“I thought love and relationships like this was only for the movies, only for fantasies, and IF for real people…then only for OTHER people.
I thought I was unknowable in the intimate kinds of ways. Like…I was too complicated and deep for anyone to ACTUALLY have the capacity to know and seek to know me, and then to cherish all that I am.
I’m a lot. I am sensitive and empathetic and compassionate. My heart hurts easily, often for others, but also for myself in close relationship. I see things from all sorts of angles, different vantage points and experiences. I can understand that when people are mean, it stems from their own pain and insecurity.
Over the years I had learned to tone down my sensitivity, learned to not be bothered or offended on my own behalf. This created a chasm of space to be bothered and offended on other people’s behalf, frustrated at oppressive systems and ‘micro’ aggressions and any way of thinking that placed a human below another.
But the coping mechanism of not being bothered for myself…of not letting myself be hurt on my own behalf…well it was birthed as a young child. And it accompanied me into my marriage.
This meant I entered marriage with an uncanny ability to ‘be’ unphased by the pain of being unseen and unknown by my husband. By feeling lonelier than ever before, disconnected from the very person I was supposed to be most intimate with.
I figured that’s how it would be for the rest of my life. Emotionally empty. Emotionally unknown. Emotionally TOO MUCH. Emotionally alone. Unheard. Unseen. Misunderstood.
But then the lack of emotional safety turned into a worse kind of dysfunction, a kind I don’t feel is important to share here. What’s important to know is that I was sure marriage and husband-wife relationships were simply lonely. Yes, they are all hard. Yes, some husbands and wives seemed to GET each other, but my marriage would never be that. And layers of toxicity and unhealth compounded the emotional neglect.
I get that people want juicy details. If you’re here for that, bye.
Here’s what I’m going to share: my husband and I split September 2018. It was the darkest most painful-hope time I’ve experienced. Divorce was the death of all I knew: the death of what my family was going to be for years to come, the death of dreams of fostering and adopting, and simply sharing holidays together as a family.
‘I’m not going to date anyone all of 2019, if ever. Why would I ever subject my body and heart to a man?’ I said those words to friends, to my former husband, with all the confidence.
And then in March of 2019 I met Kevin.
I met Kevin and neither of us were quite whole, both trying to figure ourselves out and figure out what it means to be our best selves. Both really intense, complicated, full of opinions, parents.
We told each other we shouldn’t date. He couldn’t give me the man he knew he needed to be for me: he had skeletons to remove from closets, doors to close that had been opened for far too long. And I was fresh out of a divorce, not wanting anyone to take advantage of my body that was WORTH loving and respecting.
‘You know, I am a whole woman. I am full of goals and confidence and I get sh*t done. I see people, I really truly SEE people. I love humans and I want to help them thrive. I’m not about to be in a relationship that sucks my soul dry. I’d rather be single forever than be in a relationship where I’m lonely, unknown, misunderstood…emotionally neglected.’ I said this square to his face. I said it and I believed it, and I meant it.
He nodded. ‘And I know one day I’ll be able to be the man you deserve, there is a level to me that’s never been unlocked, and I’m saving it for my wife. I’m only getting married once.’ He said it just as confidently.
We kept trying to not date while simultaneously not being able to say goodbye.
‘You feel like home. I’ve never felt this way with anyone and it’s weird and scary. It’s scary. I feel at peace with you, like with you I am home.’ He’d say to me over lunch break at Baja Fresh.
I was reserved. I was cautious. I had done so much digging into my wounds, giving them space to breathe and be sad. I wanted to heal and I didn’t want to rush into a relationship.
But I also didn’t want to say goodbye.
Then one day, almost two months after we met, he called me.
‘I can’t hold it in anymore. I love you. I love your soul. Your heart. You are the kindest person I’ve ever met. You are beautiful, your heart is so beautiful, I’m IN LOVE with the person you are, and I can’t hold it in anymore. I love you.’
I sat there listening to him, smiling, tearing up. He ended the call before I could respond much, ‘I have to get back into work. I’ll call you after.’
Since then, we’ve been most definitely together. And it hasn’t been easy. We’ve nearly broken up two-three?- times. And we agreed early on, if we break up, WE BREAK UP. No off and on game.
Here’s the magic: we work really, really hard to get to space where we can be vulnerable and honest. We have said not-okay things to each other. We have hurt each other. We have had unspoken expectations go unmet and spoken expectations be too much.
I have said a few times, during the Almost Break Ups, ‘Listen. I’m a lot. And I’m done being sorry for being who I am: I’m beautiful because I’m sensitive to others, but I’m now sensitive to myself. I’m not repressing my experience again. I’m not going to apologize for voicing when you hurt me. Either I’m too much for you, or I’m not.’
I will always apologize when I’m rude, when I’m unnecessarily insecure and it produces unhealthy behavior, when I am in the wrong. I will listen when I hurt others and I will own it. I’m a broken mess just like the rest of us. But I’ve learned I won’t apologize for being myself. I will not be shamed for who I am.
And without fail, this beautiful man I have the privilege of dating sees me. He hears me. He apologizes where he needs to apologize as well. He shares how I hurt him, we exchange genuine apologies and also suggestions of how to do better next time.
Aside from these moments of repair after damage, Kevin sees me. He sees my heart, he listens to what is going on in my life and heart, and engages in it. He has come into my world and I have entered his. We have had some of the most intimate, intense, healing conversations over the last eight months since we met.
The experience of being seen, cherished, and even sought after in a way I thought was impossible, for me, has been healing.
Yeah, me and Kevin are brand new in the big picture of life. But I’m hopeful for what the journey may hold for us.
Learning to love myself has been KEY in this journey. He knows this is true for me and for him: we both have been wading through our own traumas, working to find peace and love ourselves.
These last months of building life together has been full of joy and dancing and sports and adventures and really really, really difficult moments and challenges and growth.
A week or two ago I noticed a switch internally and I don’t know how to explain it, but it is really exciting and freeing. My insides feel lighter and like I’m settling in a little bit, less cautious, less waiting for the shoe to drop. It feels like grief has lifted in a lot of ways and I discovered permission to be where I’m at.
Instagram is my favorite social spot. The community there has been…humbling and beautiful. Kevin and I have had so much fun going LIVE every week, answering questions and goofing around and being pretty open to the world. We have talked about race and interracial dating and coparenting and healing and adoption.
I am also humbled to share that I just opened my Dating After Divorce Pop Up. This was birthed out of the hundreds of women who have messaged me, asking me how in the world I have been able to dive into deep love, to be vulnerable after being so hurt. How have I worked through healing and not settled for the first man to bat an eye at me? A huge piece of this is working through healing and trauma. Please feel free to check that out as well! And if not, I wish you the very best.
What a journey this is.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Natalie Brenner of Portland, Oregon. You can follow her journey on Instagram, Facebook and her website. Learn more about her book here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
Read Natalie’s powerful backstory of meeting Kevin:
‘I can’t introduce you to my kids until I know. They’ll attach to you, and I can’t break their hearts.’: Girlfriend nervous it’s ‘too soon’ to meet boyfriend’s kids, feels anxious to not ‘replace’ mom
‘It’s definitely too soon,’ I thought. ‘No one would approve.’ I met K at the wrong time. At 26 years old, I had already been married 6 years, parented 7 children and miscarried 2 babies.’
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