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:)
8 thoughts on “Looking the Wrong Direction”
So well expressed! Yes, when I look back I can see where that 19 year old didn’t have the courage to take a good look at and ask the hard questions at the time, thinking my intuition was wrong and I’d be dismissed.
Great post! I find myself at the crossroad of learning to trust someone enough to consider marriage for a second time. I learning it is an interesting process with the experience I have gained.
Great job full of intelligent thoughts!
Very well said and true.
I agree with your post. As I look back on my 28 years of marriage, I know now that I saw what I wanted to in my husband. Not necessarily who he really was. I gave him the values and attributes I wanted him to have. I thought he was a family man – loved his children to the exclusion of all else. I thought he was honest and trustworthy. I believed he was a person of integrity. Now looking back – after 9 months – of being knocked off my feet – I understand he was truly a different person. I am moving forward in my life – one step at a time – and with my eyes open. I understand more about myself and what is important in my life. I can thank my husband for this relevation. Time is passing quickly and I don’t want to waste any more of it.
Such an important realization that our perceptions of a person don’t always match the reality. Has that understanding helped you move on? I know for me I realized I loved who I thought he was, not who he was. Made it easier – but no less painful- to let go of a desire for him.
Realizing that I was in love with the image of him – not the real person – has helped me tremendously. I am so sorry for my kids. It is not as easy to watch them realize their father is none of the things they value. He pays for where we live, pays for their private school, etc., so in that he is doing what he should. I don’t know if you know much about compartmentalization. I think my husband did this and is doing this now. The last year and a half he carried on with his girlfriend – lying to me and my children the whole time. He felt he deserved this time for himself. It should not affect his other life. I see that know when he comes over. As long as we are still here – nothing changes in our home life, except for him not living here – he sees that as okay. Then he goes off with his girlfriend – and she is separate. He does not realize the damage he is doing to his children – what kind of role model is he? He is teaching his children what marriage is about, how to treat the mother of his children, how to treat women, how to lie to get what you want. All of these things are part of the reason I would never want him back. He was raised by a mother who did the same thing. She had an affair when my husband was in elementary school. She involved him in the deceit. I tell my children now – look at where they came from. What kind of family do they have. Are they caring and kind? If I could have had the wisdom in my twenties that I have now but then I wouldn’t have my children. Everything happens for a reason!
That has to be so difficult watching your kids go through all that.