My husband was a collector. He was a great lover of literature, so he collected books. He loved movies and television, and he collected hundreds of DVDs. He loved music, and so he spent hours curating his iTunes library. The evidence of the things he was passionate about painted the walls of our two-bedroom house – the framed movie posters beside the dining room table, the shelves of DVD box sets, the second bedroom, the library, full of bookshelves.
Sometimes, this passionate man would notice that I wasn’t collecting, I wasn’t organizing, I wasn’t on the walls, and he would say, “What are you passionate about, Sarah? I can’t believe you’re not passionate about anything.”
Of all the unfortunate things we ended up saying to each other, this was the thing hurt me the most. In another lifetime, forever ago, every time I was asked, I internalized this question and my lack of passionate loves became a character flaw. Because he was right. I didn’t have favorites. I didn’t collect. I didn’t need anything.
What kind of adult woman doesn’t know what she loves? It seems unreal and ridiculous now, but this question, this insinuation that I was interested in nothing, made me feel empty and useless. If the person who was closest to me in the world didn’t know what I loved, I must be a total waste of space. While I am confident he didn’t intend for this to happen, this repeated question became for me a manifestation of all my failings. The question, asked again and again, meant that I wasn’t interesting, I wasn’t active, I didn’t care. I was dull, I was unmotivated, I wasn’t going anywhere. I used to have real, deep, hard feelings about this question, as I tried to figure out the next steps in my life.
My husband thinks I’m rudderless, and therefore I am.
And then, I went to Ireland. I was so lost and miserable before I left that going to do archaeology in Ireland (a place I had always wanted to visit) wasn’t even that exciting. Ireland, to me, was the last in a long line of expensive, time-consuming things I’d had to do to get my Masters and I just wanted to get it over with.
Ireland, however, could not have been farther from just an opportunity for me to punch my “field school” card and get the hell out of grad school. While I was there, I traveled, I met people from all over the world, I did hard, wonderful things, I was surrounded by anthropologists and archaeologists and we shared our love of history and bones and digging things up. I had experiences I could never have imagined. I discovered I wasn’t an empty husk of a person. I was passionate.
And it occurred to me, slowly at first and then literally in one second one day, that all these loves, all these passions, had always been there. This had always been me. I had always loved people and experiences and learning and travel. My husband, for all his love for me, had just never seen it, because he had bowed out of travels and dinners with friends and countless trips to see the nieces and conversations about my work in anthropology. He had made himself separate from all the things in life that I loved so much, and in turn, had made me separate from them too.
There are a million different ways in which I won’t forgive myself for ending my marriage. It’s still devastating and humiliating and I struggle daily with defining myself as “divorced,” because it reads to people who don’t know me as “failure,” “quitter,” “selfish idiot who can’t commit.”
However, in a million other ways, I am grateful. For everything. For all things difficult, disgusting, and awful. Because in the end, I found myself. I actually, legitimately, found myself. I am full to the brim with passions and interests and loves of my life. I have never been happier or more fulfilled. Not ever.
I intend to live a life in which no one ever has to ask me again, “Sarah, what are you passionate about?” They won’t have to ask, because they will see it beaming out of me every single day.