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Leaving a Life you Love to Save Yourself with Author Kelly McMasters

Erin: [00:00:00] Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, where we uncovered the unconscious rules we've been following. We break those rules and we find a new path to being freer, happier, sexier, and more self expressed. I'm your host, Erin Keating.

I took last week off for a family vacation, and I hope you used that time to listen to the episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with music producer Barb Morrison, whose book Bottoming for God just came out, or my talk with actor and firefighter Alicia Reiner.

Take a deep dive and go back for those and other episodes whenever you get a chance. In this episode, I talk with writer Kelly McMasters about her incredible memoir, The [00:01:00] Leaving Season. She speaks as beautifully and profoundly as she writes, and we get really deep about the fantasy of marriage, the pain and liberation of divorce, and the unexpected freedoms that come with being a single mom.

This was a timely and emotional one for me, and I cannot wait for you to hear it. Check it out. Kelly McMasters is an essayist. A professor, a mother, and a former bookshop owner, she is the author of several books, including the beautiful and moving Memoir in Essays, The Leaving Season, which we will talk about today in depth.

And she is the co editor of the wonderful ABA National Bestseller, Wanting, Women Writing About Desire. Her essays, reviews, and articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post Magazine, the Paris Review, and all the fancy places. Welcome to Hotter Than Ever, Kelly.

Kelly: Thanks so much, Erin. I'm so excited to be here and to talk to you today.[00:02:00]

Erin: You have such an NPR voice. So let's just start, uh, in talking about your book. Tell us about your memoir, The Leaving Season. I want to talk about that story and then I want to talk about what happened, has happened in your life since then.

Kelly: Absolutely. So this book essentially is about what happens when everything is almost perfect. And yet, uh, in order to survive, you have to make a choice between leaving a life that you love or leaving yourself. And I had to make that tough call and it's not for everybody, right? I think everybody has those moments in their life, whether they're leaving a marriage, a relationship, a job, a place, an idea of themselves behind.

But that was where this book sort of cohered. All the essays surround that idea of leaving.

Erin: It's so interesting that it's [00:03:00] essays because it really does read like a complete. memoir until kind of the back third where it starts to feel, um, reflective in a different way. I really loved it. I really related to so much of it. And I've recently come to realize that I'm like obsessed with male female dynamics.

Kelly: Me too.

Erin: I mean, I like to think of myself as this. This feminist and this independent person, but really at the end of the day, I'd be lying if I said I didn't care the most about love.

Kelly: And, and love is a four letter word, right? It's complicated.

Erin: It is complicated. And it's interesting because in the book, you start as one kind of person and you end as another kind of person. And in the beginning, for people who haven't read it yet. because I know you will all read it after this interview. You're a writer in New York City.

You're in love with this hot brooding painter, my description. [00:04:00] You dreamed about getting out of the city for a simpler life. You did that. You left the city together, gradually, and then all together, and then had kids in the country. So you went from being this sophisticated In New York, with this artistic life to a rural mom of two, and I wonder whether life in rural Pennsylvania met your fantasy vision of it, of what it was going to be.

I mean, obviously, I read the book. So this is a leading question. How much did the fantasy fantasy Match the reality and then what changed with kids in the picture because my experience is that Everything fucking changes and everyone tells you that oh, everything will change when you have kids But you have no idea what they mean or the depth with which that truth will live in you

Kelly: That's so true Erin. I think [00:05:00] much of the country and living there did meet A lot of my kind of cidified objectification, imagination, fetishizing of what country life could be. And what I think happened as I lived there, first that house started as a weekend getaway. And I think that in particular is a very different experience when you're going somewhere for the weekend and then you can leave again.

Yes. It's not your real life. And then it became our real and only life. And that crossover period, I think, is when things became unrecognizable, myself included. Mm. And so I think that. for me, for our family was the tipping point. And that was years. I think a lot of people [00:06:00] probably could understand this during the pandemic.

So many folks were able to leave the cities because they didn't have to go to work anymore in the office and they could zoom in from anywhere. And I think the joke was among my friends who had lived in the country for a long time was, we'll see when winter comes. Once they hit a real winter and. And I do think that that was a surprise for a lot of people for me, I think it did occur at the same time as becoming a mother.

And I was a reluctant mother. It's not something that I necessarily imagined for myself, even wanted for myself. And Even after it happened, I was not a natural mother. What does that mean? I guess the best way I can describe it is I thought I was Broken in that way that I didn't get some gene that I just knew What to do or wasn't enjoying it the way I imagined I should be.

