NonTraditional Nelle

*Life is choosing who and what you love. Everything else follows.* – Todd Johnson


On May 26, 2012 I made a choice to follow my heart in the biggest, boldest, most beautiful way possible. While many know the end result of this choice, few truly know the journey. We live in a constant state of transition and my life is ever evolving, but there are parts of my journey I wish to share with you because I hope that I will not only reach you, but that you will reach back. As Glennon of Momastery always says, We Belong To Each Other, and I hope that you find some belonging in my journey too.

For most of my childhood I would say I was extraverted and social but also timid and fearful. I was not a risk taker, and in fact, I was basically afraid of everything new. Especially change. I liked constant, consistent tradition. I loved Christmas time because I always knew what to expect. I didn’t like being unprepared. I still don’t. While I could attribute most of this feeling to a dynamic childhood, I actually had a really stable upbringing until I was about 12. My parents were married, my closest grandparents lived 5 minutes away, and I was really close with my older sister and younger brother. All very “normal”, nothing to be afraid of. Sure, that all radically changed after 12 when my parents divorced, my mother remarried and I found myself with four new step-siblings (who I love and cherish to this day even though we are no longer step-siblings), I moved to a new town at the start of high school, and found myself with an identity crisis and a new group of friends every year. It was no wonder that as a senior in high school I latched on to a very calm, stable, kind boy to give me some of the steadiness I needed. My need for stability at this point was so powerful that I kept a very, very tight grip on it. Even though I felt that my relationship was not right for me from time to time as I continued to grow and develop, I stayed committed for over 10 years. It was never wrong, but it was never quite right.

I am a lover. So much so that if you were to ask me what I always wanted in life, even from when I was a very young child, I would have said true love. Great, big, life changing, do anything for, crying in the street during a rainstorm, love. That conflicted greatly with my need for stability and calmness. As everyone knows “with great love comes great responsibility”…or something like that. What my calm, stable love did provide was the chance to grow and develop into a strong, confident, independent woman. I went swiftly towards the direction of my dreams, and realized just as quickly I was traveling alone. This is never anyone’s fault. This is what happens when two lives join at 17 and there is a lifetime of change ahead. Change I was once afraid of but began to embrace and strive for as I truly became me.

It is a hard thing to accept, decide, and understand when a love, a long term relationship, is not right anymore. It is hard for so many reasons that it’s impossible to even spell out. They say warning signs, hints of disconnect, feelings of distance, should tell you when it’s time to go. That you should act on those feelings when you have them. I don’t know who the “they” is that I refer to, but I just remember feeling that I didn’t want to follow “them”, that if I worked hard at anything, I could make it right. That I didn’t want to believe love couldn’t last and I did believe divorce was avoidable. Although I never cared much about a wedding (no wedding dreams for this girl), I believed that the choice to marry was a very serious one and I wanted to believe I could make a choice that would result is the avoidance of divorce. And I did.

I was engaged at Christmas the year of 2011. It made perfect sense. I was finally finishing my degree and had secured a job post-doctorate. I was looking into buying a house with my kind boy and finally getting to be a real person, and not just a student. My real life was about to begin. Everyone around me was getting engaged, buying houses, and even having babies. So why did it all just feel ok?

I saw the movie Titanic 7 times in the theater when I was 12 (the last two times I had to pay in all change that I had scrounged up from couch cushions and the like – no one was paying for me to go see it AGAIN). Rose, the heroine, was engaged when she went on her Titanic voyage, but she was not in great, big, change your life love. Then she met Jack, the hero. There is a scene where Rose is describing to Jack what her engagement felt like. Everyone and everything swirling around her so fast – the planning, congratulations, etc., etc. and it felt like she was screaming at the top of her lungs but no one could hear her. The first five months of 2012 felt exactly this way to me. And I just didn’t know how to stop it.

I never wanted to hurt anyone, especially the kind, stable boy who had stayed by my side through so much in 10 years. But I knew I couldn’t live a life that didn’t feel right to me just so that I did not hurt that kind boy. And I truly believed that if I didn’t feel we were right, it wasn’t fair for him to be with someone who was giving him less than 100%. Someone else would, and I wanted that for him.

Several events from February 2012 through early May solidified my underlying feeling that, even though I wanted to believe putting in the effort could make anything right, my relationship was ending. I was focused on finishing my doctorate in mid-June and believed that I just needed to make it until then to make the most difficult but necessary decision of my life up until this point. I told no one of my thoughts because in all honesty I was scared to admit it out loud, and I was ashamed that I couldn’t be what I had thought I wanted all along.

