Life is About Choices: A Divorced Woman Reflects

life is about choices

By Jan Leasure, Mortgage Lender, Certified Divorce Lending Professional (CDLP), Division President, Diamond Mortgage Corporation

Life is about choices. We’ve all heard that phrase. Do you ever look back and reflect on the tiny choices that ended up being life altering?  I did.


Nineteen sixty-nine – 2024, this is a math equation that represents 55 years of my life.  I am sitting in front of a fire on a minus 4 degree winter day, two weeks before my 75th (seriously?) birthday, two pictures in my hand – same girl, same dress, one taken on 08/16/1969 and one taken on 01/12/2024.


The marriage itself lasted 39 years.  The dress out lasted the marriage. Why then would I be inspired to snap a pic of myself in my wedding dress 17 years post-divorce? First, because I think that our lives are a journey of learning. Second, because I think that as a society, as mothers, as fathers, as mentors, we somehow neglect to really level with our children about love, marriage, relationships, choices and the power that these relationships and choices have over our lives.

I had what I consider having been an absolutely great childhood. An only child, I grew up in suburban Des Plaines, IL with a strong Sicilian father, Sammy, who attended law school for 2 years, but then dropped out and worked in the liquor industry and Evelyn, a former executive secretary who became a stay-at-home mom.

I learned to read and to recite the Pledge of Allegiance on a ten-inch black and white tv by the time I was three, thanks to “Ding Dong School”. My dad had a strong personality and was gone a lot- he was in sales and attending school until he wasn’t.  I spent most of my time with my mom and I honestly thought until I was six years old that our “job” was shopping.

I attended public school k-12, got my BA & MS at NIU.  I had a lot of friends (some of whom I still talk to today) and I think had teenage years that will forever be the envy of any generation before or after us.  I got my license at 16 & had a baby blue convertible.  (I think this made me more valuable and popular than I might otherwise have been.) We had teenage nightclubs, music that was to die for, Drive-in movies and started going to concerts when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones came to Chicago. The band “Chicago” played at dances at DePaul and we actually danced to “Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is” with the band (Chicago) standing an arm’s length away on the floor.

In case you are wondering, in spite of the fact that I grew up in the era of the 60’s, “Sex, drugs & rock & roll,” fear of my dad, (both by me and any boyfriends) (my dad was a former boxer) kept me a virgin until I got married.  I also never smoked a joint, (I wanted to be a lawyer and was hell bent on never doing something that could jeopardize that) however, that did not keep me from trying to save my friends and flushing their pot to “keep them safe”. I soon learned that pot floats, story for another day.

This brings me to 1967. All of the choices that I made up to this point in time (with the supervision of my parents) kept me alive, drug free, not pregnant and accepted into college.  I wanted to go to Stanford or UCLA (I think I was a California Girl at heart) but my dad actually bullshitted me into believing that I I went as far as Cali to go to school that they could only afford to fly me home once a year at Christmas.  This wasn’t true, but I bought it and hence went to Northern Illinois University.   A nice enough school, a 60 minute drive from my home town, my BFF went with me as did dozens of my graduating class. Maybe not the best choice for me.

On a sunny August day my BFF and I waved goodbye to our parents and our boyfriends (mine (Joe) was a  6’4” 20 year old hot former California boy who attended UIC), turned to walk into our dorm and 5 minutes later met my Bff’s next squeeze. I might add that NIU was also close enough that my dad could drop in on me without notice.  This fact soon had my newly acquainted Roommate, Dale, and much of the school population afraid of my dad.  Good news travels fast.

Now that you have the background, let’s get on to the choices.  I am not really a “joiner” so I side stepped the Greek path and didn’t accept any sorority invites.  I am not sure if this was a good choice or not, because it may have hampered my ability to meet more people socially.   We were therefore left to our own devices to meet people, in class, at parties, at dorm functions.

Not a week passed and one of my friends, Steve, also from Des Plaines, tracked me down and literally implored me to convince all of the girls on the floor of my dorm to have dinner with all of the boys on his floor.  I did it (choice 2) and here I met Jon, the person who would be my husband.  It is interesting that I didn’t want to really attend this shindig, but I did it for Steve. I later learned that this was the actual idea of Jon who saw me in the dorm lobby and wanted to meet me so he and Steve planned the “5th Floor men meet the “5th floor women” dinner.