Erin: Oh, yeah. Well, that's the bullshit narrative We're fed about what motherhood is like. You know, that's the [00:07:00] Instagram version of motherhood. That is not real.

Kelly: It's not, and I, now granted, this was 13 years ago, pre Instagram, all of that, I didn't know that. I really didn't. I was an only child. And babies freak me the fuck out.

I mean, even now I say that I love my kids, but I do not like children. Mine are amazing, but I don't want to really be around kids. It's not a natural place for me. They're a little scary. And then suddenly I was on this hilltop by myself with two of them. And where we were was pretty rural. That was about 35 minutes to a hospital, 30 minutes.

To milk or baby Tylenol. Oh my god. So it was very dramatic and people, right? I didn't have my family close to me. It took me a while to find a community of women. And really when I did, that's when things started to [00:08:00] turn around. But for so long, I just felt so alone. And for me, the motherhood story changes when I did finally leave my marriage.

I thought being a single mom would be the scariest. Worst thing in the world. Oh, I just want to scream from the rooftops how freeing and amazing and That was how I felt that I became a mother. That's what it took I needed to leave my family behind to break that up.

Erin: Well, and in that moment you reclaimed your agency, too Yeah, I really felt that in the book. I felt like you're in the country subject to nature primarily and isolation and the vagaries of your dynamic with your ex and I did you know, it's funny that you say you don't see yourself as a natural mother because there's so much in the way that you describe the joy of showing nature [00:09:00] to your children and how you inhabited the time with them, because it seems to me that in the country time is different and it's, How you settled into routines with them, it seemed very natural to me in the reading of it, but obviously the writing of something, the reading of something is very different than the living of something.

And you're not describing 24 hours in a day, you're describing beautiful moments of sharing the natural world with your children, as opposed to the sort of day to day in and out grind and frustrations. I felt an essential powerlessness and captivity. In early motherhood where I was like, these people are beautiful and incredible and this is a miracle, but I'm not joining the mom group because I'm going back to work and I don't relate to people who fetishize the mommy thing because I've always been identified with myself as a creative person.

person, a professional person, a worldly person, which I [00:10:00] think you probably did to, um, living the New York City life that you did before you moved to the country. So it's just so interesting to hear you say what you thought of your motherhood at the time and the difference between how you describe it in the book.

Kelly: Yeah, I think you're right. That nature was. a real access point for mothering for me. I was a landscape writer before I was a mother and that is the way that I process. I think about and see.

Erin: What is a landscape, what is a landscape writer?

Kelly: That's a, I think it's made up. You write about nature? Is that what it is? So you had mentioned Wanting, the anthology that came out this year, Women Writing About Desire. I had a previous anthology that I co edited with the same co editor, Margot Kahn, and it's called This is the Place, Women Writing About Home. And when we were doing interviews and talking about that, a few people Called me a landscape [00:11:00] writer, and I'd never felt so identified.

Erin: I pinned to a tray with a little label on it.

Kelly: Basically, yes, and, and it felt like, Oh, that's what I am. My first book was called Welcome to Shirley, a memoir from an atomic town. And I realized that. The way that I process, the way that I see through essay is very much landscape driven. That is what I use as sort of a crystal to refract my ideas, my concerns, my considerations, my questions.

And, and that's what I do, not just on the page, I realize, but in life. And so, for me, Just the walk up and down the driveway when my son was learning how to walk just up and down and up and down And up and down the way that I could keep myself activated was wow. Look at that mushroom. What did it look like yesterday?

What does it look like today? What kind of fern is this? How is it unfurling today? What is it going to do tomorrow? [00:12:00] Look at the sky. Look at the grass. That was the way I could Build conversation with my children in a way that worked for them. Cause kids before I stopped seeing. Right? At some point we all just stop seeing.

We forget to look at the sky every day. We forget to look and wonder. So much wonder and curiosity. So that was, that was a really beautiful point of access with my kids. We happened to be in the country in a place where that was everywhere. And so that was, that felt very healthy. On the other hand, the isolation of that was that there was, the best way I can describe it is.

No audience. I, that sounds very strange, but at first I thought, well, there's no community, but it was more than that because when there's no one there to see or hear what's happening in your house. It's sort of like a play that's on a stage [00:13:00] with no one watching and it can be wonderful and private, but can also be very scary.

