A Year After My Divorce, I’m Wondering Who I Was

After the split, I found myself looking back on my life — and looking forward to who I’m becoming

Rachel Bernhard
Human Parts
Published in
10 min readJan 1, 2020

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Photo: Alessandro Conti/EyeEm/Getty Images

“W“What were your top three achievements of the last year?” “List everything you accomplished in this decade!” I saw the tweets and didn’t know how to respond. The year and the decade took what had been the most important thing in my life with them.

A little more than a year ago, my marriage ended. My marriage of 13 years — dating for seven, engaged for two, married for four — just ended. I didn’t want it to. I’m not sure if he did either. But he told me, while we were sitting on a red couch shaped like lips in a hipster café in Paris, that he wasn’t happy, and that he wanted to try spending time apart. Apart? I said. Like a trial separation? Yes, he said. Of course I want to try counseling, he said. Of course, I said. The waitress came over and told us, while I tried to cry discreetly into my turtleneck, that there was a secret bar upstairs that you could get to by going behind a mirror at the end of the hallway. Tired by my efforts to cry discreetly, we went upstairs, and I washed my face in the bathroom, which, as it turned out, also secretly led to a separate room for smoking. I don’t know. It sounded good on Yelp. It was as good a place to end a marriage as any.

A little less than a year ago, we sat on a cheap couch in a therapist’s office and tried to describe what was happening. As it turned out, it was either very difficult to describe, or very easy. We’re just too different, he said. In what ways? I asked. Well, I like to get up right away in the morning, and you’re a night owl, he said. It was true, so I stayed silent. Things haven’t been good for a long time, he said. This was true, or not true, depending on how you looked at it, so I stayed silent. Thirteen years is a long time to be very different from the person you wake up next to. In another light, it is no time at all.

More than 14 years ago, I met and fell in love with my future husband on our first day of college together. Actually, as he liked to remind me, it was even before the first day. It was the first day of our freshman orientation trip. I fell a little in love with him as I watched his tanned body arcing in a butterfly, showing…

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Rachel Bernhard
Human Parts

Ph.D. and Assistant Professor of Political Science at UC Davis. http://rachelbernhard.com