I think humans inherently look at most of life’s negative events through a lens of what if.
“I hadn’t gotten behind the wheel of that car?”
“I’d never met him?”
“I had taken that job?”
The examples are endless and diverse as the people asking them. But while the regrets vary the motivations are all to similar. We use this what if storyline as a way of expressing regret - without sounding regretful. These what ifs can also become those pivotal circumstances, which often lead us in a different direction and routinely towards a course we had no intentions of heading. While those closest to us, in an attempt to console, use phrases like “if this is the worst that ever happens to you, then you’re going to be alright”, which is as helpful as rock salt on a shotgun wound.
Over time we can also allow this what if thinking to become debilitating. When left unchecked our past what ifs can become the prism through which we try and explain every negative outcome and circumstance we don’t understand. “I can’t find a new relationship because I cheated in my last one” And we get to the point where our expectations are tied to these what ifs in such a way it seems we’re in a infinite game of cosmic payback, and we begin to wonder if our debts will ever be repaid.
All of us can think of any number of personal what if moments which stick like that proverbial thorn. Divorce is one of the more common. Is there anyone who has participated in the Great Divide not face the ensuing question of what if?
What if I hadn’t gotten divorced…
“would I be in a better financial condition?”
“would my kids’ behavior be different?”
“would I have a better relationship with my children?”
“would I be less bitter?”
Yet I’m not convinced this what if lens need only be used as punishment and a spotlight highlighting our epic failures. Certainly it fits a logical way of thinking in light of our bad decisions but I also believe these what ifs can and should be perceived in a more positive manner.
“What if I hadn’t gotten behind that wheel and gotten a DUI, I might have killed someone next time?”
“What if I never met him, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate this new relationship I have today”
“What if I had taken that job, I would have never learned money isn’t everything”
Divorce is a what if that has the potential of teaching us more powerful life lessons than we imagine. Without a doubt there is anger, resentment, sadness, and loss tied to divorce but there is also freedom, rebirth, renewal, and self realization. There isn’t a person alive who has experienced marital separation that, at some point, hasn’t asked the question
“What if I got married again, what would I do differently?”
Note I said ask, not answer. With second marriages ending at an even higher rate than first marriages it’s obvious we aren’t diligently looking for the answers and if we are we don’t like what we find. One would think that after going through the chaos of divorce and experiencing the havoc it reeks emotionally, spiritually, and often physically we’d be far more cautious before walking into another – but I’ve been wrong before.
I’ve had the opportunity to talk with young men who are heading towards matrimony. Like a grizzly war veteran replaying close and not-so-close calls I get satisfaction in sharing my own mistakes and what I would have done differently durning and before my first marriage. If experience is a good teacher, somebody else’s experience is a better one. I can learn to not stick metal into a light socket by getting shocked, but watching another schmuck get electrocuted is a far better instructor and much less painful. One would be foolish not to talk with climbers who’ve already ascended Mt. Everest before making the trek. While the guy that made it to the top gets all the glory it’s the one who got halfway up and had to turn back that I want to talk with. He is the one who will have insights the guy who reached the summit never would.
The Queen and I have been in a relationship for three years this month. In that time I’ve grown closer to her than any woman I’ve ever known and part of that closeness results in a mutual life view which doesn’t usually coincide with popular thinking. We both accept that marriage will be our next step – but not our immediate next step. With four kids between us it isn’t as easy as going down to the Magistrate and loading up the moving vans. Yet we’ve been asked countless times “When are you two getting married?”, or it’s more often from her girl-friends “When are you putting a ring on her finger?” Though offering a canned response and looking at each other with a wink and a smile the consequences of all the harassment force me to face the question
“ What WILL I do differently this time?”
I once read that the simple act of writing on a matter has a way of clarifying one’s thinking about it. I believe anyone who who has ever written anything from a book report to a novel understands this logic. Formulating thoughts into the written word compels a person to contemplate on a topic far more diligently than just talking about it. And it’s with that notion in mind that I hope to accomplish three goals in this series. The first it to clarify my own thinking on marriage the next time around. The second is to hopefully give others looking at marriage the first, second, or twelfth time some food for thought. And the last is to hopefully gain new perspectives from readers in similar situations.