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Suzanne Temple


“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
-Mary Oliver    

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a wife and a mother. It doesn’t take much investigative acuity to realize this: a brief flip through any family album will find me surrounded by dolls, dolls that I brought with me on family vacations, to restaurants and the grocery store, even to school, long after it was socially acceptable to bring them. But I didn’t care. I was their mom; I couldn’t leave them at home.

Early memories of playing include not just my dolls, but playing house. I can remember shoving a beach ball under my shirt at the ripe age of six, pretending to be pregnant. The vague memories I recall of preschool include playing mom and wife to other preschool children. Getting married and having kids was always a central part of my narrative, self-imposed as it may have been: I just needed to get old enough to find the husband.

It came rather as a shock to me that I didn’t meet a husband in high school. The paltry narratives that exist for women suggested that I should have met someone - even if not someone I could marry now, at least someone whom I could reconnect with at some class reunion, laugh at our silly selves in high school, and fall madly in love. But, really, there was no one.  “Ah well,” I thought, “there will be so many new boys at college.”

College proved to be a wild ride: too much fun, LOTS of boys, many friends and parties, a burgeoning sense of self, independence, but no MRS. degree.  It didn’t seem right: this wasn’t fitting in with what was supposed to happen.

Shortly after college, friends began to get married. At first, it was just a slow trickle of engagements and weddings. Then came the monsoon. By 23 years old, I was the oldest woman in my family to not be married. I watched in jealousy, indignation, and pain as my friends and sisters got married.  It felt so unfair: Some of these women weren’t even sure that they ever wanted the husband and children that I always so desperately did, and yet they got it.  I watched in horror as others were living my desired narrative, a narrative that eluded me.  In my estimation, I was a colossal failure. My whole life I had had one goal, one desire. And it felt like I had missed a boat somewhere. All around me, my friends’ and family’s fairytales were coming true, and I was just Suzanne, alone. How frustrating it is that the things I truly wanted - a husband and children by him - were the only things that I could not get through hard-work and dedication. All the grit in the world would not help me get to where I desperately and painfully wanted and thought I needed to be. It felt like everyone else’s lives were working out, and I was stuck. I was certain that something must be wrong with me.

Somewhere in the midst of this, I met Andy.  We met at a friend’s wedding on Valentine’s Day, I in a red dress, him in a groomsman’s tux.  We danced to Journey, talked, and kissed.  My own fairytale come true. Silly, light-hearted, and intelligent, I loved him wildly. I had met the guy, the one whom I had dreamt of since I was a small child stuffing a beach ball under my shirt. Here was the cheese to my macaroni. The peanut butter to my jelly. Our relationship fell into place quickly and easily.

Early on, we had a discussion about where we saw ourselves in the future. When I told him about how certain I was about wanting marriage and children, he agreed: he wanted those things, too.  However, at the time we were 24 and 25 years old: We had degrees to finish, careers to establish, debt to pay off.  Knowing that marriage and children were coming was enough for the time.

As we stayed together, days turned to weeks, which turned to months, which turned to years. Summer after summer, we went to wedding after wedding. The weddings created marriages, which led to children. Our progression was slower. We moved in together after two and a half years. We bought a house after three, a house that, at Andy’s suggestion, was located in a strong school district for the children that we would have.  Despite these timid but promising steps forward, there was no proposal. He answered my questions about marriage and children with somedays, and I fell into a spiral of self-doubt. If I could just be ENOUGH, just prove to him that I was worth it, then it would happen. Five and a half years of my life I spent bending over backwards trying to prove to him that I was enough. I never stopped to wonder if he was enough for me.

July 29, 2014 was a summer day like any other.  Andy went off to work, and I spent the day doing projects around the house and reading.  When Andy got home from work, we discussed the potential of staying at hotel for the weekend, and I headed off to a girls’ night with “The Wives,” the name I gave my friends who are the spouses of Andy’s good friends.  We gossiped about our partners, laughed a lot, drank wine, and ate appetizers.
I arrived home around 9pm.  Andy, per usual, was watching TV on the flowered couch in the cool basement.  As I came in, I noticed that something seemed off.

“Hey!  Are you okay?” I ventured.

Nervously, Andy replied, “Sit down, will you?  We need to talk.”

