“It’s going to take courage either way.”
As I sat in my parked car bawling confused tears these words my mother spoke pierced me like wisdom crying out in the streets. In that moment they were the most discerning and insightful words I had ever heard. How is it possible that one sentence can change the trajectory of your life? Yet it did. It changed everything. Moms are good for giving you great advice that totally screws up your life then puts it back together again.
As I sat on the precipice of a decision whose answer refused to come through prayer, advice, lists of pros and cons, and therapists, that one sentence resonated so deeply I bolstered up the courage to do the unthinkable: call off my wedding. I knew it wouldn’t make sense to most. I heard the voices of all the thirty-something women who wore large chips on their shoulders because they could not find quality men to date. Let alone marry. They said things like,
“You’re almost 30. Why would you do this when you have a man who loves and respects you?”
“You are getting married in three months. Think about all of the money you are going to lose.”
“Don’t risk it. This is your window. If you do this, you may never get another chance to get married.”
“Girl he has a good job, he’s handsome, is thoughtful and kind, wants kids and loves God. SUCK IT UP. Over time you’ll feel better.”
Those imaginary voices presented a strong case, but I knew I wasn’t going to feel better. Something deep down said no. Although this looks amazing, when I open up the crackerjack box the prize wouldn’t be inside. It would have been easier for me if there was some flagrant offense to blame. It would have been easier if I could blame him. All I had was a sneaking suspicion that this was not going to end up fulfilling either of us. That and the words of our therapist at our last session that kicked up all of this mess. “You all should think and talk about this. You need to really decide if you should get married.” Then he just gave this really therapist-y look that made my stomach turn. It was like he was subtly voicing what I had been feeling. Don’t you dare do this.
We decided to take some days to think about it and that is how I ended up in a parked car crying to my mother. She didn’t push me into marriage despite her raging and vocal desire to be a grandma. She didn’t tell me to run, because she was in the midst of trouble in her third marriage. She told me that whatever choice I made was going to be a courageous one. It would require me to fight…for myself. That’s when courage walked into the room and it was all that I had.
The messed up thing about courage is that it refuses to tell you what to do. Courage isn’t going to help you make a decision. All courage promises is that it will be the impetus to making a decision and will be with you in the journey…kicking your butt. Courage does not remove nor placate your fear. Courage merely jumps on your other shoulder and tells you why you can when fear is telling you that you can’t. It doesn’t care what the can or can’t is. Courage just wants to make the playing field neutral so that you can decide.
So I closed my eyes, stepped closer to the edge of making a decision, grabbed on to fear and courage and leapt…right into one of the best most awful decisions of my life.
Two days after that conversation with my mom I sat across from my fiancé in the restaurant we ate in on the night he proposed to me. How sucky is that? The universe was conspiring against me to get me to not do this right? I mean it made me feel awful. To my defense, I did not choose this place to meet. He did. Perhaps he felt this was going to go the wrong way and used it as a last ditch effort to reel me back in.
I wanted to say, “Hey, you’re awesome, but my spidey senses are going off like crazy. I can’t fully articulate it, but something is really freaking wrong here. Don’t you see it? I feel it and before it really hits the fan, let’s just not do this right now. I do want to get married and I do want to have kids and I don’t want to break up. I just need more time. I can’t tell you how much more time, but let’s start at a year and go from there.”
He would look at me, breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Thank God you said it. I feel the same way.”
But this is not a movie and it didn’t quite go that way.
Instead he looked across at me and said he still wanted to do this. I gripped the sides of my chair and told him I didn’t. There was no reason I could give that would appease him. He wanted to be married and I didn’t. He told me he respected my decision, but never wanted to see me again. Talk about a twist. I was NOT expecting nor was I ready for that. I wasn’t ready for the overwhelming guilt I felt, especially when we actually only broke up briefly and then stayed together nine more months.
There is no way to articulate in abbreviated paragraphs the turmoil we both went through. It was like no amount of breath I could inhale allowed for deep breathing. Everything was shallow, forced and the internal weight made me feel like I was on the brink of some internal epochal death. Wearing my engagement ring felt like the Scarlett A that Hester Prynne had to wear constantly reminding me of what I did. How bad of a woman I was for doing this and how good of a man he was for staying with me. Knowing I had made the right choice did not alleviate me from feeling the pain.
Then, some months later something happened that allowed my breathing to be a little less shallow. He told me, “You know it really was the best choice for us.” Or something along those lines. It was three years ago and I can barely remember what I ate yesterday.
We didn’t go on to live happily ever after with one another. The relationship slowly deteriorated. We never quite recovered from what I did. Even though that was a loss I gained something more. My Courage. Still here. Still getting on my nerves. Still forcing me to contemplate doing stupid things that make no sense to the rest of the world.
I am 33 now. Married. Nope. But I found love again. It’s amazing, hard and real. Did I give my mother any grandchildren? Heck no. But she has two other kids to rely on. Oh and don’t worry about him. He is fine too. He found love and is getting married and I wish him the best.
So what was the point of this sappy, mildly depressing regurgitation of a significant moment in my life that means squat to you? Find your courage. Make a decision. Go with your gut. We give a lot to logic and rationality, but there is nothing like that knot in the pit of your stomach that tells you this may not be the best choice. Sometimes we tally the odds with a two headed coin. We only consider the outcomes associated with the damage it causes the external or other people. The outcome is always the same. You lose. Courage gives you the freedom to ask, but what if you win? What if you just choose yourself. By choosing your best life you don’t hold yourself or others to a mediocre subpar life.
As more time passes I grow more grateful and thankful for that choice. It made me a lot stronger. I mean if a woman can call off a wedding she can pretty much take on the world.
So grab your courage, some comfortable shoes and run like hell. You just may find that running away from some things allows you to run into yourself.
Photo Credits: Kurt Williamson