With my husband now settled into a relatively permanent fixed abode, the photographs need dividing into his and mine (albeit we have agreed to scan digital copies to share). With the albums in my possession, and with a lump in my throat, l started to sift through the albums and choose how they should be split.
Since our separation, looking at our photographs has been painfully sad, especially looking at any of us as a happy smiling couple united as one. Initially I was not able to look at them at all. In time, after a heavy down-on-the-floor weekend playing the Beatles Let-It-Be over and over, I was able to go through them and pick out some happy memories (all of the children) that I then displayed proudly. The ‘couple’ photos remained untouched and locked away…. until now.
This time it was different. As I looked at the photographs I made some remarkable discoveries.
1.There were lots of photos of the children, their achievements and us as a family. This was no surprise. Family meant everything.
2. There were photos of the two of us. Having spent the best part of two years reflecting on my life as it was and within that reflection detaching emotionally from him, as I now looked at the photos of us, I no longer saw an entwined couple but rather two people as separate individuals. This was a weird feeling and something I had not expected to see.
3. There were the photos of my (now-ex) husband running, bush-walking, skiing, winning soccer awards, dancing, entertaining, laughing, singing, joking, talking, and as a leader in the community and work. This also was no surprise. He led a full life.
4. I could not find any photos of me. There were photos of me beside him cheering him on as his wife. There were photos of me with babes in arms or embracing my children or standing proud celebrating their achievements. There were photos of me in the kitchen (that is where I was when he was entertaining). However, there were no photos of me as ‘me’, separate from my roles as wife and mother. I looked in all the albums and in all the boxes of loose photos. Eventually from nearly one hundred albums and four boxes, I found one photo of me receiving my post-graduate degree in 1991. Other than that, I had to go back to my childhood, my school days and my graduation in 1975, to find some of me.
What does this mean?
The issue here is not about divorce or my own strength or weakness. It is a reflection of what marriage was about to me and I believe to women of my generation, compared to my husband and the men in our generation. Men tend to have clear images of self and wind their wives, family and work around that image as additions to self. Women, on the other hand (or at least I did), live by the image of their role. My role was that of wife and mother. I became the supportive wife and mother. Somehow the self bit of me became lost.
This concept is nothing new and much has been written on it. The dark side of that is, that if you live by your role in life, and you lose that role, you lose everything.
Before, seeing only my role as wife and mother gone forever by the loss of my marriage, I deeply mourned for that role. What was remarkable this time when I was looking through the photos, was that I was looking for myself. I was looking for the me that was separate from those roles. The remarkable thing I discovered was, that my thought processes had changed. I now knew that me as self existed beyond my life roles. While I could not find many photos, I realised that did not mean that the person who was me did not exist. I now knew I had been there all along – that is why I was hunting for photos of me – and it was then I realised there were few photos, because you cannot take photos of what is inside.
Thank you for sharing this experience. It rings true to me as well. I am so pleased for you that you are seeing yourself anew – unfolding like a beautiful butterfly! I really admire your ability to not be critical but to look forward to the future.
It is very hard at times, but I am trying VERY hard to keep that positive eye on the future.
Thanks for your kind comments
You are welcome and take care 🙂
I can really relate to this!
I think we (us mothers) can all relate to losing ourselves……at least for a little while
Wow – what a revelation! How interesting it must be for you to be looking through new eyes…
Yes, it is with a sudden clarity and I keep wondering where it has come from.
That’s a pretty profound insight. I have found that my adult self sees my childhood very differently than I perceived it at the time. I’m sure that sense is much more intense looking back at a marriage that seemed to define you at the time.
Yes, it was quite weird (looking at the marriage from different eyes). I have looked back on my childhood photos since writing the post and I agree that my adult eyes now see my childhood differently;. At the same time it is as if I am recognising myself for the first time in years.
Wow! “… it was then I realised there were few photos, because you cannot take photos of what is inside.” Beautiful.
It is a realisation that is starting to hit home.
Beautifully rendered Elizabeth…and yes, perhaps a generational thing. There are no pictures of me from my prior marriage – unless I’m with my sons. Interestingly, no pictures of me with my ex, either. I wanted to be invisible within this construct – except in my mom role. But who was I then? Pictures will never tell.
Did you destroy the photos?
I am still not sure whether to go to that step yet.
Thanks for your comment. It is comforting to know that others have been through the same dilemma.
Quite the eye opener, and adding more weight to your perception of your former role. I know it may be a generational thing, but when you think about it, it is still sad, isn’t it?
I have a picture of myself from my former marriage that I like because it is totally me: curled up reading a book. My other true love. 🙂
It is sad from two perspectives, losing the me-self in marriage, and losing the wife-self in divorce. I have not carefully looked at each and every photo yet… I will in time.
thanks for your comment, I really appreciate your perspective
Beautifully said, Elizabeth. After my divorce, when I went back through photos of me and my ex, I was struck by how sad and distant I looked in most every photo. I thought that I was doing such a good job ‘putting on a happy face’ for the world, and in retrospect, anyone with any knowledge of my ‘former self’ must have intuited how incredibly unhappy I was. Funny what one sees when looking at things with a bit of distance and perspective.
I did not think that I was unhappy… and yet looking back I can see the light had faded from my eyes and I did not even know.
Now is the time for that light to start shining again.
Thanks for your kind comment. I really appreciate you stopping by. It is the knowing that others understand what I am feeling that is helping me through. Thanks
I know exactly what you mean, Elizabeth… Stay strong–you will make it through, of that I have no doubt…
Thanks for your belief in me.
