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January 18, 2012

I know it will sound strange to say, but my divorce taught me to laugh. I’ve been a serious person as long as I can remember. Sarcastic at times perhaps, but never someone to just let loose and really laugh. And I worry – about everything and anything.

I went through a phase in high school, which I vividly remember, where I intentionally tried not to smile. I was worried about getting smile wrinkles. At 14. One of my closest friends at the time, who had all the tact that 15-year-old boys normally possess, told me I needed to start smiling or I wouldn’t have any friends. So I started practicing – in front of a mirror in my bedroom – a forced smile that wouldn’t cause my eyes to crinkle, my cheeks to pull too far up, or my upper gums to show above my teeth. I worried about these things every time I would smile for the next few years.

My mind has long been a constant stream of what could go wrong, and how to deal with each potential problem. Even before I found out my ex was cheating, I’d played, in my mind, the scenario of coming home to find him with his mistress. Maybe some of that was intuition, but some of it was just worry.

One thing I didn’t mentally prepare myself for though was divorce. As bad as things had gotten, I never really thought we would get divorced, so I never prepared for it. It simply wasn’t an option – whatever happened, I thought we could work through it.

So what happens to the girl with a thousand contingency plans when the one thing she refused to think could happen, happens?

Something in her breaks. Snaps. Changes. When the impossible becomes possible – even on a negative scale – you begin to see the world differently.

At first, for me, that meant despair. That first night, the night I found out, I sat and stared at the wall while three friends sat and talked idly in my living room. The inside of my brain felt like the lingering echo of a gong that rang too close to my ear; emotions reverberating but not making sense, everything quivering slightly, sounds muted, distant, dull. Everything felt dull. Even my emotions felt like they were far away – I sensed sadness, pain, and anger, but they were outside of my reach, and although I was aware of them, it wasn’t that I was feeling them, exactly.

With time, the pain grew into sleepless nights and zombie days, wading through life like it was a four-foot pool of water. But the struggle to live meant I was feeling everything acutely. The dull became sharp, and even the slightest thing could set me off. My negative emotions intensified. I am very rarely an angry person, but even anger was acute in my mind and heart, particularly while I ran. The funny thing is that while the negative emotions grew, so did the positive ones. As I regained my ability to feel, not only the negative returned. With it came overwhelming emotions of gratitude, love, appreciation, and even joy. And I started doing things I never would have done before – I danced on a bar at a bachelorette party in August. I planned happy hours with coworkers. I started meeting new people in unexpected places. I signed up for a dance class. I helped old people up the stairs in metro stations. I started yoga. And I laughed.

Sitting alone in my apartment, if something struck me as funny, I found myself not smiling wryly as I would have done before, but doubled over in laughter. A sentence in a book, a joke in a movie that I’d seen a dozen times before, a picture of a cat on the internet. Stupid things, but they made me laugh. And then the laughter grew. I laughed at jokes and anecdotal stories others would tell, or at my own experiences. I found that instead of getting embarrassed when I would have been so previously, I was laughing at myself instead. And suddenly life was a lot less serious, and a lot more fun. And it was easy to smile at strangers on the street, and make babies laugh, and simply live life in joy.

Even in relationships, I think laughter has changed me. I find myself approaching dating differently. No more trying to be someone who I’m not, or trying to impress anyone. I am honest, I laugh at myself, and I don’t try to hide my quirks. No one will date me because he thinks I know how to cook a steak, or because my home is perfect, or because I am someone who I’m not. If I burn dinner, I laugh about it now. If I trip over my own two feet while dancing, I laugh about it now.

For the first time in a really long time, I feel comfortable in my own skin. And I have my divorce to thank for that, in a weird way.

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