4/14/14

Divorce Warriors: You Will Survive Being Left...My Messy Beautiful

Note: my regular readers will recognize that this post is an amalgamation of the two, yes TWO times my husband left me (so much fun the first time we did it AGAIN!). I blended both stories into one for the Momastery Messy, Beautiful Warriors Project, which I am absolutely honored and humbled to be part of. It's my hope that the women who NEED to read this, will.  


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http://momastery.com/carry-on-warrior




How long has it been? You should really be over it by now.

You need to move on.

You're better off without him! Time to live it up! Hey...it could be worse!

I could live to be 124 years old. Older, even. I could live forever and there are things about that evening I will never be able to forget.

How the August air hung low and thick over the patio that night. How the single candle we had burning flickered, back and forth, even though I swear there was no wind. How I could see inside the house from where I was sitting, see the warm inviting glow of the kitchen light fixtures spilling out onto the lovely hardwood floors. How I could hear a neighbor dog barking, barking out to everybody and nobody in the dark. How the spot on my abdomen, the same area where my numerous c-sections happened, was still sore and tender from the tubal ligation I'd had the week before.

How cool and smooth the wood of the patio table felt on my forehead, and how odd it was that I couldn't cry.

How time slowed down, and then for a few seconds, stopped. That must have been when I cataloged all of these memories. All of these sights and sounds and feelings, filed away under the heading, "The Night He Left Me".

We'd been married for 12 years and there were four children made during the first half of those years. Was our marriage perfect? Were we happy?

No. And yes. At least, I thought we were happy. I thought he was happy. I assumed I was happy.

Were there warning signs? Did you know? Come on. You must have known.

I was up to my armpits in kids. They were little and active and oh my god there were FOUR of them! Our house was old and falling apart, we had cats who sometimes peed in it and my husband left in the morning and came home at night. I wasn't looking for signs of anything other than maybe a sign that this too shall pass or that someday I'd have a few minutes to myself so I could stop and BREATHE and remember to ENJOY the beautiful chaos that surrounded me.

No. There were no signs. No. I didn't know. I had no clue.

And then, that night. The words flew fast and slippery into the air and like a little black thunderhead they floated over to me:

"Jenny...I'm not happy. I feel like I live in a prison. I need some time to myself. I'm leaving."

He didn't apologize. He couldn't look me in the eye. He had sunglasses in his hand, I remember that. And as he talked, as he gave me his goodbye speech, he tapped them on the hard table in perfect cadence with his words. Like a fancy expensive metronome made in Italy with the finest polycarbonate glare-resistant lenses.

Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tappity--tap. 

He said he'd call me later in the week to "figure things out". He went inside the house, he was swallowed up in that warm inviting kitchen light and he said goodbye to our babies and then he left.

He didn't say goodbye to me.

Sometime later, after the lawyers had joined our merry little party, after the shock of being left had begun wearing off, I found out about her. I had done a good job of convincing myself, and probably nobody else, that he'd left because of a mid-life crisis, or because he was depressed or because he needed to find himself and a two-bedroom apartment with a tiny balcony and free cable was the place to do that.

But then. I found out about her. The woman he went to, when he left me.

All divorces are different. Those that involve another person though, a Plan B who waits quietly (or not so quietly) in the wings...those are particularly awful. The scars these divorces leave are jagged and ugly and oh-so-slow to heal.

They are disfiguring, at first.

You see it every time you look in a mirror. You used to see YOU when you lifted your gaze to meet the one in the bathroom or the bedroom or the hallway. YOU. Maybe you were a young and pretty and tired mama. You might have been a woman of a certain age, with some mileage around your eyes and lines on your cheeks that deepened when you smiled big. It doesn't matter what you used to see in that mirror.

Now you see the woman who was left. You see the one who lost, the one who didn't measure up. You see the one who was too old or too fat or too cold or too busy or too lazy. You see the one who just couldn't compete with the Other.

You see the one who was left.

I'm not going to lie or sugarcoat or get all Polly-freaking-Anna on you here. If you're going through this, if you've been left, you need to know the truth.