In the last 3 years of that relationship, I consistently found myself searching for new friendships. People to really connect with, spend my time with, and feel that belonging. I realized later that this was of course a result of not feeling these things in my relationship. I made two really wonderful, lifelong friends in graduate school that truly are a huge component of how I survived those five years of schooling, family, and relationship stress. No matter how much time passes between how often we see each other, they will always be family to me, because in those 5 years I felt known, and I belonged to them. As my graduate career ended I was creating friendships outside of school for truly the first time in my life. Friends of friends were becoming my people, the kind of people that really understand you, that you really connect with. And one person in particular really spoke to my soul. I never saw her coming.

The thing about great, big, life changing, do anything for love is that it is actually all of those things.

We met through a mutual friend, whom we had both been friends with for some time but somehow our paths had never crossed – until that mutual friend was getting married. We were technically introduced on New Years Eve of 2011, when I, freshly engaged, met her and her husband (yes, her husband), and all I remember thinking was “they are a very tall couple.” And life continued unassumingly. Our paths crossed the next time at our mutual friend’s bridal shower, but in all honesty I didn’t even know it was the same person I had met on New Years Eve just a few months before and we did not have an opportunity to exchange any more words this time. It wasn’t until the bachelorette weekend when we truly became friends. Almost immediately. I can still remember walking into the house we had rented and seeing her light up the room. I wanted to know her. And I wanted her to know me. So we began talking.

We talked the entire weekend of the bachelorette, we talked the entire week of the wedding festivities, and we continued our conversation after we returned home to both our respective lives. With our fiancé, husband, and kids. But we still wanted to talk more. Until finally one night the conversation was absent of words. And we found ourselves speaking in other ways. And we found ourselves in love.

Great big, life changing, do anything for, crying in the street during a rainstorm, love.


The thing about this kind of love is that when you finally get it, you don’t get to decide when or how or why. You just take it and cherish it for as long as you have it, even if it doesn’t look right to anyone else, even if it is messy and complicated, and even if on some days you don’t even recognize it. You don’t take this kind of love for granted because when you spend your whole life wishing that it existed, you treasure every moment you can hold on to it.

Which is exactly what we have done every day since May 26, 2012.

I don’t know why I had to be engaged or why she had to be married with three kids. I know that I was not ready to marry my fiancé and I did not want to birth my own children, I wanted to adopt. I felt very strongly about this since the age of 12 (not so coincidentally when I learned to love my step-siblings who I had no biological ties with). I knew for a very long time that love did not require blood. I know that her husband, much like my kind boy, was a very kind and understanding man. Someone who truly wanted the best for her and for his children. Someone who accepted that our great big love was meant to flourish, even when it hurt. And so we became “the good crew”, clarifying the waters every day and learning how to raise three children with three parents in a careful, yet celebratory way. And we were strong. And we were learning. It wasn’t easy but it was always worth it.

While we may seem like the exception to so many, make no mistake about our life – it has never been a fairytale. Fairytales are foolish and the supposed “true love” is often based on never really knowing the other. Which is the exact opposite of why we felt connected from the first moment. As someone who yearned to be heard, understood, and appreciated (call it the middle child syndrome), half of the pull to her was the feeling that in our first conversation I was all of those things with her. All of them.

So even when nothing made sense. When she wasn’t ready to tell the world about us. When we both became mothers in very different ways. When the neighbors believed (as I was made to pretend) that I was only the nanny. When we lived as “the good crew” in one house for over 6 months together. When we gave up pieces of our past selves for each other. When family and friends made our obvious choice seem complex and convoluted. When we sought our own corner of the world to flourish and were met with so many unexpecteds. When we felt like we could never find our footing. When every day was a constant state of transition and change. It was always worth it. It is always worth it.

Although it may be the very hardest thing we ever do, I never want to un-do what we have done. Who I am is her and them. There is no space in between anymore, we are continuous and we are completely connected.

And now we are four, co-parenting three amazing children in two households less than 10 minutes apart, three moms and one dad, and enough love to overflow the streets after our rainstorm. It’s complicated, unexpected, and ever changing. And it is so good.

I do not know what the proper sentiment or description is for the totality of and all-encompassing nature of this love, but fortunate and grateful and insanely inspiring seem to be a good start. It’s impossible to not start every day with overwhelming gratitude and thankfulness to have found and created the life and love you always wanted. Together We Are Better.

And so I share with you myself – my love, my family, and my heart. I am Nelle. I am not an idealist, but I am a believer of true love. I am not an activist, but I strive for balance in all things. I am not Mom, but I am a mother. I am not perfect, but I am real. And real is rare. Be unapologetically you. Be as NonTraditional as you need to be to let your light shine through, to find your corner of the world to thrive, and maybe help others do the same.