Erin: Because there's no witness, right? Like an audience is a witness to a narrative, to an experience, to a life. And that's one thing that's so amazing about New York City is just, it's. It's constantly witnessing and being witnessed and wow, that's a really deep observation. I have felt like marriage feels like that sometimes, just marriage itself, even not in rural Pennsylvania.

You're just in this thing with someone and no one sees it except you. And that's why other people can't really give you advice about your marriage. Because they don't actually know the texture of it or the feeling of it. And you really just have to trust your own, you have to be your own audience. You have to be your own witness.

But it's really hard when you're inside a dynamic, especially with children. Because your primary focus is their needs and making sure [00:14:00] they're okay. And somehow, it's really easy to disappear inside of that.

Kelly: Yes, and disappear is exactly what it feels like. And I remember so clearly one afternoon. Just being out on a hill, and I loved it there. There's one point in the book where I talk about it as where I was happiest, and my editor flagged that on one of the drafts and said, You just spent 200 pages explaining that all of this, I don't really believe that you're happy. And I thought, you know what, you're right. And I went back into it and I thought about that.

And it's where I believed I could be. my happiest. It didn't happen, but it was the possibility. And I think that also is so true of marriage or that type of relationship where there's so much hope involved and magic and magical thinking of who you think this person can be, who you [00:15:00] think you can be, who you think you might be able to be together.

And It's a fantasy. Yeah. Right? It's this made up idea and I loved when Maggie Smith, who has a gorgeous divorce book called You Can Make This Place Beautiful, she read this book in an early draft and she said that this book navigates. Through and out of the very real yet unmappable space that a marriage occupies and that idea of the unmappable space I think is what you're talking about Erin, and I think anybody in any intimate relationship I think there's something specific to two adults choosing to build a family together and relying on each other when you're tied only by desire.

And not by circumstance or blood. Right. Chosen family. Right. As well as biological. I know a friend of mine who's going through a divorce right now and, and she has put so much [00:16:00] stock in the relief once she signs the divorce papers. Mm mm. Right. I keep telling her, it, it changes nothing. It already is what it is and, and it. Paper just in the same way that it doesn't make you married. It doesn't make you not.

Erin: Oh yeah, I'm going through a divorce and I'm just inching closer to getting that paperwork done and I'm so excited for the marker that that is but I also know that I have children with this person and we're gonna have to work out our dynamic for the rest of our lives mm hmm and nothing makes me more angry or sad, you know?

I'd love it if you could read an excerpt from the book that talks about what you were thinking or not thinking, [00:17:00] which I totally relate to, when you decided to move to Pennsylvania together.

Kelly: This is from an essay called The Ghosts in the Hills. I never thought we would own a gun, never mind multiple guns. I never thought we would take such pleasure from shooting at our makeshift range at the top of the hill, candy color paint can lids strung along 2x4s like some modernist sculpture, bullet holes puncturing the pretty dots. I never thought we would shoot an animal from our porch, but since moving to the country full time, we both seemed to be transforming.

R was a painter, had his favorite root in the Met. His bookcase full of monographs and back issues of Modern Painters magazine. But he was not part of the establishment, did not talk theory, did not write reviews, did not wear sunglasses indoors and make snide remarks to a bevy of skinny, black clad artists in the back corner of gallery shows.[00:18:00]

He looked more like a construction worker than a fine artist. When he told people he was a painter, often they responded with, like, a house painter? This ability to defy expectations was one of the things I appreciated most about him. Before marriage, our relationship seemed to thrive on the unconventional.

But now, surrounded by the Pennsylvania woods, instead of the tight belt of the city's skyscrapers, we kept running aground when it came to questions of family and providing, and who was responsible for what. We've never combined our finances, never really talked about budgets or planning, aside from whether we'd be able to cover the mortgage that month.

Up until then, I'd liked our separateness. It was a point of pride. I hadn't even considered changing my name. Convention? No thank you. I felt fairly certain about what I did not want my marriage to look like, but I'd never stopped to really think about what I did want. I [00:19:00] think I just assumed that moving to the country would allow our relationship to inhale a different kind of oxygen.

That we would find our new natural shape together, outside the city, in the same way an indoor plant might if transferred to an outdoor garden. Unfiltered sun, constant fresh air, and a garden full of green, instead of table legs and couches, dust covered bookcases, and kitchen smells. Couldn't this only be healthy?

Some plants are simply not meant to be put outside, of course. Some plants need the structure of the pot, require the stability of a constant temperature, can only flourish with a floor and ceiling and walls as guideposts. When I look through my books about gardening now, I recognize the limp leaves and sagging frames of the plants on certain pages.