“Okay…” I said tentatively, sitting down on the couch at his feet.  My thoughts raced.  This is it!  He’s finally going to do it.  Andy had always told me that when he proposed, he was going to catch me off guard, make me think that something terrible had happened so that I’d be surprised.

Wide-eyed, nervously, he struggled to get the words out: “The older I get, the less I want to get married and have kids. But I know you want those things. And I love you too much to make you wait any longer for the things you want in this life.”

The word breakup was never even stated.  We both knew what those words meant.

So I watched in slow motion as my world crumbled around me. Five and a half years, 18% of my life, with this man. And he changed his mind. And that was that.

I spent the next year and a half picking up the pieces, grieving, hollow, destroyed. How could this be my life? How could this be my reality? Why had this happened to me? Within a month, I had moved out and into a new cute place, and I focused on decorating. I threw myself into work, staying at school for ten hours most days. I went to therapy for hours a week. I tried yoga. I joined an art class. I blogged. And I cried and cried and cried and cried until my face was raw and chapped and the tears dried up. And then I cried more, no tears left to fall. Never a religious person, I tried going to church. I surrounded myself with posters of platitudes from Patina and Etsy: “You are always enough,” “Always believe that something wonderful is going to happen,” “Be open to whatever comes next,” “Think happy, be happy.” I read breakup self-help books. I obsessively and repeatedly read and recited “Desiderata” by Max Ehrmann, weeping over the line, “Neither be cynical about love, for despite all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.” I said yes to every invitation friends and family threw my way, dying to be distracted, to be whole again. But nothing worked. I felt like a ghost, a shell of myself. Nothing felt real - I was living in suspended animation.

It was not just the loss of Andy that I was mourning - though I felt his absence, the absence of my best friend and companion, acutely.  I was also mourning the death of my dream. All my hopes, aspirations, and visions of my future were wrapped up in that relationship. I had to learn how to not only let go of my Andy, but my dream, too. Two years later, it’s still hard to say which is the harder to release.

My family didn’t really know what to do with me during this period.  None of them had come close to experiencing anything close to what I had. Here I was, 31 years old, standing among the wreckage of a failed relationship and splintered dream. My mom was married a month after she turned 23. My older sister got married at 22. My little sister also got married at 23.  My dad tried to tell me he could empathize because of a breakup he went through in 9th grade.  That did not go over well.  With three happy, stable marriages in my nuclear family, I felt like the odd one out, the sad spinster aunt.  I felt that I had failed by not getting married.  They all tried to tell me that they didn’t see it that way, that they loved me, whether I was partnered or not, that my “necessary” narrative was just that - mine.  I couldn’t hear them, convinced they were all just lying to try to make me feel better. In my grief, I was jealous, snide, and nasty to them at times. But, despite this, they all tried to help me in anyway they thought they could. They bought me a couch, took me to shows, helped me find a place, and met the movers so I didn’t have to.  They answered 2am drunken texts with love and empathy. They welcomed me into their homes.  They listened, hour upon hour. They held me as I wept. In hindsight, I see how each of these kindnesses moved me centimeters along the path of recovery. But at the time, it felt like I was standing still, the world racing around me.

And then, in the fall of 2015, my dad, my dear and ever practical dad who has a special gift for bring the ethereal down to the functional, said something that changed my life. He said, “Suzanne, no matter what life you have, whether it’s married with kids or single without them, you are giving something up. Instead of focusing on what you don’t have, why don’t you focus on what you do?” At the time I brushed it off as callous advice. Like he could ever understand what it’s like to not have what he has?!?  But, over time, I found myself returning to this idea.

