In third grade my best friend and I dreamed of owning a horse farm. We promised each other whoever died first would put a horse marker on the other’s grave.

At 58, I am at last living on a horse farm – sans horses, sans my best friend and sans my husband of three months.

After a whirlwind engagement and wedding, we are getting divorced. I feel as if I’m caught in the rapids of a cold mountain stream, tumbling and scraping against rocks as I struggle to raise my head above water and breathe.

My brother kindly provided a safety net while I find my bearings. I am living on his farm in the apartment above the barn. There are 10 stalls below, but no longer any horses. Instead, hummingbirds, butterflies, deer and wild geese are my companions. The isolated rural setting is beautiful, if often lonely.

By an unexpected turn of events, I have become what they call “couch homeless.” I don’t have a place of my own anymore, but by the grace of God and family, I do have somewhere to live. It’s comfortable and spacious, with the big country sky providing a backdrop for healing as I cocoon and try to make sense of the marriage that had seemed so right, navigate the divorce, and recreate my life.

My clothes and computer are in the apartment, while my furniture, dishes, books and boxes are stacked up next door in the wine cellar. When I need a file, I walk across the field to my filing cabinet. When I need cell phone or Internet reception, I go outside on the steps above the barn – or sometimes drive to a doughnut shop in the sleepy town nearby.

Life wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. I thought I had finally found my bashert and anticipated a happy second marriage.

Now I spend hours riding my bike on my brother’s farm, praying and reflecting. I’m a smart cookie. How did this happen to me? Or rather, how did I let this happen to me?

My desperation has made me vulnerable.

Simple. I stepped over red flags that were waving wildly from the beginning. Some were so familiar to me that I didn’t see them as red flags; I was repeating the dance of growing up with a mother who charmed the outside world but abused members of her family, including me. I was desperate for her to love me, and felt she never did.

My desperation has made me vulnerable.

Harville Hendrix, author of “Getting the Love You Want,” says we search for partners who resemble our caretakers in order to heal childhood wounds.

I have loved too much at my own expense, when people were emotionally unavailable. This failed marriage helped me understand that the person I need to love most is me.

One of the early red flags was pressure to merge our finances, even though we had only known each other a short time. When I said I wanted to keep separate bank accounts for a while, his temper flared and he became threatening.

My family and friends strongly expressed concern. Even my rabbi advised slowing down. But I was in love and eager to get married again. Too eager. That was one of the lifelong lessons I took away from my three-month marriage. Don’t be in a rush. Explore when I meet someone, what does this person have that attracts me to him? Look at red flags closely.

My desperation drove me to override my intuition and everyone else’s cautioning. The runaway train was already in gear, and I didn’t engage the brakes – or my brain.

Leaving the Cocoon

We had a beautiful, small wedding and short honeymoon, which was the highlight of the brief marriage. In retrospect, I clearly see how gracious God was. The collateral damage was minimal – thankfully, I am physically well, although my hurt feelings, dashed dreams and crushed expectations took a while to heal. I am replenishing my finances after the transition. But I have gained so much more than money.

God gifted me with a deep, quiet strength the likes of which I’ve never known. My brother and I grew much closer during our time together while I was getting divorced. My parents and friends upheld me with love as well.

I have left the cocoon of the horse farm and am back in the heart of a Jewish community that feeds my soul. I have a challenging, meaningful job that gives me purpose. I have created my own nest again, replacing everything I had sold or given away to merge households, from bookcases to bathroom plunger. My new home comes with kind neighbors with whom I share yummy Shabbat meals.

The divorce is behind me, speeded by the fact that we didn’t have children together or share property. Today, I’m a wiser single woman grounded by this amazing new wellspring of strength. In rebuilding my life, I discovered a depth of inner resourcefulness and creativity that allowed me to find solutions to my problems. I also have proven very flexible and adaptable – traits that are handy in my new job and will be a good template no matter what challenges come my way. I don’t need to have everything figured out or perfect in order to be happy.

There were no easy shortcuts to processing all this. It is necessary and healthy to process, grieve and heal a major loss. I met the grief head-on, feeling my feelings, talking about them and seeking help as appropriate.

Here’s what worked for me:

  • Praying, talking to God and seeking His direction constantly. I find myself in a conversation with God throughout my day, from when I open my eyes in the morning and say “modeh ani” to when I close my eyes at night and say the “shema.” In between, my prayers take the form of an informal chat with God.

  • Engaging support. I have relied heavily on trusted friends and family members. I’m grateful for those who have listened with generosity, empathy and humor and haven’t tried to fix me. I never wanted to be treated as a pity case, but as someone who was doing whatever it took to heal. Friends helped me move. My rabbi provided support and guidance. A neighbor helped kasher my new kitchen. Family members filled in the gaps with furnishings. My Jazzercise teacher warmly welcomed me and helped me network when I landed back in town looking for a job. In turn, one of my lifelong lessons was learning to receive help rather than trying to go it alone as Superwoman.

  • Following a routine. Work, exercise, learning, spending time with friends and homemaking helped anchor me during a time of upheaval and rebuilding. I wrote down a plan every morning and took an inventory at night of what I had accomplished. I celebrated all my triumphs, big and small. My graduate school advisor once gave me advice that I have always remembered: “Every little bit helps move the project along.” I took baby steps every day, doing what I could to recreate my life. Pretty soon, I felt grounded again.

  • Making self-care a priority. For me this involves emotional as well as physical care. I have worked with a counselor to make sense of my failed marriage, learn the lessons and move forward. I also have attended a 12-step group to help with my codependency. Exercise brings me joy, so splurging on yoga or dance classes is part of my basic self-care plan. Physical pampering includes manicures and pedicures that make me feel good. An occasional dose of chocolate provides happiness too!

* * *

My three-month marriage left me rich with lifelong lessons – among them the importance of really getting to know myself as well as someone else. I am honing my “must-have” list of values and priorities in order to attract the right partner.

I also learned to listen to my intuition and not discount it. God has given it to me for a reason, and it is always on target if I pause long enough to tune in.

It’s also important to listen to loved ones who want the best for me.

I believe there are reasons for our trials. Viewing the lessons as gifts, I can move on.