Understanding the Order of Operations of Life and Love
A well-intentioned promise
The first time I got engaged to be married, I was 19.
(I’ve been engaged 2 1/2 times, but never been married. Is there a trophy for that?)
We were situated across from one another at a crowded Italian restaurant. On Valentine’s Day.
She looked stunning. Her infinite blue eyes had a way of absorbing the light of the room and redistributing it in soul-stirring ways.
She surely knew a proposal was coming. I was terrible at keeping secrets.
From upon one knee, I presented the ring, which symbolized a promise.
A commitment to support, protect, nourish, cooperate with, and sustain the relationship by any means necessary. And to provide for one another. What marriage could flourish without that?
Yeah. About providing. That was never really my thing.
Meeting one’s own (let alone another’s) basic and more advanced human needs requires a little thing called money.
That ring I put on that girl’s finger that night?
…My dad bought it. I don’t even remember if I paid him back. Knowing me back then, I didn’t (I’ll add that to the amends list).
When I proposed, I had a part-time job at a video store.
Before that, I had done nothing to prove that I could hold a job, make wise financial decisions, or support myself at all, let alone pull my weight in a marriage.
My modus operandi back then was playing video games and drinking problem drinkers under the table…
It’s comical to me now, that who I was at 19 did not possess the self-awareness to realize the futility of pursuing marriage at that point.
But I popped the question.
She said yes. She was in.
We had faith in our love and ideals, and somehow it was all just going to work out…
That Italian restaurant had a singer/pianist who serenaded us freshly-engaged idealists with the song, “Unforgettable.”
Dreams that become nightmares
Unforgettable is the right word… for the chaos, pain, and decades-spanning trauma that resulted from the broken promises and inverted potential of that relationship.
Back then, I had this mentality of, “Whatever happens, life goes on. When it goes bad, just forget about it and keep going.”
What I did not realize was, I was the reason things went badly for me.
Negative consequences are exactly that: Consequences. Cause and effect.
My first engagement ended after about a year, and in a deeply traumatic fashion.
There was blood. Lots of blood. A broken bone. A knife to a wrist. Agonizing anguish. Rage, resentment, grief, disappointment, loathing, fear, hated, hopelessness. Mental images burned into the brain for a lifetime.
Was that life just happening to me?
Or did I do that?
By getting engaged to someone I barely knew when I didn’t even know myself, and wasn’t even near the path to becoming emotionally mature and financially self-sufficient?
I might say this next bit too much, but there’s no better time than now:
PLAY STUPID GAMES WIN STUPID PRIZES
An understandable stupidity
It’s not all totally inexplicable though.
I valued love, romance, and had visions of a family to call my own from an early age.
Meanwhile, I didn’t learn to value money or work ethic in any practical way. Even if I had valued them, I did not have a healthy enough relationship with my own emotions to be stable with work, money, and relationships.
I had a void inside that I tried to fill with non-sustainable idealistic notions…
A necessary change
Looking back, it is clear that developing self-sufficiency before pursuing lifelong commitments with women, would have changed the trajectory of my entire life story.
I would not have jumped into relationships, hoping for the love of others to make me feel whole and hopeful.
I’d have developed the self-confidence and competency of my own self-work and then taken that (in lieu of parasitical neediness) into my relationships.
Well. I can’t go back and change any of it. I wouldn’t if I could.
I love my trauma, even when it twists and stabs my guts.
It made me who I am. Gives me a reason to write. To create. Learn, grow, plan, achieve, connect. To be sensitive to and understanding of what others might be going through.
Now, when I sense a void inside…
No matter how badly I yearn to be intoxicated by the sparkling look of sheer admiration in a lover’s eyes…
I know that no external validation is worth its salt if I can’t validate myself first.
And to validate myself, I am to first do the work needed on my own heart, mind, body, and habits.
People can and do come into my life to empower me toward becoming a better version of myself.
But it’s not up to anyone but me to be responsible for my own identity, sense of validation, and choices.
Because of my mistakes and skewed priorities of youth, I can do better now.
Oh, I’m sure my priorities remain skewed to high heavens.
Just not as skewed as they used to be…
We are works in progress.
So let’s get to work. Let’s make progress.
Originally published at https://andrewlhicks.com on September 1, 2020.