Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#2 in Long List of Do-Overs

I'm not the only woman I know who's done this, but I really wish none of us had.

The first time I confessed to a friend that I knew I was making a mistake the minute before I walked down the aisle, she looked at me in disbelief. I thought she was surprised by my confession, but she wasn't.

"I felt the same way right before I got married," she said. "I always thought it was just me."

The more divorced women my age that I've talked to, the more I've discovered that I wasn't the only one who knew she was making a mistake.

Last week, I got together for dinner with a some of my closest friends in high school. We hadn't seen each other in nearly ten years. I brought up the issue again because I had to make sure I remembered

"So, did we all know we were making a mistake the first time?"

The answer was pretty much "yes."

But we did it anyway.


I have a theory.

In the late '70's, if you didn't move away to go to college, that's just what we did. In fact, five of my six bridesmaids and I all married within three years of graduating from high-school. Now all of us are divorced from our first husbands, some from their second.

I can't speak for them, but here's my story.

When I came home and told my parents that my boyfriend proposed, I'd figured they'd say "No, you're too young.
You've got to finish school." And I'd pretend to be all mad but really I'd be relieved because I knew deep down I wasn't ready.

Instead, my mom and dad said "Congratulations and start saving because we're not made of money. We're not paying for the whole thing." Or something like that.

So, I put school on hold for awhile, got a full-time job, and got married. After I got married, I started going to school at night, pursuing my B.A. in English of all things (marrying young wasn't the only mistake I made), and I graduated nine years later.

Here's what I wish I would have done instead:

I should have told my boyfriend the truth--"I'm too young, and frankly, so are you to make this kind of decision. Neither of us even knows who we are ourselves, much less what we want in a life partner," except I would have talked more like I did in 1979, using words and phrases like "bummer," "no jive" and "catchya later." I would have saved both of us a lot of heartache, and I would have saved myself a lot of guilt that I carry to this day.

As it was, I lived with my parents until I got married. I walked down the aisle, knowing I was making a mistake. And when I got divorced at 31, I had never spent the night alone. I'd never made a mortgage payment or balanced a checkbook in my life. I knew nothing about being an independent adult. NOTHING. It was hard. It was worse than hard. It was horrible. Being alone and not knowing how to do it. And having no one to ask how to do it because, oh, by the way, among other things I wish I could change, I wish my mom hadn't died when I was 24.

OK, I'd better stop or my friend Russ will have to say "Another bummer post."

So, that's a pretty big "do-over"--I wish I hadn't married my first husband.

The only thing that makes me feel slightly better is that I'm sure he wished he hadn't married me either.

Crap. Now I can't find a way to tie this all up neatly.

But that's life. Life is all about making mistakes and not being able to tie things up neatly.

And yet, we go on. We pick ourselves up, and we go on.

If you're lucky, you get a chance to say you're sorry. If you're lucky, you get an apology in return. My ex-husband and I exchanged sincere "I'm sorry's" at his grandmother's funeral about twenty years ago. From me, it was sincere. It felt sincere from him. We were apologizing for different things, but no matter. We were both sorry. We'd made mistakes. We'd moved on.

But I still wish none of that would have happened.

My last do-over post was about standing up for myself. This one is about standing up and admitting that I made a mistake. My ex-husband? He didn't make a mistake. It was me. All me. I made a BIG mistake. Two big mistakes. The result? I ended up hurting a really decent, stand-up good guy who did nothing wrong.

What happened? I let someone else turn my head and make me wonder. I let someone else make me think I could be happier.

I left my marriage for someone else who turned out to be an even bigger mistake.

So, yeah. Big, gigantic, embarrassing, shameful do-over. Those are the worst.

P.S. Sorry, Russ. Bummer, I know. They can't always be someone else's fault. Sometimes, they're my own.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

#1 in a Long List of Do-overs

About twenty years ago, I worked on a staff of thirteen people. Every Christmas, a guy in our department hosted an extravagant holiday party at his house. An extravagant, exclusive holiday party. Most of the people he invited were friends of his who weren't on our staff. A few times, one or another of my glamourous contemporaries made the cut, but I never did.

Here's how the annual gala became a bee in my bonnet.

This man would begin bragging insufferably about the festivities weeks beforehand. He'd describe in painstaking detail to anyone within earshot about who was invited, what catering company he'd chosen, which hors d'oeuvres would be served, how much champagne he was buying, and the name, as well as a detailed physical description, of the handsome bartender he'd selected.

And he did it as though it were perfectly acceptable to tell those of us who weren't invited what a great time we'd be missing.

A week or so after the party, he'd gather us together so that he could dramatically unveil the party pics. And there they all were, everyone who wasn't us, all glammed up in their black-tie finery and fancy holiday dresses, toasting, laughing and smiling the smile of the chosen. It was all so "Gatsby."

The weirdest part, in retrospect, was not his boorish behavior, but that the rest of us "uninvitees" acted as though his boorish behavior were acceptable.

Now that I'm older, what I wouldn't give for a do-over. I'd go back in time, armed with my newfound feistiness, and the first time it dawned on me that he was bragging about a party I wasn't invited to, here's how it would play out:

Him: . . . and my holiday party is going to be December blah, blah, blah, and it's going to be more amazing than ever this year because blah, blah, blah, beluga caviar, blah, blah, blah, crudités, blah, blah, blah, Dom Pérignon and blah blah just-kill-me-now blah.

Me, putting out a Max menthol in my crown-shaped ashtray, because you could smoke at your desk back then: So when did you become such an ass?

(He'd look at me speechless, his expression even more surprised than his eye-lift had already rendered him.)

Me: What I mean is, at some point, you must have been a nice guy. If you'd always been this insensitive, you wouldn't have enough friends to have a party, so what happened?

I don't know what would have happened next because it doesn't matter. All that matters is that I would have stood up for myself, and said the right thing and the right time.

Anyway, I've been thinking lately about the past--about things I should have said that I didn't (and vice-versa), relationships that I've hung onto that I should have let go of, people I thought were one way who turned out to be another, and expectations I've held with a death-grip that I'm reluctantly and finally setting free.

So, that's what I'm going to write about for awhile. I'm a little smarter now that I'm in the third quarter of my life. I'm much more realistic. And I'm working on becoming braver. It reminds me of when Piglet said to Winnie-the-Pooh "It's hard to be brave when you're a Very Small animal."

While I am by no means small in stature, I'm still quite small at the brave thing. Someday I hope to summon bravery in the moment, but I've got to start somewhere. For now, rewriting the past seems like good practice. Neurotic? Of course! Satisfying? Absolutely. Really, you should try it for yourself. It's pretty fun.