For Julie Tortorici, the breakdown of her marriage was harrowing at best. Her husband was the one to call it quits, and although she knew they were dealing with issues in their marriage, she was still unprepared for him to say it was over.
“I believed that though we were struggling, we would get through it,” says Julie, a writer, actor, and producer who works for On the Leesh Productions in New York City. “Even after he walked out, I continued to believe that our marriage wasn’t necessarily over. I had heard of couples calling it quits, but then continue to work through their problems once things calmed down and cooler heads prevailed.”
In their case, however, once he left, he never looked back. Tortorici had plans in her head for a baby and for their future together but that was ripped apart.
“It left me feeling easily forgettable and that was an emotional state that sat within me for a long time,” says Tortorici, who was married for about 2 ½ years before they separated.
Once her husband left, one question that kept running through her mind was: “Who am I now?”
“If I wasn’t going to be a wife anymore; if I wasn’t going to be a mother any time soon; who was I going to be?” she says. “I quickly realized that I’d need to revolutionize myself in order to keep moving forward.”
Moving on to the Next Stage
Instead of focusing on the doors that were closing—such as being a wife and being a mother— Tortorici focused on the doors that could be opened as a result. For example, she had always wanted both to go to Africa and participate in a volunteer vacation. What had stopped her before was that her husband wanted to visit other areas of the world first and volunteer vacations often require that you take a lot of time off of work to participate.
“However, I found an organization called Globe Aware that allowed you to volunteer for one week at a time and they also had projects in the Ho region of Ghana,” she says. “It seemed like the answer I was looking for to begin a new chapter in my life.”
The more she thought about the trip as related to the breakup of her marriage, the more the phrase, best laid plans popped into my head. On paper, she thought she did everything right—she didn’t rush into marriage, they went to a counselor when problems arose, they didn’t have a baby right away—but the relationship still failed.
“I realized that sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much or how well you plan, life can still throw you a curve ball,” she says. “That’s when I decided to form the documentary blog/series, ‘Best Laid Plans’.”
Tortorici’s trip to Ghana was the start of it and then, once she was back, her desire to stretch her wings continued and so, she wrote and directed a short film and entered the dating world.
“I also found that I was interested in talking to other people about how they dealt with major life shifts they hadn’t planned for,” she says. “As a result, I started interviewing people for the series. It’s been a fascinating project at just the right time of my life.”
Support from Friends and Family
During the difficult time in her life, Tortorici says she experienced two extremes. She was the first of her group of friends to go through the process of divorce, and as a result, people’s reactions were mixed. Some of her friends went above and beyond for her, allowing her the freedom and support to feel whatever she needed.
“Others however, seemed to lack the empathy necessary to understand the weight of a marriage ending,” she says. “I had always been a person with a large group of friends, but because of everything I went through, the definition of what a friend was changed for me. As a result, that big group got significantly smaller. I will say however, that the friendships that have remained are richer, deeper and more profound than they were before.”
As for her family, she can’t stress enough how supportive they’ve been.
“I’ve been blessed with the kind of family I would wish for everyone,” she says. “Everyone’s support continued even at the start of the “Best Laid Plans” adventure. Sometimes, when you venture to reinvent yourself or reshape part of who you’ve been, people can be somewhat threatened. It’s understandable, because friends or family might wonder what role they’ll play in your new life, but the superstars in my life opened their arms to the idea. Many will even appear in some of the BLP episodes!”
As a result going through the process of divorce, Tortorici feels she is now a braver person. She says that some of her biggest fears came true, yet she was able overcome them to become the person she is today.
“When something challenging happens now, instead of thinking, “That can’t happen!” I think, ‘If it does happen, what can I do about it?’” she says. “I hope that my past has changed the way that I navigate my life. I try to keep the idea of “Best Laid Plans” in my head always, so that even if something I’ve planned for doesn’t happen the way I expected it to, or at all for that matter, I can still get something from it.”
Best Laid Plans Project
Through her Best Laid Plans project, Tortorici also had the opportunity to talk to many other people who have been thrown curve balls in life. She says that it seems as though the people who allowed themselves to absorb the real nature of the challenge, are the ones that seemed to grow the most from it. She remembers interviewing a woman in Ghana for Best Laid Plans who had ended her engagement and decided to volunteer for six months so she could have some time to get out in the world and experience new things.
“After talking to her, I remember thinking that she wasn’t running away from anything,” says Tortorici. “Instead, she was inviting the discovery of new parts of herself. She was both absorbing what she’d gone through while experiencing something completely and utterly new.”
For Tortorici, the idea of a person being able to build the life they dream about is what drives her most today. “Sometimes going through a hardship allows you to find strengths and passions within yourself that you hadn’t known existed,” she says.
As devastating as this process has been, it’s also been exciting to experience how her dreams and life plans have changed and transformed. She definitely still has lulls and bad days, but she finds that she feels most inspired when she immerses herself in things, projects and/or people that excite her.
Advice for Others
When asked what advice she can offer to those who are recently divorced, widowed, or separated to help them move on to the next phase of their life, she says to figure out who you are now.
“In separation and in the process of a divorce there can be so much time spent looking back,” she says. “You look back because of guilt, because of needing to answer why, because you can’t let go of who you were with your partner. While that’s all valid, it can also keep you from moving on if you wallow in it. Going from a duo to a single can be jarring, but it can also open you up to reinvention in the best sense. If you’re not that person anymore, who are you? It can be an illuminating conversation with yourself if you allow it to be. It allowed me to discover parts of myself that I had suppressed.”
Early on, she notes that one of the most difficult things is recognizing your life again. This was a challenge for her in both her home and outside life. Some of the simplest things stood out as reminders that her husband had left, such as taking on mundane chores in their home that he used to do. She also remembers an instance where she was having trouble remembering something about a trip to China they’d taken. Instinctively she thought to ask him about it – but – obviously, he wasn’t there anymore.
“I thought, whoa, now I’m the keeper of all of these memories—it’s not a shared hard drive anymore,” she says. “For some reason, being the sole memory keeper was a really jarring realization.”
Today, the things she is most proud of are the things she did as challenges to herself–starting the documentary, going to Africa, writing/directing a short film.
“Those are all things I couldn’t have done if I hadn’t asked myself ‘who am I now?’”