It hurts. It's humiliating and degrading and there will be moments (or hours or days) when you will want the world to open up and swallow you whole. You will maybe do what I did, and think about ending it, ending your life. Write eloquent, tear-stained goodbye letters to your children, your parents. Your husband. Hopefully, you will also do what I did and throw them out after writing them.

Because you need to stick around. Your kids? Oh, I could write a book about what this does to your kids. But the words here, the words I'm clickety clackety typing out right now, these words are for you. The one who was left. I'm telling you, you need to stick around.

I'll tell you why: after some time passes, after the lawyers have collected their fees and you've signed and initialed a stack of papers that are taller than Jack's giant beanstalk, after you've stopped wearing your wedding band and you've downloaded "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor onto your iPod...

You'll look in the mirror one day.

And instead of seeing the one who was left, the one who wasn't chosen, you'll see someone else. A familiar face, a strong and beautiful face. There might be a few more worry lines on that face, maybe there's a new strand or two or twenty of gray in the hair...but you'll know that face.

It's YOU. And you will smile at your reflection, you'll admire the determined tilt of your chin, the knowing and proud look in your eyes. You'll remember what it felt like to be left. You'll remember how sad you were and how mad you were and how desperately you wanted things to be different.

You'll remember feeling like it was the end of the world. And now-- you'll know you were half right about that. One world did end. The world of your marriage, that world filled with promises and hopes and dreams, it did end when he left you.

But oh, my sweet, strong warrior friend...oh my goodness. While that world disappeared into a black hole of grief and endings, a whole new world was born. And this new world, the one you are in right now?

It's yours.

Is it the one you pictured yourself in, all those years ago? The one you imagined while resting your head on the chest of your husband, after the sex happened and the two of you shared that lovely afterglow, embraced in the dark and whispered about the future?

No. It's not. But again, I tell you:

This new world is YOURS.

I won't bullshit you. This new world can be scary. It can be intimidating and overwhelming and at times it can feel impossible to navigate. You will make some mistakes. You will mess up. But that's okay. Because like a baby who stumbles while learning to walk, you recover from each misstep. You get up and you start over. One freaking foot in front of the other, sister.

With every day that passes, milestones will be reached. While your old world ended with a whole lot of "lasts", this new world is full of "firsts":

The first time you don't think about him, not once, from the time you wake up until your head hits the pillow.
The first time you don't think about her. About them. About what they did and where they did it.
The first time you realize you didn't cry that day.
The first time you laugh. Hard. Like, pee-your-pants laugh.
The first time your kids mention something about "dad's house" and you don't wince.
The first time you feel the first-date butterflies. And the first kiss bliss.
The first time you realize that somehow, some way, you seem to have forgiven him.
The first time you understand what "moving on" means.

The first time it hits you, and I mean really HITS you:

You survived being left.

And that is MY Messy Beautiful. Thank you for letting me share this, Glennon. I hope it helps someone.




This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!



53 comments:

  1. It is ridiculous, RIDICULOUS! ... how much I love you. Heart-wrenching and hopeful at the same time - perfection.

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    1. So this comment had me crying in the nap room, ha! Thank you. I feel the same way about you :)

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  2. Beautiful Jenny, Just Beautiful! You don't even know how much I NEEDED to read this today. You help me so much.

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    1. Thank you for reading, Samantha. I haven't talked about this crap in a while. Felt like it needed to be visited again :)

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  3. Very nicely written, ma'am. I feel that this cliff is headed my way. It's two months shy of our twentieth anniversary (over half of my life) and I wonder if we're going to make it. At this point, I don't know whether to push, pull, or be still.

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    1. Ugh. I wish I had some super wise, sound advice for you. All I can say is if you feel like it's worth fighting for, do it. You'll find out soon enough if he feels the same way.

      I'm really sorry you're facing this.

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  4. OH did I ever need to read this. I have thought and felt all of those things... and I wasn't married 12 years or blessed with 4 babies. Each messy beautiful is different yet so similiar at the same time. I am thankful to have people to relate to.

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  5. Loved this Jenny. You are a rock star.

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  6. Utterly freaking gorgeously perfect.

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    1. Thanks Salish :) Means a lot to me, coming from you.

