I have often thought that I was wisest in my youth, especially as I grow older.
When I was in my teens I was very eager to get married. And I had a pretty good idea of the life I wanted to build.
Let me first explain a belief I held at this time: I did not believe in the existence of “Mr./Mrs. Right”. I firmly believed that it was possible to make nearly any relationship work with sufficient commitment and work. In fact, I believed that the concept of the “right person” was itself damaging to one’s chances of a happy relationship, because it set up false expectations, and introduced the idea that if things were going wrong, maybe it was just not Meant To Be.
I had noticed that there was a particular kind of family among our circle of acquaintances, largely in the Christian and homeschooling communities, that seemed to me the most joyful and warm. These families were large families with many children. They tended to live on farms and drive old beat up cars because that’s what they could afford. The mother and father would be relatively laid-back individuals who put family first and personal pursuits secondary.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, to my mind, were the childless perpetually single people I knew. The stereotypical member of this category would be an artsy type living in a downtown loft. They were often very interesting people to talk to. They usually weren’t single by choice; they were just waiting to meet the “right person”, or waiting to get some things sorted out in their life before they took that step. Year after year. They came across as kind of uptight. Much later on I would read James Hillman’s description of the soul’s need to “grow down” into the earth. If souls are acorns, these were acorns who had fallen on concrete floors – unable or unwilling to grow down, only up.
I think I identified these to polar stereotypes so clearly and so early because they were the two lifestyles that most appealed to me. But I knew which one I wanted. I wanted the first one. I wanted that big family who may have had to make do with secondhand furniture, but who all sat down at one big scratched-up table at the end of the day.
When, at the age of twenty, I found a woman I thought I could create that life with, I jumped at that chance. She wanted lots of kids too, and she even had two kids already – a jump start! I married her in an eyeblink.
Then I froze up.
This is an oversimplification; quite a lot of things happened. But one thing that happened, which I think had a lot of influence on what came after, is that I froze up.
I had never really dealt with that part of myself that wanted Option B. And there were a lot of aspects of my self that pulled me towards that second path. Lonely and wanting stability, I had never engaged with or honored with those facets of myself that wanted the free and unfettered life of a confirmed batchelor. I had quashed them as irrelevant and unworthy. In retribution, they held me immobile and unsure.
I hovered at this point for years. Afraid to wholly commit; afraid to walk away. Unable, because of my lack of commitment, to put the effort in to make things really work.
A lot of my friends were there for me during this time. They listened to me go on and on about my uncertainties and disappointments. I am eternally grateful to them.
But I discovered something about the counsel of friends, which I have since observed to be consistently true in almost every case of a person in relationship travails and his or her friends rallying to their support:
Friends tell you what you want to hear.
It’s not like they conspire to do this. Nor is it that they lie to make you feel better. But they listen to you tell your tail of woe from your perspective in the midst of the pain. They hear how unhappy you are where you are, and how much you long to be somewhere else. And in that context, it seems completely reasonable to validate your feelings by confirming that yes, you deserve better, and yes, you would probably be happier if you left that relationship. After all, that’s what you just got finished saying. Your friends want you to be happy, and if they see you suffering and wanting something different in life, they will naturally encourage you to go after it.
I write this from the perspective of hindsight. At odds with what a lot of people were telling me to do, and what my own rationality told me was the healthy path, I stuck it out. That time of doubting came to an end, quite suddenly and with finality, almost a year ago. Since that time I have been joyfully content with my life and my relationship with Stacey. I have not, and will not, look back.
Something finally shifted inside me; about which I have written more elsewhere. But I haven’t written about this aspect of the shift: after seven years of wrestling with the call to independence that I had ignored and failed to honor, I was able to make peace with that side of myself. I was for the first time able to reconcile myself wholly and unreservedly to plan A. The big family and the beat-up table.
I feel as if I dodged a real bullet. I came so close to giving up. And I intuitively feel that if I had, if I had succumbed to the call of plan B, I would never have recovered. I would have become a confirmed bachelor, unable to ever again take the step that so unbalanced me the first time. I would have been a nut on a concrete floor, ever grasping up and out, ever trying to make things “perfect” before settling down – the perfect income, the perfect woman, the perfect emotional balance – ever unable or unwilling to put down roots.
I’ve run out of time, so: To be continued…