This is called transplant shock. It usually begins as a kind of stasis, where the plant fails to thrive. For a period, the plant looks just fine, but in reality, [00:20:00] it is already dead.

Erin: Jesus, Kelly. I mean, I'm gonna cry.

Kelly: Oh god, you're gonna make me cry.

Erin: You go into marriage and relationships so blindly. You know, you're right. It's just about hope and fantasy and optimism. And God, I think about people who are like getting married in the church or in a religious tradition, in a Jewish tradition, and they have the rabbi or the priest or whoever do a pre marriage course about what your expectations are for marriage and how you're going to work things through and how you're going to bring your spirituality into it.

And I, I was always too cool for that. Too alternative for that. Too artistic for that. Too independent for that. You know, non conformist, whatever. I didn't change my name. My ex always hated that I didn't change my name, but I was like, why would I change my name? But I think I wanted a partnership and [00:21:00] children.

And... It didn't get much more complicated in my brain than that. And God, how fucking dumb for me, not for you had your own experience. But I think back and I think I really did not think this through. I did not think this through, but you have no way to think it through because you have no idea. What marriage is actually going to be like, you really don't.

Kelly: And even if you think you do, and even if you have those classes, even if you and I sat here and made up what we thought would be the perfect class for every person with all our wisdom in 2023.

And maybe we should do that. That would probably be a great money. Yeah. Ask these questions first, right?

Think about these things. So, you know, when it happens, but even then, The whole point is that if you're going to go on this journey [00:22:00] with another person, you're both going to change. Yeah. And there's no predetermination of how or what direction you're going to move. And in some really beautiful partnerships, it's two people moving together through something and supporting each other with space and care.

But sometimes you just. Just go the other way. And it, no matter what you do or what you would have asked beforehand, there's no way it could have worked. Or in my case, I would have had to really cut off so much of myself. I could have made it work, but it would require, I think so many, I don't know about you, but

Erin: What do you mean made it could have tolerated it.

Kelly: Tolerate. Yes. Yes. That's exactly what I mean. And I think so many people do that because it's. The less scary [00:23:00] option sometimes.

Erin: Yeah, I did it for a long time. I tried to bend myself and shape myself and shut parts down of myself and push away intrusive thoughts that were actually my real self trying to tell me get the fuck out of this.

Kelly: Yeah. Well, and failure, right? A broken marriage, a broken family, a failed marriage, right? All the language that we have. Children of divorce. Oh, yes.

Erin: Yes. Non custodial parent. Custody dynamic. Court ordered whatever. All that shit that was echoes of my childhood. I was like, nope, nope, nope. Push it away.

Kelly: Exactly. And so why, right, my whole fear of being a single mother? That, I think, came from growing up in the 1980s and watching the cover of newspapers and all of the awful language that Is used to describe and help build this awful caricature of what a single mother must be [00:24:00] like. And so I thought, I don't recognize that.

That's not me. That can't ever be me. But now I look around and my favorite people are single mothers. Wow. What a bunch of badasses that I've been able to surround myself with and or people who have been at one point or another, or just know they just get it. And you do feel out on a limb by yourself, but Hopefully, you realize, Oh, I can actually hold the limb up.

I don't have to hope that it's not going to break. I can make it stand on my own. And that's, I think, something that I had no idea that I would understand and gain strength from later.

Erin: Yeah. And at a certain point, you make a choice, right, that you're either going to lose yourself and that is who your children are going to be raised by.

Is a mother who is living in a deep compromise where she's selling herself out for the sake of [00:25:00] quote unquote family, marriage, normalcy, social acceptability, all the things that come with a nuclear family unit, um, a conventional looking life. Or you go, Hey guys, like this is really me. We're going to do this together.

We're going to figure this out and it might be bumpy, but I'm here and it's authentic and I'll always take care of you. That's certainly where I came to, where I could either just be someone I don't recognize, or try to figure out a way to be fully myself and let them be fully themselves, and okay, we give them things to talk about in therapy.

We knew we were going to do that anyway. We just didn't know what it was going to be. So here's my gift to you. This is one of the topics you will be covering for the rest of your fucking life. Sorry, sorry, but [00:26:00] you're welcome also.

Kelly: It's true. I think so many people, when they see this book, they, that's their first question, but what about the kids? They were there. They know what family life was like for us. And even if we were able to hide some of it. Kids are really smart. Yeah, or mine are anyway

Erin: Yeah, no mine too. And the last thing I wanted to do was hurt them Yeah, but very soon after their dad moved out I got very clear validation from them that it felt better and I was like, oh, thank you guys Thank you for seeing it and for acknowledging Um.

