I was thirty-eight then. Over the next ten years, I celebrated my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, sent two boys to college at opposite ends of the country, and navigated through five different jobs. Every time I saw single co-workers take off for Chicago or Los Angeles or New York, I felt a pang for the path not taken. Many of them, I knew, looked at married colleagues and longed for a couple's steady intimacy the way I looked at them and longed for their freedom. Is it just human nature that after fulfilling our desire for one, we yearn for the other? Or is it that we really crave both at once? Each time I helped one of our sons pack — for Outward Bound, for a summer in Oregon, for a semester in Spain — I envied his going away on an adventure by himself. I'd take him to the airport, feeling his life widening, mine narrowing, a sense of time and opportunity slipping away. Somewhere in the goodbyes, amid smiles and hugs and admonitions to call/be careful/stay safe, I'd utter what! had become my standard line: "In my next life."
The year I turned forty-eight, something clicked. What next life?
This book was born out of conflict — between loving my husband yet wanting to leave him. No, needing to leave him. It wasn't frustration over traditional gender roles. He has been doing the laundry since I spilled bleach on his favorite tennis shirt the first year we were married. It wasn't irritation over masculine deficiencies as depicted in women's magazines. I'm the one who scrambles at the last minute for his birthday gift, I'm the one who drops my clothes all over the bedroom floor, I'm the one who spends hours zapping the remote. He was a feminist when we met, and we had a peer marriage before sociologist Pepper Schwartz coined the phrase. We lead independent lives. We have what some people call "a long leash." Feeling free at home, however, was not enough. I needed to go away, alone. Not for a week — I'd done that often. Just for a little while. But the yearning felt unnatural, and guilt invaded my body like the arthritis I've developed from years of overexercise. As the guilt deepened, anger flashed: Where was it written that I couldn't take a solo adventure, that because I was married I couldn't take time off, time away, time alone? What did one have to do with the other? And where were these emotions coming from? I had no answers to these questions because I didn't know any married women who had done what I wanted to do. For the first seventeen years of my marriage I didn't imagine it. Once I imagined it, I couldn't voice it. Growing older, however, meant I came increasingly to believe that if I felt something strongly, there must be other women who felt the same way. I wrote this book to find these women, women who had successfully left home to pursue a dream, women in good marriages who could explain the journey and support me along the way. I wrote this book because I needed answers to my questions. Subconsciously, I needed permission to leave.