The end of a year always seems to be a time for reflection. Looking back, I realize that it’s been 4.5 years since my ex-husband and I separated.

While 2009 resulted in the end of a marriage, it also represented a new start with new opportunities for me.

But a new start doesn’t necessarily mean an easy start. Things felt absolutely terrible at first. I felt so betrayed, so hurt. I immediately struggled with wanting to forgive him so that I could move on with my life quickly, and with being so angry at his childish behavior both before and soon after our separation. I struggled with my perception of him being honorable (He was a Marine after all.), and with him straight up lying about filing the divorce papers. I still don’t understand what was going through his mind, but I’m more able to accept things now.

Regardless of how terrible things felt in 2009, looking back I can see that I was in a rut. My marriage had been in poor shape for a long time. I knew that, and I thought it would get better. I thought it was a phase. If he and I could just get through those bad times, things would be good again.

When my ex- announced that he wanted the divorce, it knocked me on my ass in spite of all of the warning signs. But in the process of picking myself up, the divorce knocked me out of my rut.

Similar to Liz’s response to her newfound freedom during her divorce in Eat, Pray, Love, I started asking myself new questions.

What would I like for dinner?
Would I like to learn to swim?
What things are really important to me?
Do I want the pink shower curtain and towels or the blue?
Do I want to move to Tampa to pursue a Ph.D.?
Do I want to go to the Netherlands to work on data analysis?

In asking, I started learning about myself. From 2009 until 2013, while living in my little one-bedroom apartments I learned to live on my own. Until 2009 this was an untested question. I had always lived with someone before then: parents, room mates, husband. So during those four years of solitude, I learned that, yes, I can live on my own.

I also learned that I can be alone – a subtle distinction from living on your own. Tanya Davis created a great video poem that emphasizes the best parts of what you can learn by living alone, or by being alone even if you are in a romantic relationship (see below).

After four years of living alone, on my own, an opportunity to move in with a room mate presented itself. After thinking about it, I realized that I learned what I needed from my four years of relative solitude, and if I stayed in my one-bedroom apartment I risked falling into another rut.

So at the beginning of 2013 I faced my fears about cohabitating with someone and moved in with a room mate. After a failed, 10-year marriage, I was very scared about living with someone again, even if it was a platonic relationship.

Would I freak out about the dishes if they weren’t done in a timely fashion?
Would we be able to maintain a healthy friendship if we had an argument?
Would we fight all of the time?

I’ve learned a lot from living with my room mate, and I no longer fear living with someone in the future (hopefully in a romantic context). I’m not the emotional bombshell I was during my volatile marriage, so no, I don’t freak out if the dishes aren’t done. And no, my room mate and I don’t argue all of the time. We’ve had a disagreement or two, but we’ve worked them out. In fact our friendship is probably stronger because of them.

I guess I’ve learned the things I needed to learn from living with a room mate, because next weekend I’ll be living on my own again. I look forward to challenging myself by living in my tiny (400 sq ft!) space. I look forward to the challenge of not becoming too much of a hermit, as I sometimes do.

Overall, I look forward to the challenge of avoiding ruts in life. And if I can’t avoid them, I hope that I can identify them quickly so that I can start digging myself out of them before they become holes.

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