Jon sat across from me at the dorm dinner and I noticed two things about him; He had beautiful blue eyes, I am a brown eyed Italian so I always coveted blue eyes. He was tall, I am 6’ so as a shallow girl, I am impressed with height.  Otherwise our meeting was unremarkable. When I got back up to my floor the girls were abuzz with determining who was the cutest, who wanted to go out with whom, etc.  I wasn’t interested because I already had a hot UIC boyfriend.  My floor mates had other ideas.  About three of these girls wanted to go out with Jon and thought he had the “dreamiest” blue eyes.  Two of them thought he had a crush on me to which I was oblivious and told them to “go for it.”

Not two hours passed and our phone rang (pre cell phones, there was one phone to each room/two girls). Dale answered the phone and handed it to me, it was Jon.  He was inviting me to have a “Coke”  (cola not Cain) in the Barn, a restaurant in our dorm. (Next choice) I never want to hurt someone’s feelings, so I said yes.  I went to the date, figuring it was innocent enough and a way to meet new people.

I told Jon that I had a boyfriend at home and kept it “just friends”.  This did not keep him from calling and continuing to ask me out.  I said “no” and my boyfriend, Joe, kept driving every Friday in September and early October to pick me up in his ’57 Chevy and bring me back on Sunday.  My campus life was limited to school and whatever social things we could get in on the weekdays.  I was frustrated and feeling like I had one foot at school and one foot at home with no real commitment to either one.

Then came Halloween.  Both my BFF who I came to NIU with and I wanted to stay at school for a weekend and just get a better feel for campus life.  Joe called and said he and Jeff (my friend’s bf) would come on Friday to pick us up and on Saturday one of our mutual  friends was having a Halloween party and they were “stoked”.  That day my friend and I made a stand and said we would be staying at school that weekend. (next choice) No amount of cajoling would change our minds.  We stayed at school, whatever we did was unremarkable that weekend.  However, imagine our surprise on Monday when one of our home town girlfriends called us to inform on our boyfriends who DID go the  Halloween party anyway to report that two  of  our other longtime HS friends, took the opportunity to make out with our boyfriends at the Halloween party.

Obvi that was the choice  of our friends and our soon to be former boyfriends.  Interestingly to this day, 55 years later I am still friends with these two women and never mentioned it to them.  My take was that the betrayal was on the part of the guys. Upon digesting this news I sat down at my blue electric typewriter and typed up a “Dear Joe” letter – announcing that we had to break up and I would be henceforth spending my weekends at school. (another choice but forced on my by the choices of others)  I sealed it, stamped it and mailed it.

Three days later Joe was at my dorm in the cafeteria waiting for me when I came down to dinner. I turned around after filling my tray, my girlfriend tapped my shoulder and nodded in the direction of Joe. I nearly dropped my tray of food.` I walked over to the booth, sat down and saw that Joe had the letter in his hand. He was sad and a little weepy so I asked him if we could leave (I didn’t want him to be embarrassed).

We talked, we hugged, we cried but I would not be persuaded to continue the relationship. I kissed him on the cheek and went back to my dorm.  I think this was a good choice because even at 18 I didn’t want to have trust issues. (To be tested later). This was a lesson learned by observation.  Even at 18 I knew that my handsome, Sicilian, ex-Marine dad, was a player.  I loved my dad and in so many ways I respected him, but I felt that he betrayed my mom and I didn’t’ want that for myself. I know how guys hate this, but Joe agreed to be “friends”.

I didn’t tell anyone except my roommate and my BFF about the breakup and really wanted to be single and just enjoy my freshman year.  That wasn’t to be because after awhile, I was a little lonely and homesick, the weekend traveling had taken up my time and I didn’t really have down time, but now I did.  I finally gave in to Jon’s continuous requests to go out and I did like him. (Next choice) He was smart, someone to hang out with.

By now my BFF also broke up with her hometown guy who also cheated at the Halloween party, but her new squeeze was the guy we met our first night on campus and he was in a fraternity, so the parties that I was invited to as a single girl were off limits if I brought my own date.  I spent time getting to know Jon, he was one of 7 kids, I am an only child so that was intriguing. I was thinking “The Waltons”.