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  7. I found your blog about a year ago after googling "what to do when your husband leaves you" and I've been reading you ever since. Your words have been such a gift to me and I want to thank you. Today, this piece jolted me out of "lurker" status. Not being able to look in the mirror with confidence - I have felt that way every day since I was left for someone else. I've never been able to admit that to anyone because I thought nobody would understand. Its been a little over a year and I still experience this. People tell me I should be moving past this stage now but, honestly, I haven't experienced too many of the firsts you mentioned yet. Your words though - wow. They let me know what to look forward and, for that, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

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    1. And now I can barely watch "The Good Wife" because of the tears ♥

      Thank YOU. So, so much. And please, give yourself more time. Hell...it's 7 years for me and some of those firsts have only happened within the past year.

      It's a long, bumpy road that we're on. We all travel it at our own speed, and we are allowed to stop and make as many pit stops as we damn well want/need.

      And you know what I want to tell people who insist that we "move on"? WE ARE MOVING ON. Every single day that we get out of bed, take showers, go to work, parent our kids and face the world, we are "moving on". What sucks is that the only people who really and truly get it, who know what we've been through, are other women just like us. Don't get me wrong: I have lots of friends who have zero idea what this feels like and they have been there for me, loyal like dogs.

      But the only ones who know how hard it is to look in the mirror, how shitty it feels knowing that the person we slept next to was carrying on an entire second, secret life...it's us. You and me and the countless others out there. We know what it's like to have our self esteem blown to bits, and how hard it is to rebuild it while going through a divorce. How we go back and retrace our married steps, trying to figure out if there was a turning point, a moment in marital time when things went south, and if we could have done anything about it.

      The good thing is, you will never hear one of us tell you that "it's time to move on". Because we know that's exactly what you're doing.

      Thank you for coming out of lurkdom to say hello. This means the absolute WORLD to me.

      Big hugs.

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  8. You're such a trooper! I love reading your blog and I'm happily married! Every word is true and honest and insightful. What I like is your survivorship—you are the author of your life. Shit happens to most of us in this life, and I've had other shit I've had to deal with. You can either climb out of the pity soup you're in, or swim around in it. It's good to have a bit of a paddle for a while—I'm not averse to a good wallow in pity soup every now and then—but at some point we have to climb out, hose ourselves down and get on with it. Not just for our kids' sake, but for our own. It can be darn hard to do, but the hardest bit is climbing out. Once you're out and on the road, it gets easier.

    Thanks for being so uplifting, you beautiful person, you.

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    1. Awww Louise, THANK YOU. High praise, indeed. And I adore this sentence:

      "It's good to have a bit of a paddle for a while...but at some point we have to climb out, hose ourselves down and get on with it."

      Love it. I like to refer to it as "The Time For Wound Licking", which I think is the time to rest, recover and regroup. The trick is knowing when it's time to get back at it.

      Your comment made my day (week, actually). Thank you to the moon and back.

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  9. This was amazing to read and came at just the right time for me! I have been wallowing in the pity pit for the past few days. My Ex jetting off on a romantic "out of the country" getaway with his mistress/girlfriend/whatever a few days ago and yet is fighting me legally over continuing to pay for 1/2 of our children's health insurance while I work two jobs and struggle to keep a roof over their heads. I have full custody and a "getaway" to the next town would be a stretch for me right now. Sometimes the resentment builds up to a breaking point in my heart and soul and all I have to cling to is the knowledge that I am doing what is good and right for my children and that will be my legacy to them. His legacy...abandonment, selfishness, and lies. Yes, I am living the best life even though it may be the "hardest" life right now.

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    1. Hi Nicole

      Sorry for your ex troubles. I can relate...oh boy, can I relate! I joke that for me, a vacation consists of driving to the "nice" Target the next city over.

      And guess what? You are 100% right. What you are doing is GOOD. And RIGHT.

      Here's what I do when I start to feel that pity and resentment: I picture my kids and I sitting around a warm, cozy table. About 20 years from now. They are all grown, some have spouses, some have kids. I am a stunning woman with pretty hair (hey it's my fantasy, okay?). We are having wine or coffee and probably a dessert, and we are LAUGHING. We are sharing stories of "back in the day" and "remember that time....". And it's good.

