My Biggest Mistake In Life – Round One

To qualify, before I begin.  I believe that mistakes should be turned into gifts.  We should make mistakes every day.  If we aren’t, then we aren’t taking chances.  We aren’t risking.  We aren’t learning.  We aren’t living.  Take chances.

  1. Touch the stove.  But,
  2. Don’t learn about crossing the street by walking into traffic

The first teaches.  The second kills.  The first evolves.  The second ends.  So make mistakes and learn.  When you find yourself repeating mistakes; urgently pay attention and learn better.

Knowing me, people might expect that getting behind the wheel on March 26th, 1982 and the events following it would easily rank number one.  Erasing that day would mean I don’t become paralyzed.  I don’t die a bunch of times and have more surgeries than I can count, or eventually chronic, horrific pain.  Nope.

Getting Married

engagement-1361074_1920This post evolved from an exercise Natalie Goldberg gives to her students in her book about writing a memoir called “Old Friend from Far Away.”  Marriage was the 3rd of my top three mistakes.  We had dated for four years.  We were graduating with Bachelor Degrees.  I was going on to grad school for my Master’s in Social Welfare.  The next logical step was marriage.  Right?  After 3-4-5 years of dating the question is unavoidable.  If you aren’t getting engaged then what does that say about the relationship?  We were happy.  We were fine.

We had no money but managed to save up enough to take a trip to Myrtle Beach.  Both being poor college students we managed to save the $500-600 required and drove down in March.  The trip would provide some sunshine to help us get through the rest of the long winter.  We pitched a tent and then the rain started.  It was above freezing but not by much.  We slept in the van for most of the night with the engine running.  We were miserable and argued.  We had our first real fight… the our 2nd and 3rd.  We walked away from each other to cool off.  Then we took what we had left of the money we had (setting aside enough for gas to get us home) and checked into a hotel.  We spent a long time naked in a tub just thawing out.   The next day we drove home.  The positive spin that we eventually came to from this miserable experience was that “if we can survive that experience, we can survive anything.”  Morons.

My Catholic readers may be familiar with the “pre-marriage interview.”  Three quarters of the catholic diocese use this process to help couples determine readiness for marriage and flag problems to be solved before exchanging vows.  Other religions utilize the FOCCUS (Facilitating Open Couple Communication Understanding and Study) questionnaire in numbers now larger than the catholic church.  Yeah, we didn’t do that.  There’s a book called “The Hard Questions: 100 Questions to Ask Before You Say “I Do”  Nope.  Nothing like that for us.  Today you can get the used hardcover version for a penny.  If you asked any of my friends back then if I was the “marrying type”  you’d be met with a belly laugh.

toronto-728459_1280Yet at the Albany, NY airport we parked to share a bottle of champagne to celebrate our college graduation.  In the back of the van I pretended to slip and fall transferring from my wheelchair to the makeshift bed.  I actually did the one knee thing… because that’s what you do.  I wasn’t going to let a little thing like paralysis ruin my moment.  I wrestled the ring out of my pocket and popped the question.  There was a tearful, happy “YES” and a quick sip of champagne.  I popped up onto the bed to celebrate all of these events in other ways.  Little did I know that what happened next would foreshadow everything about our life together.  She had to call her mother and her sister.  We left immediately to find a phone (Cell phones weren’t yet a “thing.”)   So my expectations of how things will unfold is wrong.  VERY wrong.

Honestly I should probably revise my title from “getting married” to “staying married.”  About one year in she confronted me.  She told me she wanted me to change.  I won’t detail the entire exhaustive list, but I was flabbergasted to have the same qualities she had said she fell in love with, to be eliminated or toned down.  My spontaneity, gregariousness, humor, time spent with friends; all needed some work.  She was asking me to change WHO I AM!  I gave the only answer I could – no!  I would take seriously the request.  I would be sensitive to how those traits affected her, and would consciously do my best to reduce any negativity that she felt.  But how do you change who you are?!?  How do you be less friendly or helpful to people?  How do you change how you fundamentally relate to others?

Well, you stay married for another nine years.  Slowly, who you are gets eroded away.  You get convinced to move to Arizona so she can get you away from those friends (I quickly made new friends).  I stop reading before falling asleep, because that takes away from quality time from her.  I stopped video games.  I stopped gardening.  Eventually I stopped everything in my life except work time and wife time.  I didn’t realize any of this at the time, but this was choking me.  I will openly admit to spending more and more time at work.  I was used to time with family, friends, alone time, work time and wife time.

When I attempted to explain this as a problem for me, she reacted as though I was nuts.  Suggesting that she make friends and have “friend time”, and she develop hobbies and have “alone time” was foreign.  I pushed.  She discovered painting.  I supported her.  She went back to school to get a second degree in art.  I supported her.  She made friends and began to spend time with them.  I supported and celebrated her.  Her teachers soon told her that she didn’t need classes or another degree.  She was a natural… she just needed to paint.  We traveled to New Mexico and became patrons of a museum that housed the work of a local artist she admired.  At my urging she contacted and met with this artist, who told her to forget grad school and just paint.  Beside that woman and my wife, there were about 5 artists in the world that could produce abstract spiritual art on the level they were at.  People would look at her work and just openly weep without being able to explain why.  Back at home, the wife pursued grad school, in spite of all of the advice that she would be just wasting time (and my money).  After asking several times, and getting blasted for asking, I determined this was in pursuit of NOT painting.  At first she didn’t know the reasons herself.  She was afraid of painting.  Today people would say that when she painted she entered a “flow state.”  As a therapist trained in hypnosis I might say a trance, or focused attention.  Because of her past; any state like that was seen as a break from reality.  That was equated with mental illness and tapped into deep fears that she could become unbalanced herself.  Rationally she knew that she was past the risk point.  It didn’t matter.  There would be no painting.