We studied, went to Football games, then basketball games, saw movies, went to local restaurants, hung out with the 5th floor guys and made out.  NIU is a suitcase school so……there weren’t a lot of distractions, I liked having someone to do things with and yes when he told me he loved me, I said it back- but how do you know if you love someone if you really don’t Know Know them?  (another choice).

We were from completely different backgrounds, I was Italian/American from the bubblegum suburbs of Chicago  and my high school  had 1,450 kids in my freshman class. He was from small small town in central IL and his school didn’t have 500 kids in the whole school.  Still he said he played basketball, ran track, was class president etc. etc.  I didn’t play sports, I was really social, lived for the weekends and wanted to be a lawyer.

The first real red (flaming) flag came just 6 weeks in to our dating.  Xmas break was coming.  I was going home and my parents said he could visit us on New Year’s eve weekend.  He was staying at school in a mutual friend’s apartment and working at the library to make some extra money.  I was having a sleepover before Christmas at my friend Judy’s house. Judy was a bit of an instigator.  She wanted to talk to Jon she had not met him so she kept bugging me to call him.  No cell phones existed so I had to call him at our friend Bill’s apartment.

I humored her and called.  No answer.  I waited half an hour and called again. No answer.  Judy said, “I have an idea!”  Let’s drive there and surprise him!  So unlike the completely obedient suburban only child, I agreed.  We took off in my blue convertible, in the snow on icy roads, Dekalb bound. (VERY BAD CHOICE).

We drove to Dekalb (my parents are dead or I would not be writing this), and arrived there about 8 pm.  Walked to the apartment and knocked on the door.  No answer but the light was on inside.  I knocked again and had no choice except to say that I was at the door, from inside he said, “oh just a minute I was in the shower.” (BS) I sent Judy back to my car with my keys to get to the bottom of the situation.

It was freezing and blustery out, so cold my nipples could cut glass, but he made me wait. (Clue)  He came to the door in a towel, as if he had been in the shower.  I immediately felt that someone was there.  In fact, glancing at the kitchen table I saw two glasses.  The air went out of my tires so to speak.  I wasn’t jealous but the one thing that is a deal breaker to me is if I am lied to.  My first impulse was to investigate, check the closets etc. in the one-bedroom apartment, but timing was slim, I had to head back to Judy’s parents home in Mt. Prospect because the impending snow loomed in my head.

I had deceived my mom and dad and didn’t want to get a ticket or get in an accident on the way home.  To distract Jon and to prove that he was lying, I actually pulled him down on the couch and kissed him, the reaction from this guy who was desperately after me was very cardboard.  My next ruse was, “ok, I’m here, let’s do it, let’s sleep together.” (I was using this as a ruse and he didn’t take the bait, so I knew he had someone there.)  At that point I left, got to the car with Judy and drove back.  Of course Judy wanted to go back and search the apartment but I told her it wasn’t worth it.  (next bad choice because an investigation would have proved me right but remember I was only almost 19 and my parents had no idea I was gone.) Early in December Jon had given me a lavalier necklace sort of implying we were a couple.  I took it off and hung it on the door knob.  My parting gift.

Judy and I drove back on the slippery roads, got back to her house safely with no serious mishaps and no parents the wiser.  I never stayed at Judy’s that night, I went home instead, concerned that Jon might call my parent’s house looking for me and hint that I had been in DeKalb. (Good choice).

This was the start of our two-plus week of Christmas break and I was processing the situation.  First I decided that Jon was a complete lying sack and I would never talk to him again, (Good choice).  A little emotional revenge was in order. Next I decided not to sit around and mope. The next night I went to Joe’s school and “ran into him” in the student lounge which was open over break.  He was really happy to see me. (Good Choice)

We went out the next night and I had a proposed date for New Year’s Eve. Joe promised that he would even take me to the Johnny Mathis concert on NYE if I said yes.  (This was a huge concession for him because he only liked rock) The next night I went out with my HS boyfriend/childhood friend, D. He had put his NYE bid in early in December but I had to decline because I was still in a relationship. But when I called and told him all bets were off he reinstated the invitation and we went out 3 more times that break, including NYE, I turned down Johnny Mathis for a party with my friends and former squeeze.  (Good Choice).