      The kids are going to remember things we don't even consider memory-worthy. They'll remember the time you cuddled on the couch with them. Or the time you sat and looked at baby pictures with them. One of my kids says he'll never forget the time he ran into my bedroom to puke and I caught it (GAH). (p.s. we haven't had Taco Night since then).

      You are living the best life. Not the easiest, and definitely not the most luxurious. But it's the best.

      Hugs to you Nicole. Keep on doing it, sister.

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  10. As always, you are bold in sharing your story. May you find healing in your own words, just as others find it from you.
    I also wrote a post for the Messy Beautiful project. Mine is on toilet trouble and the turds of life.
    Play off the Page

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    1. Thank you Mary! It had slipped my mind that you are also a member of the Divorce Club! And four boys...I feel ya. I loved your post :)

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  11. This had me crying about my whole mess and its been over 2 years since I shed a tear over that. You describe it so well. How you feel Not Good Enough and the one who couldn't keep him for a long time. And indeed, there are moments you never forget. I remember it all about my mess. The smells the sounds the lousy excuses the blaming. Thank you for writing this.

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    1. Thank you so much Jeannette. It really does a number on a woman, huh? There are days when it seems like it has marked me forever. I guess it has...it's up to us to determine if it's a crippling mark or not :)

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  12. You are such a talented writer and I have no doubt your writing will help so many others. Congrats on being included in this project!

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  13. Jenny, it's always good to revisit this. Even though it's been 25 years since getting divorced, I so appreciate being reminded of all the firsts. Some days I'm still paralyzed in fear even. It's all part of the journey of putting one foot in front of the other. Keep bringing it up, thank you.

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  14. Thank you. I haven't seen her for a while, not all in one piece anyway. But damn it if I'm not trying. It's nice to know that one day I will see her again.

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    1. You will see her again, no doubt. No doubt at all :) Thank you for reading!

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  15. Just found you through the Messy, Beautiful Project and loved this. Beautiful writing - I felt like I was right there with you. Thank you for sharing.

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  16. I loved this! It is so nice to know I am not the only one who feels this way. Yes, it has been 7 years, but sometimes the feelings come back around to bite me in the butt. It doesn't help when I am still trying to collect child support and medical support. If my other divorced friends feel this way still, they don't talk about it. I am thankful you are willing to share. I found your blog not long ago, and have been reading everything from the beginning. I'm glad I read this one, today, though! You could be writing the story of my divorce. Sad that so many of us have to go through this. I figure my best revenge is a life well lived (without the ex!).

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    1. Oh Staci, I'm sorry that this reply is just getting written now. Thank you, so much, for this comment. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who still feels this way, even though more than just a couple years have passed. And you made an excellent point: when you have to keep pursuing things like support, and help with the kids, it's as if the divorce is still happening. My divorce was finalized in Dec. of 2006, but I didn't start getting child support again until Feb. of 2013. So yeah, I get what you're saying.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment, and for your kind words. So glad you're here!

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  17. Thank you for such a wonderful post and I now navigating my new world. I too was left and traded in for a 25 year old. My ex husand is 38 and I am 33. My new world included cocooning myself up in ten blankets in a queen size bed all to myself, having time to catch up on reading, and lots of laughs and giggles with my siblings. It's not what I pictured but I sure am having fun. I too wanted to end my life but despite the divorce and being left there are lots of other people who love having me in their lives. Yesterday I unscribed from two divorce help emails I have been getting because I was getting tired of being reminded every day that I am divorced and just want to work on being a good me in the world. Maybe it's a sign of healing and moving on. Take care and hope all is well with you and your family.

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    1. Hi anonymous...so sorry I'm LATE with these replies! I think you are dead on: unsubscribing from the divorce help stuff is a sure sign that you've found your footing again. Those sites and groups are SO GOOD when you're first starting out, but if they do what they's supposed to do, you only need them for a bit.

      Congratulations on your lovely new life. I hope you are doing well!

      Thanks so much for reading, and taking the time to say hello.

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  18. Just discovered your blog - what a treat! You are lovely writer. Can't wait to keep reading more. Cheers, Debra

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    1. Hi Debra! My apologies for the lateness of this reply. Thank you, so very much, for reading. I'm glad you're here!