It started slowly, creeping in at the edges of my mind. I began to pay attention and reframe. When my friend Kristin couldn’t come out to dinner because her husband was at work, and she had to stay home with her busy one-year old, I felt that familiar pang of jealousy and resentment.  But, in that moment, I forced my brain to reframe: I chose to notice not that she had what I wanted, but that she was burdened in ways I was not, and I felt that jealousy and resentment slip away an eensy bit.  With other friends, too, to push past my jealousy of their marriages and kids, I started to notice what they had given up to have them: free time, flexibility, sleep, alone time, freedom, autonomy, et cetera.  This allowed me a greater appreciation of those things in my life. As my mindset continued to shift, I began to try this in other areas of my life.  Instead of feeling sad about not having anyone to watch TV with, I began to revel in the alone time: I could take off my pants, watch whatever I wanted for as long as I wanted, and eat with my chest as the table for my plate.  On Christmas Eve 2014, I was filled with sadness and jealousy that my sisters were with their in-laws. I felt left out and like the loser sister who had nowhere to be on Christmas except with her parents. In contrast, on Christmas Eve 2015, I jokingly said to my sisters, “Bye, Bitches! Have fun with your mothers-in-law! I’m going to hang out with our family and have one too many Manhattans with Dad.” This noticing and reframing became less tentative and started to become a main way of thinking. I began to learn to revel in the freedom of the life that being single affords me. I realized that how I view my life and circumstances is a choice.  I could choose to be sad, jealous, and resentful, or I could choose to feel gratitude for what I do have, which is a lot.

So I chose to choose gratitude: I was given this one life. I refuse to spend one more minute of it waiting for a future that may or may not happen. I already gave five and a half years of my life away doing that. I choose to take advantage of the freedom I have and live my life fully and unapologetically. I am embracing the life that I have rather than mourning the one that I lost or anxiously anticipating the one that awaits me in the future.

This is not to say that this always comes naturally; it is definitely something that I have to work on intentionally. To cement this mindset, I have to act with purpose and deliberateness, challenging thoughts of inferiority and sadness that creep in. I remind myself that life changes quickly and unexpectedly.  Reminding myself of this, I can understand that I will not always have the life I have now: I will age, I could get sick, I could meet someone and fall madly in love, and eventually, I will die, this one wild and precious life over. Every minute I spend in should is a minute I spend away from now.

To take advantage of my now, this summer I’ve decided to embark on a series of adventures, which I’ve coined The Summer of Suz, or S.O.S. among my best friends, all in the spirit of embracing my one wild and precious life. I have scheduled a mini-adventure for every day of my summer vacation, an adventure that I probably wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, done had my narrative worked out as planned. I am living it up: visiting new restaurants, going on road trips, exploring state parks, going to wineries and breweries, biking at night, trying tasty cocktails, going to museums and art fairs. Sometimes my friends or family join me on these adventures, and sometimes I go it alone.  I am truly experiencing Minnesota summer, and I’m having one hell of a fun time doing so.  Did you hear that?!?  I am enjoying my life again.

And, for the first time ever in my adult life, I can finally say that I am happy and content with my life as it is. Every night before I go to bed, I write in my one-sentence happiness journal, and I don’t have to struggle to think of a positive entry to write. I find myself proudly posting photos of myself on Instagram and facebook routinely, a practice I had all but abandoned over the past year and a half because I was ashamed of my life and where I was. Crying, which used to be a daily occurrence, has diminished to a once every few months event. I’ve mostly let go of that narrative that once simultaneously guided and stifled my life. I am no longer a victim of my own self-imposed narrative of should.  I am now a beneficiary of the narrative of is.  With this thinking, life is no longer something that happens to me; it’s something I do, wildly, unabashedly, passionately, and freely.

And here’s what I’m learning: There is a wild and beautiful world out there just waiting to be reveled in and explored, but there’s no chance to gain from it without getting out there and experiencing it.  It’s okay to not fit the narrative, no matter who imposes it: there is an abundance of peace and happiness in alternate storylines. I may not ever get married or have children, and, I can honestly say, for the first time ever in my life, that while I’d still like those things, it’s okay if it doesn’t happen because I now know that I can find peace and contentment without them. Finally, I’ve learned that there are no fairytales. Even the “happiest” of people have their own struggles and “stuff,” whether it be in their relationships or elsewhere in their lives.  Having a spouse and children in no way guarantees happiness.  No one, whether they’ve fit the narrative or not, escapes this life without pain, suffering, and disappointment. We get to decide how we face these hardships, and in facing them with gratitude, realism, and positivity, we open ourselves up to a whole world of happiness that we never even knew could exist.

The preciousness of my one life does not come from following an intended path, but rather from enjoying whatever path I’m on while I have the life to be on it.  It’s the wildness - the unexpectedness, the pain, the growth, the living - that makes life precious. And rather than sitting back and waiting for the life I once thought I needed, I choose to take to my heart the wildness of the life that I have and allow the preciousness to flow in while I still have this one life.
So what do I intend to do with my one wild and precious life?  I choose to live it.