I really made up for lost time; I went out with Joe, D, my girlfriends, had dates with three other guys who were college friends of some of my guy friends, one of whom picked me up in a yellow Stingray (Corvette). I covered up the frustration of betrayal with staying busy.

Did Jon call? Yes.  Did he try to explain?  Yes.  I wasn’t having it and told him not to visit.  I was done. (Good choice).

NYE was fun and emotional. D and I were with our high school friends who we hung out with when we dated for two years, so lots of memories and just like old times feelings.  Neither of us really had the emotional capacity to communicate on a level that would deal with the feelings we still had for each other. Take that back, he gave me the opportunities I didn’t jump in.  (Questionable Choice).

So the story so far covers the first four months of my Freshman year of college and the choices that brought me to January 1968. In Teenage months that is like four years.

I went back to school in January with all of my friends knowing that I had ended it with Jon and why. We both lived in the same dorm, different towers, but difficult to completely avoid someone who wanted to find you because we shared a cafeteria, mailbox areas and the Barn. January 8th was Jon’s 20th birthday and he wanted to take me to dinner and “talk”.  My sweet roomie Dale who wanted me to be forgiving said, “it’s his birthday.”  I went, stayed guarded, did not believe anything he said and went back to my room.

Somewhere later in January I got bored and we started dating again. I never believed his story, never really forgave him, but he fit in with my friends and gave me something to do.  (Not a good choice). Honestly at this point in my life I don’t think I really discussed with my parents or friends what really makes a good strong positive relationship.  It isn’t just attraction, the color of someone’s eyes or how tall they were.  We kept dating, going to school, hanging out with our friends.  Pretty soon it was Christmas break 1968.  My best friend Pam and her boyfriend Bob got married at 18 and I already had two friends who had babies, so life went a little faster in the 60’s. Soon we were going into the city on a cold, clear snowy night with Pam and Bob to watch Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet”.  (Seemed like a good choice)

Just before the movie ended, I got something that I was not expecting, a marriage proposal, complete with an engagement ring financed  from a local Dekalb, IL jewelry store. My friend Pam had known about this and didn’t say anything, we were at Romeo & Juliet; Do I say no and spoil the evening and hurt his feelings?  Hell no!  I go with the flow so my friend Pam doesn’t chastise me for hurting Jon’s feelings.  I say yes and don’t hurt Jon’s feelngs (bad bad choice) but in the back of my mind I am thinking, “No way my dad will be ok with this, he will make us wait and then it will just wash away.” (wrong).

I have to admit, initially it was sort of exciting to have an engagement ring.  The other side of the coin was fear of showing my dad. I was completely that Sammy, (my dad) would put an end to what he would say was a premature and frivolous decision.  But how he would illustrate that displeasure I couldn’t fathom.  He kept a 45-caliber handgun in his night stand. Would he scare us into submission? Shame us? I was completely uncertain HOW he would end the engagement but completely certain that he definitely would end it. (Bad decision thinking my dad would rectify my previous bad decision)

Imagine my surprise when we asked my mom and dad to come into the family room because we had something to show them and we held out my hand and said we were engaged and instead of a gun my dad went and got a bottle of champagne. Class act but not what I needed at that moment.

January 1969 and we went back for my sophomore year and Jon’s junior year. The girls on my floor had a little ceremony with candles acknowledging my engagement. I went along with all of this.  (bad choice) I did a lot of studying, Jon and I had some fights and “almost” break ups during the year.

My dad actually took the reigns of the wedding, invited 300 people, mostly my parent’s friends and business associates.  I was limited to the friends I could invite. I am an only child, if I had a sister or brother I may have shared my doubts about getting married so young. I sensed my mom had reservations but my dad was in full wedding mode. Much later in life an epiphany let me to realize that my dad, who was a heart patient that had survived a massive coronary at age 42, just wanted to live to see his grandchildren.  Hence, he planned the wedding.

This brings us to 8/16/1969, the wedding day.  I am in the foyer of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Des Plaines, IL standing with my bridesmaids and my dad, everyone else having taken their seats.  One by one my bridesmaids walked down the aisle, turned and faced us.  Each one had a look of shock on their faces as they looked at me.  I thought there was something wrong with my dress.  Did I have blood on my dress, like the prom in the movie “Carrie”? I found out what they were looking at when I was about ten steps into the church as I turned my head and smiled at the guests.  There in the back row of the church was my now 21-year-old high school boyfriend. The person who was my childhood friend from the time I was 3, sitting there alone in a suit, flashing me a solemn smile.

