By Madlén Hjelmroth
I just turned 59 and I’m currently backpacking in India. On my own. India is one of the 10 countries I have visited during the past 11 months.
Many friends and many strangers, both male and female, have asked me where my husband is. When I tell them I divorced 13 years ago, they always make a sad face, feeling sorry for me. And I always say, “Don’t be. If I had stayed, I would have been living dead.”
Living for 21 years with my partner in Sweden made me doubt myself as a person. Nothing I did or said was good or good enough. My sole purpose was to make my partner happy. The more I tried, the more I failed, until I realised there was nothing left of me. I had nothing more to give. I was empty and I didn’t know who I was any more.
But I stayed because of the children, because no one in my family divorced, because I doubted I would manage, because I was afraid. And this is a paradox since in all other ways I’m a very resourceful woman. I had my own business, I raised my children, I managed the household, I renovated the house, I sewed most of my children’s clothes, I painted, I was deeply involved in the PTA.
And still I doubted myself when it came to the thought of a divorce.
And then, one day, I felt such anger. I was angry with myself. Why was I allowing this? What sort of role model was I to my children? Was this what I wanted my daughters to learn? Is this what a marriage is all about?
My husband moved out. It turned out he had been seeing someone else for a while. One morning I found myself alone in the house. I had no idea what to do. I was all alone with all those questions. Finance, kids, wellbeing, what to tell family and friends, how to cope.
It took a few days before I had the courage to call my mother and tell her the news. For three months, she called me every day, crying. Every day I consoled her, told her she didn’t have to worry, everything would be okay. But deep down inside, those were just empty words because I had no clue what they meant.
And one day I realised she wasn’t crying for me. It was all about what everyone else would think of her for having a divorced daughter. None in her circle of friends or family did.
It took courage to make a change in my life. I lived one hour at the time, one week at the time, no plans for the future. There was just the present. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but change takes time, repairing take time and forgiveness takes time.
Staying in a bad place is not an option. Moving forward is. In retrospect I can honestly say that the hardest thing I have ever done in my life turned out to be the most rewarding. I grew as a person and woman.
My children eventually moved out, my parents passed away and now I could take the time for myself and my needs. I decided to fulfill a childhood dream: to travel to faraway countries my finger had only touched on a map. I didn’t know what would come my way or how I would cope with the obstacles, but the curiosity to see the world was stronger than the fear. I could either wait for someone else to join in, or to go ahead and do it on my own.
Being lonely is never about not having people around you. I’ve never felt as lonely as the last ten years of my marriage.
They redefined for me the meaning of loneliness and companionship.
On the contrary, by travelling on my own, I am more likely to find like-minded people who want to see the same places or who have the same interests. And the best and easiest way to get acquainted is by simply saying hello.
I am never alone unless I want to be. Meeting people, teaming up for a couple of hours, days or weeks is one of the perks of travelling on my own.
One of the best things about travelling alone is that I can change my mind about where I want to go without arguing with anyone else. I see something interesting, I go there. It is my journey and I can have it any way I want. I can go right, left or just stay if I like the place. I am not travelling to find myself; rather, I began my physical journey because I had walked the emotional one.
I always stay in hostels when I travel. That is the place to meet other travellers, listen to their stories, get advice on where to go next and what to see, go for dinner with someone or have a conversation. I get all the company I want or need and I still have the freedom of doing my thing.
India has been kind to me. I’ve met great people and seen amazing places. The best thing about India is the ubiquitous chai stall. That’s where I stop to rest, to find my bearings when I get to a new place or talk to someone. On my own but never alone.
All photos by Madlén Hjelmroth. First published in the October 2017 issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here.