I have pictures of the kids, pictures I had taken of us all, pictures of the kids (and I on the other side of the camera) supporting my ex in his endeavors, and I have pictures that others (not my family) took of me at various events/activities (Habitat for Humanity, a mission trip to Africa, girls weekend trips, etc) and VERY FEW of us as a couple…I feel like I had a life, it just wasn’t one HE was interested in being a part of…
There are very few of us as a couple too. It is strange that… after forty years.
I am glad that you did your own thing and have happy memories of those adventures and achievements.
One of the first things that happened after my separation was not having to be distracted from experiencing Life by having to pose for my husband’s pictures. He never would take pictures of any of us in the midst of actually living; he would get people to stop what they were really doing to pose.
Ha ha. I can definitely relate to that 🙂
You must go and see ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’.
There is a fantastic scene in that where the character played by Sean Penn ( a famous photographer) does NOT take a photo …. because he wants to absorb the moment.
There is merit in that.
Your post is all about self discovery and insight is it not? So as you thought of ways and means to divide the indivisible, what was your learning?
Ah! Good question!
I think the divisions would be into the ‘illusion’ and the ‘truth’.
The only question then would be, which ones do I keep; and which ones do I throw away?
Thanks for your comment.
This is such a similar experience with most mothers, good reminder to have people take pictures of you with your children and grandchildren. Also, what interests you have, for example if you sew or paint, have the craft in the photo, this will produce a document and memory in families. I loved this idea for your post today, Elizabeth! Hugs, Robin
Thanks. I have just spent 3 days with my mother and looked through all her photo albums. I noticed that she has many more photos of herself in her senior years then all the previous decades combined. Interesting.
Wow! You describe this so well–with the knowledge that it has been written about so often; but there is something about the way you delve into this that is new and fresh.
I have to be honest–I want not to lose track of this. I want it all collected in one place that I can read as a book someday. Are you possibly thinking of doing that?
Yes I am thinking of it. Finding the time is the hardest part. It’s a lot harder than writing a 700 word blog-post.
Yes, it is so much harder, and so much more time-consuming. A book, to be successful as a book, has to be more than a collection of short blog posts or essays. Finding the structure, the thing they sometimes call “narrative arc” is definitely not easy. I’m glad you’re thinking of trying, though. I think you can do it.
Well I have been navigating writing programmes for a start (albeit that I have come full circle back to WORD), and think I need to invest in a larger computer screen for all these planning and outline bits.
Do you mean MS Word, Elizabeth? Or are you talking about what we here in the states call “writing programs” which is a course of study, usually graduate-level? (leading to an MFA). If you’re talking about computer applications, Word is best if you have a PC (non-Mac product).
If there’s anything at all I can do to help and encourage you, I sure will. I believe in you, and I believe your story will inspire others to a higher level of self-awareness and self-help.
Yes, I was referring to computer software programs. Thanks for the tip and I will get back to you at some stage on this.
An astounding post of self-realization, Elizabeth. You reached a beautiful conclusion: all of your stages, your years as wife and mother, are important. Nothing was wasted, only postponed. Now your pictures and expectations of yourself, your talents, your adventures…you life, are up to you to create. Blessings on this wonderful voyage!
Thanks. Yes, a remarkable discovery of realizing what is NOT lost. Thanks for your encouragement of me.
Looking through old photos and memories can be so incredibly difficult… this was an interesting take though. You’re the second blogger I’ve read today who has talked about the loss of self when in a relationship… it’s so sneaky, that one. I’ve seen myself doing it time and time again and I do feel like it is almost always a “female” thing. It’s good to talk about these things, so thank you for writing it.
Thank you for visiting my blog and your kind comment. I really appreciate it.
Oh…wow. I’m so glad I took some time today to come to WordPress and see this. Your post is brilliant and the dialogue it generated is rich.
I am the custodian, for now, of most of “our” family photos. When my father died two months ago, I began sorting through them, looking for images of him to share at his funeral. This forced me to delve into a task I would have left for another year, probably. Based on the comments made on this post, this task is approached as a hurdle by virtually everyone whose marriage has ended. I loved hearing the range of thoughts about this process!
My mind is going in a lot of places. What is to be done with wedding photos? When I look at them, I see two very young people (just 20 years old!) who didn’t have a clue what they were doing. They are part of my history, his history and our children’s history. Their is no longer an “our” history. They will appear, I suppose at our own funerals! But who do they belong to in the mean time?
Thinking too about roles. When my marriage ended, I felt I was more equipped, emotionally, than my husband was, to create a new life, because I am a mother. My husband is a father, and that is central to his life, but his life was never built around it. I parented my children in a very intentional way, knowing we were building the relationships we would have all our lives. My husband seemed to see his parenting as isolated moments. Although I tend to think of this as gender related, my father was the kind of parent I am.
So many layers… but my final take-away will be to have photos taken of myself!
Yes, the post certainly did bring on some thought-provoking comments. It does seem that it is a difficult aspect of any divorce. I have recently helped my mother with he going through all the family photos and how different it is when the marriage lasts until the passing of one. The photos and indeed ALL the family mementos stay intact with ‘the family’ rather than having to be split. For myself and my own mementos, I wonder what they all mean now anyway.
However, as I was looking through her photos, one of the things my mother did say to me was that none of her current friends and acquaintances remember her as the wife of my father (he died 40 years ago). She has carved her own life since and that is what she is living in the here and now … not the memories in the box of photos.