It may not come from the people we expected it to come from. It may not be found in the places we expected to find it. But it always comes, right when it should.
Five years ago, I sat at my computer on a snowy winter evening and scrolled through the Craigslist personal ads, wondering who in their right mind would be interested in me: a 34-year-old divorcee with a 2-year-old daughter, no job, and no money of her own. After 12 years of marriage, I was about to move with my child out of our family home, out of our blue-shingled safe haven, and into a future that seemed to offer nothing but sadness and uncertainty.
I thought—no, actually, I knew—no one would want me. I was old, broke, and boring. My body was nothing like it had been in my 20’s, the last time I was single. I had given up my career and a huge chunk of my life to raise a daughter. Meanwhile, the person I trusted the most had betrayed and discarded me like yesterday’s trash. I felt worthless.
I’m not sure what I expected to find on those message boards. Another single dad, who felt as abandoned and bewildered as I did? A man who had been hurt like me, who could show me the way through my grief? Or someone who would, in all my ugly pain and disgrace, make me feel beautiful again, if even for one night?
In the blue glow of the computer screen, I scrolled those ads all night, entranced by anxiety, sorrow, and confusion that only got worse with each passing hour. I felt so deeply damaged and so thoroughly distrustful that I wondered if I might ever feel whole again.
What I learned pretty quickly in those weeks and months following the end of my marriage was that many men would want me, but they would want me for the wrong reasons. They needed a mother—for their own children or, in some cases, for themselves. They needed someone to show off at parties, or someone who would drop everything to accommodate their sexual wishes. Some of them knew what they wanted, and why they wanted it. Most had no idea.
There were awkward conversations, bad dates, and a few breakups that only reminded me of the devastating end of my marriage. Over time, I cared less about who wanted me, or whether anyone found me attractive. I was too busy raising a toddler, paying the bills, and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Eventually, I found a job, started writing again, and studied for the graduate school entrance exam. Working and studying made me feel strong, and that strength made me feel capable.
Little by little, I got my self back. Actually, no. That’s not true at all. This is true: Little by little, I found a self that I never knew existed.
It is only on nights like tonight, when I look back on that desperate evening in front of the computer screen, that I understand the despair of the moment. I was looking out at the world through a broken heart, and I wanted to know that I was still worthy of love, that I was valuable, and that someone wonderful and kind was out there waiting for me.
I wanted to find some reason, any reason, to be hopeful.
Tonight, I’m sitting at my computer again. It isn’t snowing, though the weatherman has predicted rain. My daughter, now 7 years old, is asleep in the next room. I am 39. I have a career and a savings account. I publish stories about the pain of divorce and the struggles of motherhood. And tomorrow, I am getting married.
By the time you read this, I will have exchanged vows with my partner outside in the sunshine on a winter afternoon, my smiling daughter by my side. I will have raised a glass of champagne on a balcony full of my friends for a toast to my new family. I will have said a silent prayer of gratitude for how far life has taken me, for the hope I had in my heart even on the darkest of nights, and for the astonishing truth that the worst day of my life, in time, became the best.
The man who will be my husband doesn’t need a mother, or arm candy. He doesn’t actually need anything, and he has never once asked me to be whole, though his absolute acceptance does make me feel that I am. We knew each other a long time ago, back in high school, but neither of us would have been ready for the other until now. We each had some difficulties to live through, and to learn from, to prepare us for this moment, this moment when our true selves could stand side by side.
What I know now is that we are all, every one of us, valuable. We are all worthy of love. It may not come from the people we expected it to come from. It may not be found in the places we expected to find it. It may not even come when we think we need it the most. But it always comes, right when it should. And sometimes it stays.
Wendy Fontaine’s writing has previously appeared on the Huffington Post, Utne Reader, Brain Child magazine, Mamamia, iVillage Australia, and a handful of literary magazines. You can read more of her here at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/