I found myself staring into the mirror, making one of the biggest decisions of my life. I was home on a break from the publicity tour for my book Love Warrior. I’d finished writing the memoir 18 months before, but there’s a long stretch between the moment when you turn in a manuscript and the moment when it finally sees the light of day, and in that interval my husband and I split up. Since the book was about saving our marriage, a breakup wasn’t exactly the scenario my publisher had been hoping for, and I hadn’t yet figured out how to discuss it publicly. More important, the decision to divorce left our three kids in great pain—kids who, until then, had had a pretty Rockwellian existence. I was scrambling just to hold myself together and preserve what was left of our family.
And there was something else: I was wildly in love. With a woman.
I’d never wanted anything more than I wanted her—and I’d never been so afraid. My soul was whispering You love this person while fear was screaming in response: What about your children? Your parents? Your church? Your career?
If I let myself love her, mirror, mirror, I’d be turning my entire life, and the lives of all my people, upside down. Could I be that selfish?
As I tried to fall asleep that night, my own words—words I’d posted on my blog—came back to me: The only thing I cannot do is betray myself. Self-betrayal is allowing fear to drown out the still, small voice that always knows what to do and is always leading you closer to truth, to love. As I reflected on that notion, I knew I already had my answer. If I didn’t let myself love her, I’d be letting fear bully me into falseness. I said to God, to the universe, to myself: I’ve considered the cost of this enormous decision, and I’m willing to pay it. I choose love.
The next several months were filled with anguish, grace, truth, and transcendent joy. Miraculously, now we are married, which means my children have two mothers and one Love Warrior father, who wrote this to me recently: “Thank you for being brave enough to break all of our hearts. All is how it should be now.”
Here’s what I’m seeing: We women are beginning to listen to the whispers of our own souls. We are finally asking ourselves who we really are and what we want—and speaking aloud what we hear. We are saying: I want to go back to school. I want to pursue my art. I want to travel. I don’t want to be in this unhealthy relationship anymore. I don’t want this job. I want to nourish my own dreams, too. This is a shift of seismic proportions being felt in families and communities, disrupting a centuries-old narrative—namely, that the way to be a successful woman is to bury your sense of self. That’s no longer true. When a woman finally finds herself, it’s a wondrous thing. But first expect it to get damn messy, as our transitions can destabilize those around us.
Of course, being bold and direct can cut through the messiness. When I shared my news with friends and family, I looked straight into their eyes. I didn’t hedge or apologize. Because I was at peace with my decision, even my body language communicated certainty—and that helped make others comfortable with what I was doing.
When I told my children I was in love with a woman, I said, “In our family, we are honest about who we are, even when it’s scary. I’m about to show you how that’s done.” I’m fortunate that my children understood that this change was in line with our ethos of truth telling, authenticity, and loving one another through our differences. Because I was able to align my decision with our values, so were they.
Change scares people, and some of my people were clearly afraid. I tried to meet their fear with something mightier: love-based honesty. I asked myself, What is the unshakable truth upon which I made this decision? Put simply, we’d found love. Love is love is love. I tried not to let outside pressure rattle me or prompt second-guessing. I instead imagined our love as an island encircled by an alligator-filled moat, with a drawbridge connecting to the world, one that would be lowered only to admit love. Only love in, and only love out. And when we did encounter fear or anger, we’d cup it gently in our hands, away from our hearts. Fear is just love holding its breath, I repeated to myself again and again. It’s our job not to convert fearful people but to love them.
And here’s the rub: We grown-ass people do what we need to do to follow our truth. We don’t have to be defensive—we can afford to be gentle because we know what’s right for us. Those who disapprove will either come around or stop coming around. Either way, lovely.
Listen, we can become women who know who we are and refuse to betray ourselves. We can grow comfortable enough in our own skin, our own knowing that we are more interested in joy and freedom and integrity than in what others think about us. And when we do this, it’s not just for us individually—it’s for all of us. To grow, to relax, to find peace, to become brave, we must witness one woman at a time doing the thing that is revolutionary for her: living her truth without asking permission or offering explanation.