Since I was a little girl, all I really wanted in this life was to be a mom.
Sure, I wanted to be other things – a world traveler and a teacher and a great hostess. But more than any of this, I wanted to be a mom. I knew what this meant – I’d need to meet someone when I was relatively young, get married, and then have kids, hopefully all before I was 30.
Thank God I met Shawn. I swear, I might have married anyone at 22. But I met him, and my life was amazingly more interesting than it would have been otherwise.
We were both in a bit of a hurry, I guess, because we got engaged when I was just 24 and married six months later. We had a plan that we made on the back of a napkin that involved us both finishing grad school in a couple of years and having our first kid by the time I was 28. Our timeline was off by a little, but otherwise, we did it. In fact, all three kids were born before I was 35. (I walked across the stage to collect my doctorate as Shawn held 10-day-old Austin. We were driven and we were in a hurry.)
When Shawn died, I found myself in a hurry yet again. At first, this meant I had to make sure we’d be financially stable and emotionally whole. I had to make sure that the heat didn’t go off in the house and I had to meet with so many lawyers and financial advisors and therapists I can’t even remember all of their faces at this point. It was dizzying. But I did it. I had to get through it to make sure we wouldn’t fall into a more disastrous place.
After the immediate aftermath of Shawn’s death, I continued to pushed to try and solve other problems in my life. Mostly, this meant I focused on my emotional state. I wanted to do everything I possibly could to “get better,” even though I didn’t know what it would mean to get better. I saw countless therapists, went to all sorts of meetings where I learned about mindfulness and EMDR and God and psychics and really anything that anyone ever suggested might be helpful. Some of it was. Most of it was not. But I wanted to get better as soon as possible, so I tried it all. (Once, I saw two different therapists in one day.)
As I was doing all this, trying to fix myself, I remember saying to a friend, “I just want to fast-forward my life.”
Yep. In a hurry. For whatever was next. I didn’t really know what this was, but I wanted to get there.
Oh, and then there were the men. I was happy when I was married, I figured, so I wanted to be married again. About a year ago, my big goal was to get married again.
It was disastrous. I clung to men who showed the least bit of interest with me, and I pinned my hopes on men who broke my heart. I was in a hurry to find a man to be my counterpart. Not to be too dramatic about it, but I was in a hurry to find a replacement for Shawn.
And, of course, that didn’t happen. Instead, it made me feel worse.
I’m not saying that I shouldn’t have dated. I’m also not saying I shouldn’t have seen therapists or decided on a financial plan in those early days. All of these things were fine to do. They were probably good for me.
What was problematic for me was the speed at which I was trying to do all of this. Like many of my generation, I wanted things to be done at warp speed. I wanted to snap my fingers and fix things and then be happy again.
But of course, it’s a process.
I was talking to my friend Becky the other day about how I’d decided not to go to a conference, but rather to stay home and enjoy the Halloween weekend with my kids. I told her that I was trying to slow down and just live my life, rather than constantly do all sorts of things for my career and emotional state and love life.
She pointed out that for almost two years, I haven’t stopped moving. “In a way, doesn’t it feel like progress that you can decide to slow down?”
“It does,” I said. “It does for sure.”
To be fair, I’ve had a hard time slowing down. I’ve taken just two weekend days off this fall to simply hang out with my family and I still am pressing forward with my writing. I get up religiously at 5:30 everyday and I run every morning. I’m not a very chill person, really.
But. I have started to relax a bit about “getting better” and finding a new partner. And this month, I’ve set my book writing aside, trying to figure out the best next step, rather than just forging ahead.
Instead, I took a few afternoons last week just to ride bikes around the neighborhood with the kids. I reopened my Hulu account and am finishing a series I really like. I flirted with a man at the coffee shop and I didn’t try and follow up with him when he was leaving.
It’s not perfect. But I’m trying to slow down. Not just in how I spend my days, but also in how I think about the future.
I used to hate when people would tell me that things will get better, just not on the timeline I wanted. Dammit, why not? But low and behold, just trying to hurry everything up didn’t make things better.
So for now, I’m trying to slow down. I don’t need to make my life be a certain way. I just need to see how things go. That’s hard, for a planner like me. But slowing down is also the one thing that has brought me a bit of peace this fall.
Because this is my life. And I don’t need to be in a hurry to change it.