That's beautiful. Yeah. It was huge. It's huge. There are moments in your book where you're writing about this sort of underlying dynamic with your ex. And you're not really saying what's really happening. And I, it's, I can only [00:27:00] describe it as a feeling of menace or a feeling of preemptive defense or protection that walking on eggshells feeling when you're with someone who's behavior is inconsistent or volatile or just counter to like the harmony you're trying to create with you and your little kids and your domestic life. How did you manage that? I know it's really hard to write about that because you don't want to vilify your kid's dad, but you also want to tell the truth.

And I think this is a reality that a lot of women live with because a lot of men have. Which is like angry and horny. You know, and hopefully we think we're marrying these sophisticated guys. Who have overcome that or who have evolved beyond that, especially if they're artists, they're really good at fucking hiding that in my experience. I'm curious to hear about that because [00:28:00] that fear, that walking on eggshells, that preemptive defensiveness that let me make everything okay.

So everything will be okay when you cannot control whether things are going to be okay. Talk to me a little bit about that.

Kelly: Thank you for pointing that out. My hope is that those parts will be seen by the people who need to see them. I think a lot of people, a lot of women have read it and said privately or expressed that they do feel that what you described as an undercurrent.

Whereas for other readers, it's... It's not even part of the, part of the story. God bless them. So I think it depends. Yes. Exactly. Exactly. And, and you're right. I made a decision. I mean, there were many drafts and one of the drafts was the angry draft for me, right? This story took place over probably 20 years of my life and most of the revision, not all of [00:29:00] the writing, but most of the revision of this took place after I was able to.

Um, have critical distance both in time and space and be out of the relationship so that pre defense wasn't hopefully appearing on the page too. One of my early drafts, my agent reminded me, look, every divorce story starts as a love story. And it was really difficult to go back into the early parts. And connect to why I fell in love with him, what parts of me still love about him.

And yet I think it was necessary and in a weird way that, that softens some of that anger too, because it's now in the past. It's now past tense. It's so powerful to be able to write in past tense and know that just like you, I can put this book on my shelf now and it's done. [00:30:00] I can come to my home and not have to sit in the living room and wait that sort of, are those steps on the, on the porch coming?

Are those tires on the driveway? That feeling, right? I don't ever have to do that again, which is such a relief. And it's such a better place to write from. I think it made me more generous on the page and it made it a more effective read because I never wanted to write a sentence. Yes. That was, uh, jabbing at him just for the sake of jabbing at him.

I wanted. Oh, you wanted to write that. Well, well, I did write that. I didn't want to publish. That's it. Yes. Yeah. Fair. Yes. And I think part of that is, very selfishly, I want this book to be about me. Mm hmm. Yes, he's there in these scenes. It is not about him. I did not want this book to be about him. Him [00:31:00] that was a really important part of my reclaiming what happened and those years that felt lost And this is mine.

Erin: It's so interesting how much inside a marriage we give to the partnership We give to the parenting we give to this idea of making everything work and being the harmony maker and being the creator of goodness, and I think like at a certain point In my own marriage, I gave up on that, but still lived inside the dynamic and in this push pull of wanting it to be a certain way and knowing it was never going to be that way.

And I'm so jealous of you having, like, written it, come out the other side, and being able to put the book on the shelf. I know. Part of the reason I started this podcast is because I have a lot of shit to [00:32:00] process. And I would rather do it with smart people who have also been on different parts of this journey than by myself.

And it's so interesting, I think, when you opened your bookstore. in Pennsylvania, which was clearly a terrible business decision from the beginning. I mean, a bookstore anywhere is a terrible decision, but let alone in Main Street of a small town where half the shops are closed up. That seemed to be a reemergence for you, where you started to decide you didn't need to be isolated.

You didn't need to do it by yourself. You needed community. You needed other women. You needed books. You needed your art. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Kelly: And going back to what you said earlier about the undercurrents that you saw in this book, it's literature. And so the isolation happened to be physical as well.

[00:33:00] But this kind of isolation happens in relationships everywhere. And that's really where the bookshop saved me as a person. He couldn't keep me isolated in that way. And I I returned to books and to people and to conversation and to friends and suddenly

Erin: And you brought your New York life to Pennsylvania, which is genius as a survival mechanism. You're like, come and do an event at my bookstore. Come and read at my bookstore. When you had some people who swooped in and really helped to give you perspective and help to save you in those circumstances.