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  19. As a father to three girls, it gives me comfort that women like you exist. Women who can articulate a struggle I hope they won't encounter, but if they do, that they'll read something like this and be reminded of the beauty that lies beneath in the toughest circumstances.

    That's where so much of our transformation happens, doesn't it? In the mirror. Man, woman or child ... we move at the pace we need to, and even if those who love us don't understand, their loyalty means the world in a time like that.

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    1. Hi Eli! I'm so late with this, but wanted to thank you SO MUCH for this. It's always nice to get a male voice in here. Thank you for being such an aware dad to your girls. You're giving them a priceless gift by being there for them.

      And, amen. You really discover who the rocks are in your life during rough times. I love this: "even if those who love us don't understand, their loyalty means the world". Such truth!

      Thanks so much for reading, and taking the time to comment.

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  20. Beautifully written, once again! I haven't been in your shoes so I can't say I know exactly what you're feeling, but I do know well the way you can wake one morning feeling so much better than the last after you've been through a divorce.

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    1. Thanks my friend. It's a long, strange journey. So glad to have found women like you to keep me company :)

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  21. Thank you, thank you for writing this... I'm now a single mom, out in the world by myself. I was left a year ago, and your words really hit home. There are some days I do really well, and some days I just need to cry, but I am starting to find myself again. I'm re-finding my creativity, my voice, my passions, all things that I realized had been hidden for a long time. Thank you for sharing your story, it gives me hope that things will get better, and some days all I need is a little hope. This is a link to a post I wrote about a month ago that sums up where I'm at...feel free to read it if you like. http://thoughtcatalog.com/kt-blue/2014/03/im-smart-enough-to-realize-you-dont-want-me/

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    1. Hey there! I'm so sorry about how late this response is. Thank you, so so much for reading, and for saying hello. Amen about just needing a little hope some days!

      I'm going to go check out your post. And hopefully learn more about you!

      Thank you.

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  22. You brought tears to my eyes. I am the survivor of an awful, painful divorce and so much of this resonated with me. The day when you look at yourself and really see yourself is when you can finally start to move forward rather than wallowing in what could have been. Life suddenly seems filled with possibilities and it is a beautiful thing.

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    1. Hi Audrey. Thank you so much for stopping by. I'm sorry this reply is so late!! Your words are so true, and my wish is that all women who have been through this special hell will make it to that magical day when life seems okay again.

      Thank you!!

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  23. I cannot evem begin to tell you how much this resonated with me and how much I admire how you were able to put everything into words that I have been at a loss for. Our situations are not identical, but the similarities are flooring...

    Best of luck to you!

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    1. Hi Kelly! Ugh. Sorry we have so much in common, but so happy to have connected this way. It's good to know we aren't alone.

      I wish you luck and peace and happiness. Thank you so much for reading and for saying hello!

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  24. Your story reads almost exactly like my own. I too had four kids and was married for ten years. My youngest was 11 months when out of no where, my husband said he was unhappy and needed time away to learn how to be happy for the sake of the kids. And yes, he was actually leaving for his 21 year old girlfriend. But everything that you said is true. This was two years ago, and I am a much happier person today. Thank you for having the courage to share your story with us!

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    1. Hi Lulu! Ugh..I'm so sorry this has happened to you. And your kids..there are no words. I'm so, so happy that you are finding the smiles again. It really helps to know we aren't in this alone!

      Thank YOU for being a courageous mom and for taking the time to say hi.

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  25. Reading this exact post on Momastery is what brought me here, spending so much of my day speed reading through your blog and realizing that I had previously read some of your essays on Huffington Post. I <3 you so! This is so beautifully written.

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  26. Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this. My husband left me and our then 6 mo old and 3.5 year old children in February 2014, so it's still very fresh for me. Yours is the first story that I've found that sounds so similar to mine. As I read I felt like you were speaking directly to me, like you were reading my mind. I can't wait to experience some of those "firsts" you described. Thanks for putting yourself out there!

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  27. My husband also left in August. Unfortunately, there was more than one "her" which almost killed me at the time but a year later actually makes me feel better - like it's not just that he found someone he loved more than me, he doesn't love anyone so there was nothing I said or did to make it happen. You describe it so well, it's good to know that we can survive the storm and there are better times ahead. Thank you x

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