I was a little confused and mortified. Not because he was there, but because I had not invited him.  He and his parents were a large part of my life and I struggled, discussing with my mom, if I should invite him, his parents and his sister, who had treated me with so much love throughout my life.  It was a damned if you do and damned if you don’t situation so I made no choice, but there he was. Visions of the 1967 movie, The Graduate, danced in my head as I walked down the aisle. From that moment the rest of the walk and ceremony was a blur. What was I doing? What if “D” objects during the ceremony?  Do I run? Do I stay? I found myself staring off to the “stage left” and focusing on a stained glass window.  Jon got my attention back by squeezing my hand really hard because it was “vow time”.

We went through the ceremony, exchanged rings, walked back down the aisle and there in the last row was “D”.  We greeted and thanked the entire church full of guests with the bridal party for 20 minutes until Jon and I stood alone in the church foyer.  I thought the church was empty. I was wrong. A moment later, “D” appeared in the doorway.  He walked over, at 6’9’ looked down at Jon’s 6’4” (he liked doing that when we crossed paths) and said, “May I kiss the bride?”  I didn’t wait for Jon to respond and said, “Of course you can!” (good choice)

I gave him a great last kiss and a hug and apologized for not inviting him and his parents.  I asked him to come to the reception, bring a date, bring a friend?” I was feeling very guilty for making the choice not to include him. “D” left the church.  Jon and I went on to photos. Jon was convinced until the day he died that I had invited “D” to the wedding.  We eventually went on to the wedding reception at 666 N. Lakeshore Drive in Chicago (maybe an omen) they later changed the address of the building from “666” Obvi. The resulting marriage lasted from 8/16/1967 to about 6/30/2006.


Jan Leasure - Mortgage Lender and Certified Divorce Lending Professional


Life is about choices

Ladies and gentlemen, I am sharing my personal story of how 24 months of bad (at least questionable) decisions, ignoring obvious clues and moving forward in spite of them between the ages of 18 and 20, landed me in a marriage destined to end in divorce. Be reminded that we only have one life. The choices we make on who we travel that path with may seem so insignificant as we are moving forward in our lives, but it might be the choices and situations in the details that lead us into a complex web that was woven by our tiny choices.

Blink and a decade is gone. Blink again and there are children involved, entangled finances, property, family members, friends, an entire web of your own making that was created one string at a time, that becomes so difficult to untangle that soon you just stay. You stay because leaving is hard. Feelings are hurt. Children are hurt. You are exhausted.

Life is about choices. My message to you is “Don’t wait.”  Divorce is anything but easy! Leaving is hard, but in retrospect, staying is harder. Be honest with yourself, your partner, your children. Maybe think harder than I did before actually sealing the deal, especially if you are thinking about “remarrying”.  Look at the girl in the dress in 1967 and the girl in the dress in 2024, 55 years of life in between.  There were a lot of great things that happened in those 55 years but had just a few choices been different it would have saved a lot of regret and heartache and life may have been a lot easier and more joyful for so many people.

Clearly with first marriages ending in divorce 35-50% of the time, we aren’t doing a great job of teaching our children about building and retaining healthy relationships. (Present company included) Even more shocking is that second marriages actually have a higher failure rate of 60-70%, are we learning from our mistakes?  I had great parents but I can’t remember one serious conversation about what to look for in a partner. Teach your children how to choose a life partner.  Instead of expecting them to learn by example, talk to them.

Jan Leasure, Mortgage Lender, CDLP


Jan Leasure, CDLP, is a mortgage lender and division president for Diamond Residential Mortgage Corporation.  Early in her career, Jan received an award for her work on behalf of consumers by President Ronald Regan and the U.S.  Office of Consumer Affairs. She was also nominated as Loan Officer of the Year by the Illinois Association of Mortgage Professionals several times. Prior to her career as a mortgage lender, Jan worked as a newspaper columnist, a junior high school teacher, and college professor! Learn more here or call Jan at: (847) 293-2111.

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