When I was young, I used to drive my mom crazy by insisting upon walking one direction while holding my gaze steady in another. When the inevitable collisions and falls occurred, I would cry out. Partly in pain and partly from surprise. Because even though I wasn’t watching where I was walking, I couldn’t believe that I ran into trouble.
Even though I got better at walking as I got older, it turns out I didn’t really get much better at looking where I was headed. At least when it came to marriage. Because like so many of us do, while I was saying my vows, I was looking the wrong direction.
Before deciding to marry, people often worry about the seriousness and permanence of pledging to spend a lifetime with one person. They worry about forever in a world where there are no certainties and you never really know what lies around the next bend.
They may express concern about the consequences and potential sacrifice of pledging sexual fidelity to one person. A fear arises about the bedroom dying, a gangrenous limb attached to the ailing body of the marriage.
There may be a concern that the attentive and attractive new spouse may change over time and that the current positive feelings may not weather the transition. There’s a sense of promising to love someone as they are now and hoping that you’ll still love the person they become.
We might worry about our partner’s future abilities as a breadwinner or a parent. We know how they fit into our lives now, but we are unsure of how their role may change as families and jobs change around us.
And perhaps most common and most pressing, we wonder if we are choosing to marry the right person. We consider his or her weaknesses and wonder if we can tolerate them for-potentially-ever. We may look at their family and pick apart their issues and personalities. Economically-driven thoughts may filter through, as we wonder if this person is the best we can do.
But none of these fears address what is really important.
We’re looking in the wrong direction.
Because what we should be concerned with is not the unknowable future, not the inevitable changes that will occur and not even so much the person we have chosen to marry.
Instead of looking outward, we would be better served by looking at ourselves. Because if you’re anything like me, that’s really what you should be scared of.
I did my share of considering all sides of my first husband before we got married. I knew his ups, his downs, his family skeletons and thought I had a good handle on what I was signing up for. I knew he was good to me and thought he was good for me.
And I was looking the wrong way.
Looking where I wanted.
Instead of where I was going.
Because I was afraid of seeing the truth.
I asked the easy questions and accepted the easy answers.
Because I was afraid of hearing the truth.
And when my marriage ran into trouble, I cried out. Partly in pain and partly from surprise. Because even though I wasn’t watching where I was walking, I couldn’t believe that I ran into misfortune.
My ex husband christened himself a coward in the text that ended the marriage. His cowardice was overt, leading one life with me while hiding a covert life behind my back.
My cowardice was more subtle, a fear of things too big to handle. A child’s view of “If I can’t see it, it can’t get me.”
And so before my second marriage, I most certainly spent energy considering my potential spouse. Making sure he possessed the adaptability to handle life’s curves and the courage to face life’s troubles. I made sure his strengths and weaknesses were compatible with mine and that his shortcomings weren’t deal-breakers.
But I spent much more energy on myself. At working at being more brave about asking the hard questions and being willing to listen to hard answers. At seeing what is there, even when it is threatening. At trusting myself to be strong enough to handle the truth, no matter how awful it may become.
Because here’s what I realized – how I approach my marriage, my partner is just as important (if not more so) than all of those other concerns above.
Looking in the right direction doesn’t guarantee that I will never fall, but it certainly lowers the risk of surprise and the frequency of accidental collisions.
I guess I’ll have to find another way to drive mom crazy:)