As we said our goodbyes late last night, I sought out my ex-husband to congratulate him on a terrific party.

Thank you, I said, for including me in it.

“Of course,” he replied.

Can I give you a hug? I asked, and when he nodded, I fell into a familiar embrace and hugged back strongly, wanting him to know how much I cherished the friendliness and sense of renewed connection over this weekend.

We are not married, and it was not our shared event, but I felt welcome and like I was recognized as my children’s mother. No competition, no threat, no animosity. Just amicable moving-on and wishing-well in a way that serves everyone, especially our children.

My heart seared with so many emotions in that hug. A sense of time lost and time past. A wistfulness for what used to be. An oddity about where we are now – this man I used to love and be married to, as my current husband stood nearby, it’s very weird, really. And a full desire for him to find his happiness and us to find a true friendship despite our difficult times.

I even chatted with my former mother-in-law, whom I love dearly and hated letting go of in the official capacity, about how losing her as a mother was one of the greatest prices I paid in the divorce. And she acknowledged that we are still family, albeit differently, but still very fond of one another.

All in all, this weekend was a momentous occasion, and as such, it was exhausting.

Emotional exhaustion is so different from physical exhaustion.

There isn’t the adrenaline-rush high of just having exercised, the blood coursing palpably in your veins, your own personal drumbeat. It is a complete kind of exhaustion, one which puts you on the couch pointing the TV remote at a screen, watching shows you’ve already seen just to detach from everything for a few hours.

While yesterday was a fantastic success for my blended family, it was also exhausting. And as I was texting with a very supportive friend, I commented that it felt like I was on a stage of sorts. Her response: “Aren’t we always on a stage?”

And it gave me pause.

Are we?

Do our lives consist of a series of performances?

I know my perpetual smile yesterday came from a genuine happiness to connect with community and family and to support my son. But the smile was seriously painted on, putting a literal best face forward, because I wasn’t entirely in my element.

How often do we do that? In work meetings, perhaps, and in some relationships. In stores while we shop for our much-needed items, and in conferences with teachers. How often do we paint a smile on to pretend like there isn’t tumult beneath our skin?

Not that I felt tumult yesterday. Well, that isn’t entirely true. Internally, questions ping-ponged back and forth, as I contemplated where I used to be and where I am now and all the steps in between.

No one envisions a life path like this. When we are young, we imagine True Love with all caps guiding us down the forever-path of blissful harmony and lifelong peace.

Too often, that does not happen. Even in the best marriages, the ones that last, it’s not all roses. Sometimes, it’s not even all fun or friendly. And yet we continue on, committed to the idea of something lasting, or committed to the good times with the knowledge that bad times interlope but don’t stay.

I’m proud that we’ve made the best of our situation, but make no mistake, it’s truly making the best of a situation.

Is that all we do? Make the best of the situations we find ourselves in? Are we living on a series of stages, performing to our best ability at this moment?

Or is life deeper than that, more expansive? I’m not sure I have an answer, but I’d love to hear yours.

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