Kelly: I had this magical friend, Lauren, who's a publicist, and she came and helped with the bookstore, but helped me. She saw that I was really a shell of who she had [00:34:00] once known here from years ago when we first met. And at one point she's bidding on this. necklace that I kind of liked, but I would never. But there was an auction, a local auction.

There was a local auction and she said, do you want that? Then you should bid on it.

And so I said, okay, I'm going to bid on it. And I bid 25 or something. And she was like, come on, do you want it? Bid like you want it. I was like, okay, fine. 30. And she rolled her eyes and later she winds up. winning the bid. And I'm mortified because I think, Oh my God, did she bid a hundred dollars? And I'm just imagining trying to do all the math of trying to pay her back.

And she just hands it to me and says, you need to remember what it's like to want something and get it. And that I couldn't hear it in that moment. No, but I needed. In that moment, I needed that necklace. It's a reminder. Every time I put [00:35:00] it on, it's okay for me to want something and it's okay for me to get it.

And that was revolutionary in that moment. I was so rung out. It really felt like I'd been just stomped into the ground. I had nothing left. Did didn't even have space for desire of my own. And. It's really interesting working on The Wanting Book, the one thing that my co editor and I were fielding over and over, we'd say to women, will you write for us, will you write for us?

And so many came back and said, I tried to write the essay. I don't even know what I want. And it was mind blowing. Like so many of us don't even give ourselves the space and the permission to really sit and think. What do I want? Ambition. Desire. For women. Is really fucking scary. In 2023. That is [00:36:00] nuts to me, but it's true.

Erin: And you say in 2023 because it seems like we should be there already. We should know what we want. We should be evolved. We should be in touch with our wants, our desires, our goals, our passions, our ambitions. Yeah, it's true. I also think that it's not just the marriage that had you feeling that lost. I think it's early motherhood.

Early motherhood when you have really young children and you are just In service and available to someone else's or to other people's or several other people's needs It gives you a sense of purpose. It gives you a sense of self esteem in one way, but it also removes your Selfhood. Yeah in another way and I feel I've constantly been in a push pull battle in my life as a mother Between making sure my kids are good and making sure that they're okay resisting the culture of overparenting And over planning and over everything, identifying a hundred percent [00:37:00] with your children's accomplishments, interests and successes and trying to resolve everything for them.

I think there's a culture of parenting that is really, to me, very weird in contrast to how I was raised, which was benign neglect, although I apologize to my mother for saying that she did a great job. She was a working mom and I'm a working mom and. have struggled really hard to be okay with my own ambition, my own desires, and my own wants, which are fucking intense and always have been.

And I've always been driven and passionate. And I worked all the way through my kids early childhood, but it took everything. It took everything. I did nothing but work and parent. The marriage falls away. Everything falls away. When you're trying to be so of service and retain some crystal, kernel piece of [00:38:00] yourself, um, so that you know that once they grow, you'll still have a place in the world.

Um, because I do think the culture is very happy to have us do all the work, but is not that happy accommodating our desire to balance work and motherhood or ambition or anything beyond being a person who is of service.

Kelly: Absolutely. And weirdly, I think, what I experienced in dating as a divorced person.

Ooh, let's talk about that. The balance is built in, in such a beautiful, surprising way that I did not understand. I mean, the first time that my kids left for an overnight, honestly, I sat on the couch and binge watched The Bachelor ate a pint of ice cream, a giant thing of popcorn, and had a bottle of wine and just wept.

This is where am I? What happened? Oh my god, where are my children? I felt like I lost a limb [00:39:00] and couldn't sleep because I'm so attuned if they roll over, I know, even if I'm asleep. Yeah. And being able to break that psychic bond and not be in panic mode was really difficult. But once I could, and once I was able to see every other weekend as this oasis of, oh wait a minute, I can do whatever I want? Right? How?

Erin: This is how my life was before I got married. I mean.

Kelly: Yeah. I could work the entire weekend. I could write the entire weekend. I could have sex the entire weekend. I could eat dessert for breakfast or not eat or just pour a whiskey at noon. I could do whatever I wanted, read the whole weekend. It was incredible.

See friends all weekend, not see anybody, not be touched, touch a lot, whatever I wanted. But I had to think about what I wanted and then make it happen. And then Sunday night. I was able to [00:40:00] show up for my kids in a way that I never would have been able to before. Because I've... You were singing my song. I was full. I filled myself. And then I could give it back.

