I am 43 years old and confronting a major and unexpected move at a time in my life when I had every expectation of building a home rather than dismantling one. After 15 years of marriage, my husband and I are divorcing. We own a beautiful and spacious townhouse, where I have been living alone with our dog since my husband moved out over a year ago. I know I have to get on with my life—which I have found nearly impossible to do living in the home we built together. But I am paralyzed by the idea of moving, of leaving everything that's familiar at a time when I feel completely untethered.
Can you please help me muster the strength and clarity I need to pick up the pieces and move on?
P.S. Wherever I go, my dog goes too (in case you were worried).
— Nora Frank, New York
The timing of Nora's letter, a full year after her husband moved out, is no surprise. My own experience—and the experience of every divorced friend I've known—is that it usually takes about two years to complete this transition. The first year you walk around stunned, angry, sad, feeling punished, wondering what you did to bring this on�and then you emerge from that inward focus, look at your external world, and begin to get ready to take action. You are on the verge of changing your perception of your situation from something that happened to you into something you are in charge of.
The starting point of any emotional life decision is to get very, very quiet with yourself and ask a single question: "What do I want?" Then listen to yourself without judgment. Trust your desires.
You must separate your answer from the tangle of two other issues that will only serve to confuse you: how to make what you want happen, and your worry that somehow the process will go wrong. Blurring Nora's clarity was a deep fear of moving. Every move she'd ever gone through had been a logistical nightmare. But if the details were handled by someone else, if she knew things would go smoothly, what would she choose to do?
I reflected back to her what I had heard: she didn't want the house. It was too big, too much work, too hard living with the trappings of a life that was no longer operative. She wanted to move: to a different neighborhood—one more conducive to single living—where she didn't have the constant reminders of her ex's new life. Instead of taking time to fix up the house for sale, she preferred to sell it to her ex. That would be quicker and would spare her the daunting job of emptying the house for new owners. She could take with her what she wanted, leaving him to decide what to do with the rest.
That decision made, we moved on to the logistics. We toured the house, taking a room-by-room inventory. Nora's goal was to bring with her only what she used and loved, and she found it surprisingly easy to make most of these decisions. She spoke of the "heat" around objects: some were cool, some warm, some hot. The bed was the final quandary. She would need more time to decide whether to take it or buy a new one.
Next, we sat down to brainstorm about guidelines for her new living place. To buy something felt premature. She needed a nurturing, transitional space in which to heal. She wanted to find a charming apartment to rent for a year. That would give her time to reclaim her sense of herself and provide a stepping-stone into her new life. I asked what she liked about her present house. Although the spaciousness appealed to her, she said, over the past year she'd lived in just three rooms—and she was sure that was all she needed. We drew up a wish list. One-bedroom apartment, with space for three to four zones: living room, dining area, office area, bedroom. High ceilings. Light and airy. Must allow dogs.