My next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand feels naked now.
After signing divorce papers last week, 15 months after my husband abruptly informed me our marriage was over, I finally took off my rings. Since then, I have stopped more than once each day trying to remember what I seem to have forgotten. Only to remember that I have not actually forgotten anything but I am still missing something.
My awareness of my naked ring finger has startled me a little. You see, marriage never felt like an inevitability to me. It came to me as an unexpected and great gift when I was not looking for it. I never believed I needed a mate. My parents have done an admirable job of giving their children the tools to be capable adults and pretty self-sufficient. They wisely realized that whether we ended up with life partners or not, we needed to be well-rounded people able to pitch in and help and serve and love in a variety of situations.
As I became an adult, I became convinced that some people are called to be single and some are called to be married and both are very vital and important roles in their communities. I spent years in college seriously contemplating whether I was personally called to lifelong celibacy. It is a question I believe each young adult should wrestle through. The church misses out on the very vital and important role of lifelong singles in the community when we assume that everyone is married, planning to get married, or hoping to get married.
After college I got to know this truly unique and extraordinary man and I fell head-over-heels in love with him and began to learn what it feels like to have a partner. I experienced the great mystery that is romantic love and relished the ways it brought out new sides of me. I loved the way being in love both softened and strengthened me. I began to get glimpses of why marriage is such a powerful and profound analogy. Embarking on the adventure of lifelong commitment to one person (and especially this one person) became more and more attractive to me.
When he put the first ring on the next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand, it came with a joyful but serious weight. My life story was now forever linked to another’s story. My joys and sorrows were now inextricably linked to another’s joys and sorrows. My successes and failures were now inevitably linked to another’s successes and failures.
As we began planning our life together and charting our course, I began to realize how truly transformative having a life partner can be. Every dream and vision and goal now included someone else in the picture and I loved it. My horizons broadened and stretched in ways I still do not fully comprehend.
Then with the second ring he placed on the next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand came an even greater but also more joyful weight. In my heart and mind, there was now no more turning back. For better and for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part, he was mine and I was his.
It took me by surprise how much I loved being married. It was so much more wonderful than I ever expected. It was also more painful and more difficult than I was prepared for but I never regretted a minute. Being married to this man made my life greater and more beautiful and more significant than living on my own and every moment felt so worth it. I became more aware of my strengths and weaknesses as I became more aware of his strengths and weaknesses. My life became more with him in it and he became more with me in his life. My capacity for empathy grew as I learned to laugh when he laughed and cry when he cried. The world became richer and brighter and clearer as I learned to see it through someone else’s eyes in addition to my own. He introduced me to and I learned to deeply appreciate things I had never even noticed before. And it brought me indescribable happiness to share things I loved with him and watch him grow to love those things too. I barely missed the small freedoms I gave up with singleness as I gained so much more with marriage.
It was incredible having this life partner – someone I could share everything with. The knowledge that I would always have his back and he would always have mine was so comforting and safe. I believed that no matter what lines the world may draw, we would always be on the same team. After living all over the world, and moving more times than I was years old, I finally had a best friend I would never have to say good-bye to. I chose to trust him and be completely honest with him. I bared my soul to him and lived with a naked abandon that brought much freedom to my being. I ventured into places of bold vulnerability and discovered the great peace and vast openness that can come with living so transparently.
I so enjoyed this newfound bare, naked way of living that I did everything I could to preserve that openness between us. I pushed to the side the small, quiet murmurs of concerns, worries, and fears until they grew into a great cacophony that I could no longer ignore. And when I began asking questions that could not be answered, I discovered that marriage, in addition to exposing the many beautiful places in one’s soul, will also reveal the great darkness and masked places in one’s soul. Marriage is a great bright light that shines on the beautiful and ugly in equal measures and if you want to live naked, you will have to see and know all, in addition to being seen and known in all your beautiful and ugly parts by your spouse.
I painfully discovered our partnership was not what I thought it was and that the deep joy that came with the openness and transparency I so valued was not mutual. There were stark lines in the sand that we were not both on the same side of and I found out that the commitment that came with the weight of the rings on the next-to-the-pinkie fingers on our left hands was not as irrevocable in his heart and mind as it was in mine. Most heartbreakingly, I learned that the horizon I thought we were chasing together was not the same horizon after all. He had chosen a new road and new travel companions and I could not journey on with him any further.
It is still confusing and disorienting that I could have lived with such nakedness but still not fully know and be known by my life partner. I think that must be part of the unfathomable mystery that is the individual and the individual soul. As much as you may try to share everything in your life, as much as you want to fully embrace becoming “one flesh”, you will still always have separate hearts, minds, bodies, and souls. Your partner will always remain to some extent “other”. (That is probably part of what can keep us interested in one other person for 40-50 years.) You will always have something new to learn and discover about your life partner. Some of those discoveries will be dazzling beautiful and some of those discoveries will be heartrendingly hideous and all we can each do is keep loving and learning and forgiving and supporting our partner as we nakedly face the great bright light together with immense grace.
So maybe I should not be so surprised by the nakedness I feel now. I am in a new phase of life where my soul is no longer bared but the next-to-my-pinkie finger is again. I hope over time the naked feeling of my ring finger will fade. I pray the grief and feelings of great loss begin to subside soon. But I hope I never, ever forget the powerful and hard-won truths I learned through marriage and deeply loving and being committed to another. I hope I have learned to live with a new transparency and empathy that will benefit both me and my community. I hope my greater appreciation for “other” and seeing the world through another’s eyes will only keep growing. I desperately hope my horizons keep expanding ever wider and farther.
Maybe my next-to-my-pinkie finger on my left hand will remain naked for the rest of my life or maybe it won’t. But I will never regret the years it proudly carried the weight of his rings and all the joys and pains that came with them. I did not get the lifelong marriage I was planning, expecting, and working toward but I am still deepened and changed through knowing him and loving him and living life with him. And I think mostly for the better.