Erin: You were singing my song. Yeah. Well, I'm just coming off of two weeks of my kids being at sleep awake for the first time. And it was insane how I felt. I mean, I have a boyfriend. We spent the whole time together. We're like in a new relationship. It got real intense and real deep and we traveled together for the first time.

And I was like, who am I? I'm the person who goes and does stuff because she wants to. We could fuck all day. It doesn't matter. No one's calling because they're not allowed. It was insane. I have not felt the way I felt the last two weeks in 20 years. 20 years. I expected the transition back to be real bumpy.

It hasn't [00:41:00] been as bumpy because I was so happy to see the kids. I'm so happy they're here. I'm so happy for the things that I love about them and the ways in which they've grown from being more independent, but also the ways in which they still really need me. And my relationship has deepened. Holy moly. You don't get that inside of marriage. You never get that.

Kelly: Unless you and your partner have the kind of partnership, I imagine, right? I don't actually know this. This is what I imagine. Yeah, what does this look like? Where you're both okay with the other person saying, I need something that has nothing to do with you, nothing to do with the family.

I don't know. I'm not a relationship expert by any means, obviously. But I wonder if you need to be married. And then not be married to understand that I don't think there's a question or an experience I could have had before marriage that would have allowed me to build my marriage into a space where I [00:42:00] could claim the time and space and whether that's physical or brain space, time.

I just don't know that I would have understood until I had it that that was something I could ask for, should ask for, how to ask for it. I don't know. And I don't know how to communicate that.

Erin: I feel like I was constantly asking for that. In my marriage, I was constantly saying, Hey, I need alone time. I was an only child.

I'm used to taking care of myself in a certain way and reconnecting with myself and having some quiet with myself or doing whatever the fuck I want. I lived alone for six years before I got married. This is who I am. And I kept bringing that to the table and not being heard. Because of everyone's attachment style and issues and all that stuff, right, and what you think a marriage is and what you think a marriage confers on you as a right to the other person.

And I think being [00:43:00] separated has confirmed for me how much I need that. Now, the guy that I'm dating also really needs space. And getting back from being together all the time, he was like, let's take some space. And I was a mess because I was like, but, but I'm attached to you. And he acknowledged, he felt it too, but he also was like, this is good for us.

We both actually really need to. Do this recharge. We've had a lot of togetherness and he was right, but it was hard because it was like a good kind of attachment. Yeah. Where I was like, gimme more of that. I want more of that, you know?

So navigating all that stuff, I think it takes a really, really clear sense of yourself. And you're right, having been through a thing where you didn't have that, or that wasn't a conversation on the table, or you said those needs and they didn't get met, that kind of reinvention seems only to be possible once you've had the marriage and [00:44:00] divorce experience and then you're redefining what role romance and relationship has in your life. And now, okay, so you told me that there was someone that you was, you were seeing on those non custodial weekends and it was hot and it was amazing. And now, how long did that go on before you moved in together? Years. I'm taking notes.

Kelly: I mean, I spent a long time alone and then dated, like it was my job. I would make like three dates. It's on a Saturday morning, afternoon, night, and then found this beautiful person who had also was in the middle of a divorce. And we both agreed we want nothing serious, right? Because that's how it always starts. But then soon it became clear it was serious. And I think we were together for five years before we moved in.

And I think we were together for three years [00:45:00] before he even met the kids. And honestly, it's lovely. But we were just saying the other day how much we miss the way it used to be because And on those Oasis weekends, I would go to his apartment and I'm not worried about, oh shit, did I get the toilet paper? Did you pay that bill? All that stuff is creeping in.

Erin: The domestic stuff is intense and it changes the texture of the relationship when you're doing like practical life things together. Yeah. Versus when you're the person the other person turns to for fun, which is where I am. We're for the fun parts. That's what this is for. And it feels fucking incredible. And then sometimes I future trip about it and I go, how is this possible and how do we maintain this? And, but, but, but, but, but someone said to me recently, this can go on as long as you want it to. This way.

Kelly: And I think part of that, I know it's magical thinking on my part, but part of that is [00:46:00] not getting married again for me, right? This is how it works in my brain. He's my boyfriend. We, we own a house together. We are essentially domestic partners in every way, except on paper again. Fuck the paper. I remember he took me to visit. He had done, he'd spent a long time in Iceland working and traveling, and it was a really special place to him.

It's also where he got married the first time. And so he wanted to go back as a reclamation.

