition of a homemaker as a person who manages a home. Then what?

Laura Friedman Williams is the author of AVAILABLE: A Very Honest Account of Life After Divorce

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.