How The End Of My Marriage Became The Beginning Of Me

Amanda Chatel

When my marriage came to an end, I thought that I’d never be able to look at my friends and family again. Not only did I foolishly rush into my marriage, but my friends and family spent a small fortune to get to my wedding reception in Paris. When you know your best friend had to take out a credit card specifically to charge her flight to your wedding, there’s more than a bit of guilt that hangs over your head. There was also a whole boatload of humiliation. I had never been cheated on before, and to say it wounded my pride would be an understatement. It violently pissed all over my pride, cut it up into bits, and then tossed it in a garbage fire.

When I met Olivier, I had been single for a year following a painful breakup, but I was still broken. The emotional and mental wounds from that past relationship had yet to fully heal. That was a tough relationship on many levels, but where it hurt most was how in love with him I was, and how not-so-in-love with me he was. Because of that, I kept myself on mute at all times, too scared to do anything extraordinary and lose what flimsy connection we had. It’s brutal to keep who you really are at a one on the dial at all times.

If you compound my four years in that relationship, my year single, then my three years with Olivier, that’s eight years; eight years of being a person in a space and place in time that I don’t even recognize now. I look at photos of myself from that era and I recognize the features as being mine, but it’s somehow not the same. That person is a distant figure. Even her smile looks a little off to me.

A few months after my marriage to Olivier ended, I decided to take a leap. I booked a flight to Bangkok. My plan was to travel through Thailand, then Cambodia. While I had traveled throughout Europe alone extensively, Asia was a whole other stratosphere. It was worlds away from what I knew in every possible sense. But I found being far away worked for me. I felt surprisingly at home wandering through the narrow streets of Bangkok and climbing through the ruins of Siem Reap. There was an unbelievable peacefulness to it. It was as if I’d been holding my breath for so long, and now I could finally breathe and breathe deeply.

Amanda Chatel

When I returned from Asia, I started working on the book that I had long put off. I dove into it not just because I had a story to tell, finally, but because whatever had blocked me before was gone. I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Some of it was garbage, some of it was decent, and some of it I was proud of. Then, I booked a trip to South Africa. I went on Safari and kept a notebook with me, writing the whole time. I celebrated my birthday with a dozen strangers from various parts of the globe that year under the Mpumalanga night sky. It was such a stark contrast to the birthdays I’d been having for years, the over-the-top themed birthday parties, and I found that the me who had been on hiatus preferred it this way.

Little by little, I unearthed things about myself that I either didn’t realize or had forgotten. I became even more fiercely independent, more compassionate, and more understanding. I became involved with things that mattered to me at a rate I hadn’t in the past. I became more outspoken than I had in the past, and I let go of anger. I found beauty in things and in people that I hadn’t before, I mended broken friendships, and spent even more time with my family.

I needed to be part of the collapse of something that's supposed to be forever to shake me from my comfort zone.

Then, after a whole year of cultivating this new me, the me I’m supposed to be, I even went so far as to forgive Olivier for cheating. I called him up and forgave him. I repeated the words over and over again, unable to believe what I was hearing, but it had to be done. I had to be free of the anger. I could no longer be that person who held life-long grudges. It didn’t fit with the person I was — and am today. Then, if that wasn’t strange enough, we became friends. We talked all the time; I even called him from Monkey Island in Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, to tell him that someone across the way from my bungalow was playing the Edith Piaf song he used to sing to me, so we could both have a laugh.

I realized we were better as friends. I could finally see that we complemented each other as people, as opposed to romantic partners. And in between all this traveling, mending of relationships, and making peace with people who wronged me, I wrote and painted. I spent one weekend painting canvas after canvas as if it were my last weekend on Earth. I listened to music in languages I didn't understand and read authors I never considered reading. I felt as though I had been asleep and now I was awake. And it continues today.

Amanda Chatel

Here I am, two and a half years after my marriage came to an end, and the me I found is still here. In the past year, I've explored four more countries, finished writing my book, and had to buy a whole new set of paints. I would never say I'm completely happy, but I'm content and feel at home in my life; cozy and at peace. So if that's how we define happiness, then I'm happy.

I don't know for sure if it was the end of my marriage that brought on the new me or if it was simply my time, but I do think I needed to love so deeply and lose at such a catastrophic level to get to where I am. I needed an emotional smack in the face to get my priorities in order and seek out things bigger than myself. I needed to be part of the collapse of something that's supposed to be forever to shake me from my comfort zone.

I would say, by far, I'm a better person now. I'm more reasonable and have a better grasp on the present and the future — the past is just the past. Although I'm still a work in progress, I can feel, in the core of my being, I have arrived to the me I'm supposed to be. It may have taken me a while to get here, but I've always preferred to be fashionably late.