…Things I would tell a younger me…
Dear Young Lover,
I want to tell you something about love, marriage and life. Sit with me, let’s talk.
I hear you say, “What could you tell me? You’re only 32 years old!” Even at 32, Young Lover, years of sunshine and smiles have begun to etch faint crowfeet beneath my eyes, and years of frustration and crying have begun to carve deep furrows between my brows. Sit now, let’s talk.
When you find your lover and settle down to get married, you believe you have found the perfect person. Yes, you know he’s not really ‘perfect’ but you sigh dreamily and say “He’s perfect for me.” Oh, please.
It lasts a while – a blissful while – until you find yourself sighing a little less dreamily as you pick up his dirty socks and transfer the damp towel from the bed to the bathroom rail. In time the socks and the towel and all those other adorable annoyances turn into tiny seeds of resentment that take root in your heart. You realize, with a touch of disappointment, that he’s not that perfect for you, after all. Not even close.
Welcome to the post-honeymoon stages of marriage. This is where it gets real.
Before you know it, you’ve made up your mind that you’re going to change him. Come hell or high water, this man is going to pick up his own socks one day! You start nit-picking, you start nagging, you start glaring. You withdraw into yourself and you storm around your home, tearing socks up off the floor and hurling them into the laundry hamper, ripping wet towels from the bed and shoving them violently over the bathroom rails.
You wait and hope daily for him to arrive home with flowers, or poetry, or two tickets to Paris, something, anything, to make you feel… loved again. But each day he arrives with only the day’s burdens on his shoulders – tired, sick of traffic and hungry…
But listen, honey, let’s take some time to point out that you’re no walk in the park. You get headaches at the most inopportune times, you read into everything and have the ability to turn charred toasted sandwiches into an emotional saga.
Nit-picking turns into fights, glares turn into cold silences. That touch of disappointed is now an ever-present, bitter disillusionment that your marriage is officially on the rocks, and it’s possible that you have failed.
Dear Young Lover, you have not failed. You have just realised a liberating truth: You can’t change him. You see, only now can you begin to breathe life into your marriage. The irony is that if you surrender to this truth, some amazing things happen…
At some point you discover that the socks don’t matter. The bed will dry. Paris is far less comfortable than your own living room couch, and you never liked flowers as much as you initially thought. You one day remember how he makes you laugh, and you find yourself indulging in his wit. You see how delightful he is with your kids and how protective he’s been of his family all this time. He worries about you when you’re sick. He makes you tea.
When you consciously stop trying to change this wonderful human being that you chose all those years ago… you change. And you choose him again every day, socks and all.
I look back at the man I married only seven years, and that same man I am with today. He is still not perfect, but oh how he has grown. He still leaves his socks on the floor but I’m inspired daily by his loyalty, his determination and his faithfulness. For all the crazy that he can drive me, I am immensely proud of who he is, and excited about this adventure that we’re on.
Dear Young Lovers, marriage is an adventure, and the biggest adventure is not what you do together, but how you grow together, and who you become, both individually and together.
You see, you can’t change a seed into a flower. But you can leave it be, nurture it, and let it grow.
Life is much the same as marriage.
When you are young, you ignorantly expect that the world will pay it’s dues to you, that all will effortlessly go your way. Sadly, as struggle after struggle arises, you discover that the world does not cooperate quite as you thought it would.
One day you wake up and admit: Life sucks. You hate it. You hate everything. *Grump, grump, grump* Welcome to the post-honeymoon stages of your existence. This is where it gets real.
You’re stuck in that dead-beat admin job, when you know you should be a CEO of your own enterprise. You can’t afford all those nice things you feel that you deserve, and the bills and demands and expectations keeping pouring in as your responsibilities in life start piling up. And boy, do those responsibilities have a way of piling up as you enter what you thought should have been your prime!
So you put your boxing gloves on, puff your chest out, and say, “I’m going to change this and this, and that and that!” You subscribe to motivational newsletters. You re-tweet and share ambitious quotes. You find a mentor. You create vision boards and write down your goals. You read book, after book, after book. You’re ruthless with your time and energy, serving your own ambitions. You put up resistance to anything, to everyone. Essentially, every endeavour is a frenzied attempt to demand from the world what you think it owes you.
You will eventually find that the world is bigger than you, and it is stronger than you. I’m not saying that you won’t succeed in your undertakings. Oh, you might very well get that entire kingdom in the end. But you will be tired, worn out, stressed, and most of all, you won’t really be enjoying the ride that you’re on, and you probably won’t like the person you’ve become in the process.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we should be living complacent, defeated lives. I am an advocate of having goals, of wanting something better and working for it. What I’m suggesting is that life is inevitably going to dump dirty socks on your floor, and a soggy towel on your bed.
A colleague that drives you batty. Endless traffic every day. Being stuck at the airport for four hours. A child who keeps you up all night. A bully in the workplace. A flat tyre. Coming down with the man-flu. Being turned down for a promotion. Failing at something.
Can you change any of it by fretting over it?
Can you change yourself?
Life is an adventure, and has a way of unfolding. It’s dirty and tumultuous and disordered. It’s also magnificent and generous in beauty and can make you laugh. When you accept that you cannot change the world, it is only then that you can start breathing life into your every day existence. You give yourself and your world room and freedom to grow.
Ironically, if every one of us embraced this growth, we might change the world, after all.
I stopped trying to change my husband, and discovered how imperfectly glorious my marriage could be when I looked to my own heart.
I’ve stopped trying to control the world around me, and discovered how imperfectly glorious this life could be when I looked to my own attitude.
So be still. Slow down. Stop fretting. Let life’s uncontrollable little surprises unfold and enjoy the beauty and adventure of it all.