And so we went last summer and he doesn't have kids. And it was the second trip where I was just pretty far from my kids. And one of his dreams was to dive in this particular. body of water. And it's the one place in the world where you can touch both tectonic plates.

Ooh. And it's just unbelievable. So it's glacial water. It's freezing even in the summer. And so I'm [00:47:00] putting all the gear on and there's that part of me saying, I'm a mom. I'm A gazillion miles away from my kids. Is this safe? I'm signing the waivers. I'm like, Oh my God, I don't think I can do this. And he just jumped in and I did it and it was one of the best experiences of my whole life.

Uncomfortable as hell, afraid that I was going to asphyxiate and freeze and all of the stuff. So beautiful under the water to actually touch both tectonic plates. It was just nothing I'd ever imagined. And sometimes you have to take a risk. And I, in that moment, I decided, okay, I'm going to follow him into this crazy thing.

I know I'm going to be okay. And I feel like once the worst has [00:48:00] already happened, right. And we're okay. Like you, Erin, are amazing right now. It's hard. It's always going to be hard. We will never be able to go back to the beginning when we had that gift of illusion and fantasy. We will never be there again.

That's sad. But it's also so freeing because we don't have to hang on to fantasy is so difficult and ridiculous and impossible. And we don't have to hold ourselves to that anymore, and there's something really beautiful in that.

Erin: Oh, Kelly. I'm assuming you're writing about this.

Kelly: I'm trying to.

Erin: I feel the landscape right now.

Kelly: There you go, now you know what I mean.

Erin: I do. It's literally land masses that you're talking about.

Kelly: Yeah, that's true.

Erin: That's amazing. Well, I like hearing [00:49:00] that you have reinvented your life and that you are so deep in your work and that you are loving your kids and being a great mom and also having love and global adventures. I mean, not much better than that, right?

Kelly: There isn't. And it's so much better than it was.

Erin: Yeah. Yeah, well, because you're you and you're free and you're self expressed and you're not holding everything together With every breath. Right. That's that's what's untenable.

Kelly: Yeah for so many.

Erin: Are there any contracts in your life that you still? Want to rewrite any sort of deal terms that you have with yourself other people the world your profession

Kelly: Oh, that's a really hard question I think what I notice in myself and in a lot of my female [00:50:00] students, when they, or when I raise my hand for something, I start with, I'm sorry, and then continue. I do it in my daily life.

I do it in actual meetings in professional life. And I notice myself. Doing that, even in my relationship, which I work so hard, just make these boundaries and sign posts and show up the way I want to show up. And yet I still, Oh, I'm sorry, raising my hand and apologizing for having a thought, for having an opinion, for being a person.

And I don't notice that in just the way that we started this conversation with the obsession of. Gender, inequalities, the question of male and female, I don't really notice that in the [00:51:00] men in the classroom. It's not something that's... That's the patriarchy at work. Yes. And, and I think it's

Erin: Don't have to apologize. Yeah. You belong here.

Kelly: You belong here. And for a long time with my two kids who are both boys, I've had the impulse to, in order to be equal, I tried to make them smaller. Hmm. To be fair to girls. And I think that's wrong. I need to not apologize when I raise my hand and get bigger. I mean, it goes back to that plant that I read about.

I want to take up the space that I require. Mm. Yeah. Without apology. Mm hmm.

Erin: You deserve that. Yeah. We all do. We all do. We all do. Yeah. Yeah. I'm grateful to you for this conversation. So amazing. And, um, so excited for you for the [00:52:00] life you're continuing to reinvent on a daily basis. Can't wait to read more of your work and thank you for coming on.

Kelly: Oh my gosh. This conversation was incredible. And thank you for the work that you're doing. It's Life changing, Erin. I hope you know that. Thank you.

Erin: I'll just say thank you.

Thanks for listening to Hotter Than Ever. If you found yourself resonating with any of what Kelly and I talked about in this episode today, if you found yourself nodding your head or going, mm, or shaking your head like I do when I'm in these conversations because I'm feeling it so deeply, please follow the show on whatever platform you're listening to right now.

Tell your best friend about it and rate and review us on Apple Podcasts. Five stars, please. Hotter Than Ever is produced by Erica Girard and PodKit Productions. Our interim associate producer is Melody Carey. She's doing a great job. Music is by Chris Keating with vocals by Issa [00:53:00] Fernandez. Come back next week.

We've got another great conversation for you. I promise it's going to be so, so good. I already recorded it. You know that, right? Do it in real time. Yeah, you knew that.


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