In Europe, there is a lovers’ tradition which may have started in Rome. Since the early 2000s, it has spread to locations worldwide. It’s called “love locks.” Basically, sweethearts attach a padlock inscribed with their names or initials to a bridge, gate, fence or similar public landmark. Then, in a symbolic gesture of their unbreakable and everlasting love, they throw away the key.
Sweet, right? Yeah, not necessarily. While some cities have embraced the love locks, using them as tourist attractions, many municipal authorities consider the locks litter or vandalism. Think about it. The weight of thousands of padlocks on a bridge span is bound to have an adverse effect on said structure’s engineering integrity–which then engenders cost to remove all those “sweet” symbols of unbreakable love. (Experts estimate that on the Hohenzollern Bridge in Cologne, Germany, the approximately 40,000 padlocks have added over two tons of weight to the bridge!)
Of course, in 2014 I hadn’t considered any of that as a girlfriend and I walked across the Hohenzollern. With the Rhine River flowing beneath us, I looked for free space among the hundreds of love locks affixed to the grating beneath the third girder, left side. Irina and I were there to attach a padlock inscribed with the wedding date and names of my third son and his bride. I say “bride,” because she was! A couple months earlier, 9 days after their wedding, Daniel had deployed to Afghanistan and Rachel started earning her bars as a military spouse. (He has since completed a second deployment to Iraq. In my book, Rachel is now up to gold oak leaf clusters!) But back to the bridge . . . Daniel had been stationed in Germany in 2011 and had become close friends with Irina and her husband, Nikolai. She and I thought it would be fun. Should he ever be stationed in Germany again, and if he and Rachel took a trip to see the cathedral, they could look for their padlock. Then, too, when one’s child is in a war zone, any symbolic gesture of love, hope and life helps . . .
What does all of this have to do with a blog about starting over, you might be asking right about now. The answer is easy. Besides wanting an excuse to use the great photo I took in 2014 that introduces this post (BTW, Daniel and Rachel’s lock is the green one on the right), the concept of love being “unbreakable” or “everlasting” just naturally segues to the opposite condition. As many of us know, sometimes the “unbreakable” breaks. That’s just the way life is. Sh*t happens. Bad things happen to good people. And the bond of love isn’t so shatterproof or everlasting after all. So let’s talk about what happens when “everlasting” didn’t last.
I have previously written about the big 3 Ds (divorce, death, being dumped) that result in SSO (single and starting over). While I am no expert by annnnny stretch of the imagination, (the only degree I possess is in German), I do figure I own some gravitas via experience. Especially because I managed to qualify in the span of a little over 2 months on all three grounds! Yep, officially divorced, essentially widowed (‘cause he died so soon thereafter) and definitely dumped all in 63 days! (I’m sure it’s a record.)
Back to the Ds . . . Divorced . . . Death . . . Dumped. Guess what? They all suck. Each in their own unique way. Moreover, each possesses distinctive challenges to overcome when starting over. (BTW, what follows is going to be very simplified and general, so please don’t think I am underestimating or devaluing any woman’s pain!)
Dumped is synonymous with rejection. For whatever reason, you were deemed lacking. Either “too” or “not enough” (too old, too needy, too boring, etc or not exciting, appealing, or attractive enough). I once read somewhere that when a man leaves a relationship, he usually has another woman on deck. If so, you’ve been rejected and replaced. Probably for a newer, better model with upgrades. Ouch. In fact, this scenario is such a not uncommon occurrence in long-standing marriages, it’s a stereotype: Wifey puts hubby through school, he finally finds success–and WAM! He blindsides her with an affair, a divorce and a trophy wife. Yeah, definitely sucks! No argument from me there! (But if you’re being really honest, there were probably signs it wasn’t all lollipops and lemon drops.)
Even if you both had mutual good cause to split or you divorced him because he was an abuser, alcoholic, control freak or whatever, there’s still pain. And blame. And here’s a hard truth: Honey, it’s still a man’s world. Regardless of his issues, society still sometimes has a tendency to blame you. YOU should have sucked it up. YOU walked out, YOU failed to make it work. YOU failed to honor that whole “for better for worse ‘til death do us part” promise, so YOU broke up the family–happy or not. Then there’s the guilt and remorse . . . especially if you were the one to call it quits and then don’t end up necessarily happier. You begin to second guess yourself. Maybe better the devil you knew (and his decidedly more comfortable financial lifestyle) . . . as opposed to struggling as a single mom and fighting for the child support you were granted, but he’s hiding offshore?
In the big 3 triumvirate, I think most would agree, however, that widows get the shortest stick. Especially if they never saw it coming. He goes to work one day and doesn’t come home. I can’t begin to imagine the shock, the grief, the anger at God . . . Long illnesses, on the other hand, are their own brand of hell. Standing by, helpless, watching a loved one waste away in agonizing pieces . . . Again, I can’t begin to fathom that pain. A perfect life ripped to shreds by cruel fate. But to be honest (and I’m not judging, just saying) sometimes that “perfect” life only becomes perfect when viewed through A. D. glasses. (after death—which BTW is not the correct meaning of A.D.; it’s anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of our Lord.” Just a personal pet peeve I encountered all the time teaching high school History.) I saw my mom do this after my dad died. I’ve actually seen it occur a lot—a coping mechanism when dealing with grief, I’m sure—the dearly departed loses all faults in death as he/she is essentially sainted by the surviving spouse. Not that it’s a bad thing—to forget the bad and only remember the good. Again, I’m not judging, just observing and opining . . .
Whether broken by death, divorce or being dumped, broken relationships are broken. In most cases, there’s no super-gluing the pieces back together. Like a vase or a lamp, it has to be replaced. You have to go out and find a new one. And that’s the beauty of life. The opportunity to start over is always there. And no one knows what the future may hold. A case in point, last month I met a flight attendant on a layover in Phoenix. She’s with a different airline, but we are all sisters under the uniform. Somehow, as we started talking poolside, casual conversation became life story sharing. (It’s a gift we women have . . . I love it! And the older I get, the more I treasure its occurrence.) M is a beautiful blond in her early 50s. She’d been divorced for a while, yet fell in love again. They were engaged and planning to get married when he was killed in a car accident. Ten months ago her daughter decided it was time for her mother to move on and start over. She set her up on a blind date with a guy she found for her mom online. Long story short, M is moving to Texas to start a new life with him! (Yes, cue the cherubs and doves and heavenly harps. But seriously?!? Does that not–even just a little–hearten your heart and renew your faith that anything can happen? It does mine–and I’m a cynical bitch.)
Starting over is a leap of faith. So is falling in love. One doesn’t ever know, but one has to hope. It’s life’s individual flotation device. So take this advice from a trained safety professional: Slip your arms through the straps, hold the hope cushion tight to your chest and jump!