So paying for her unnecessary schooling, and pushing her to develop  friendships, hobbies, skills and confidence worked.  She had developed some independence and didn’t need me as much.  She asked for a divorce.  I gave the only answer I could – yes!  Later she said that she didn’t want a divorce.  What she wanted was me to change.  Nine years later she just wanted me to change what little was left of me.  I had wasted nine years of my life while who I am was being eroded, and it still wasn’t enough.  She called my parents and told them I was making a mistake (by agreeing to the divorce she requested).  She called old friends and told them she was suicidal (she never was).  She slept with her professor (grad school) and then with her boss at the furniture store where she was working.  Our marriage was done but the professor’s marriage was just fine until her.  The boss was at least single.  She filed paperwork and I signed it.

So marriage as the “next step” was a mistake.  There was a ton of learning involved.  That’s touching the stove.  Staying married after being told outright “I want you to change who you are,” was the bigger mistake.  There is no additional learning.  That is walking out into traffic.




8 thoughts on “My Biggest Mistake In Life – Round One

    1. I’m a roller coaster guy. I’ll takes risks and ride the highs and lows. To me that’s better than putting up walls and staying safe. At this point I’ve learned I can handle both extremes with a tiny bit of grace. I hope.

  1. Your writings profess a self-destructive streak. Could it be that your mistake was, by getting (or staying) married, allowing yourself to be accountable to another who could see through you? Perhaps the changes she was asking you to make were about the behaviors that were killing you (literally) and the relationship simultaneously. You write about handling the ups and downs with grace. Grace would be looking into the face of unconditional love and accepting the gift of the mirror. Maybe the mistake was that you refused to take an honest look at yourself in that mirror of your lover. It looks like much of your pain, physical and emotional, was self-induced.

    Regardless, the opportunity to give and receive love is a blessing. Lessons are not mistakes. She must have given up a lot of herself as well, including the chance for a family life, by choosing to love you and be with you. Just sayin’….

    1. Wow, where to begin. Ken Wilbur would call that mean green meme. Most of my youth was very self-destructive. You seemed to have missed the part about learning from my mistakes. I openly acknowledge that I’ve learned many (most?) the hard way. I’m not sure how not knowing me, or my ex, or the relationship you can draw the conclusions you’ve drawn.

      I’m not sure how you can come to define what grace would be for me; given the aforementioned lack of knowledge about the situation or any of the players. I did not put up a one-sided post listing only her faults and all of the issues with which we struggled. She would give a vastly different version of reality. She had very different views. When we were going to divorce I remember the dread I had of thinking I was going to be judged and condemned as a failure. A total of two people responded negatively. Later they admitted that they were expressing concerns more about their own relationship and fears that they might be at risk

      Perhaps that mirror could apply to you. I’m always happy to dig in deep and address any blindspots. Looking at this I can’t help but wonder whether you might be commenting on yourself more than I. Thanks for taking the time to write out a reply. I do appreciate it.

      1. Your self-destructive tendencies did not disappear after you married, but the specifics supporting that claim are best left out of the public eye. To publish the details of an intimate relationship, without regard for those “players” who may come across your post (which does indeed read like a one-sided account laced with character attacks) is insensitive. You are quick to assume that this reader does not know you, your ex, or any of the other players in this story. Although some of your details are alternative facts that are simply wrong, my main issue with this post is the overall message that your marriage was a big mistake because your wife tried to change you, which places the blame on her and fails to reveal your accountability or awareness of your part in the relationship or its ending. This “mistake” may be your truth, but it is not whole truth. It may not have lasted a lifetime, but your ex would hardly describe the marriage as a mistake. You are not judged. You were and still are loved…deeply and unconditionally, and that truly is a gift, just like the lessons that were gained from this, and all relationships. Your ex wife never had any intent to change you, but if that is what you make up about the relationship, so be it. I trust you have discerning readers.

        We are all perfectly imperfect, and I do look into that mirror with humility and an open heart. I send you love and light, and a sincere request to remove this post from your blogs. That would be a show of grace. Your ex wife is not a fictitious character in a tale about big mistakes. She is a real person, trying to be a better person with each day. She is deserving of your forgiveness, not a character assassination. She is someone’s daughter, sister, aunt, and wife. She is also the mother of three sons, and two of them are saavy internet users who may also find your words hurtful. Please delete them. Thank you.

      2. It’s my blog. It’s my post. It’s my story. It’s my opinions. My interpretations. My life. It’s going to be one sided. The post says that. This all seems very familiar. Attacks about attacking. Victim. Better than.

        Unconditional love. The love was conditional or a divorce would not have been requested.

        The post I made left off so many details. I’m happy to review it and remove some un-needed (however true) details.

        The only other suggestion I might make is not to revive a dead blog by commenting on it.

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