Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Choosing Your Choice

You're invited to come eat off my floors. They have never been so clean. For the first time, in probably the history of my adult life, my floors are all clean AT THE SAME TIME!!! Same goes for the rest of my house (sort of, the kids got ahold of it today and all I know is that it is clean underneath). Corners previously unvisited for years have been ruthlessly attacked and cleared of all dust and detritus. Carpets are shampooed, cupboards are cleaned and oiled, twenty thousand loads of laundry folded, yucky space behind the toilet sanitized, closets straightened, sofa steam cleaned, kids clothes organized and outgrown clothes folded and packed into the basement. It only took me 10 hours (with a short jaunt to Arctic Circle to get the kids off my back to "do something fun").

The occasion?

I faced J in a courtroom this morning and I have been dreading it for weeks. Obsessively cleaning my house felt like a way to try to put some order in a life of things I have not gotten to control for a long time. I wasn't that surprised when I didn't actually feel better. I have not filed for divorce. I'm letting him have keep particular honor since I feel like my soul has already been crushed enough and I haven't been able to bring myself to tear down the rest of this marriage foundation regardless of how little he is acting like a husband. Although I do reserve the right change my feelings on that point at any time. Why should he be the only one who gets to make selfish, devastating decisions for this family?

Wow...sorry. I should delete that since my goal was never to make this a snarky, husband bashing forum. I'm going to leave it though so we are clear on just how crummy this morning was. I'm not feeling nice or kind or charitable today. Like I said, we were in court this morning (temporary separation agreement) and I struggled. All I could think about was our wedding day and how in the world we got to this point. All I could remember was how nervous I was kneeling across from him at the altar in the sealing room wondering if I really had made the best decision for my life.

While J was still here, he told me he remembered lying in bed the night before our wedding also in some amount of conflict about getting married in the morning. 70 miles away, I was doing the same thing. I want to make it clear right now that I don't believe that either of us made a wrong decision to get married. I knew I loved him, we were best friends and had been for years, I taken the matter to prayer and knew it had potential to be a good path and lead to great things. The issue wasn't whether or not it was fundamentally right or wrong. The love was definitely there (even if he has now convinced himself otherwise). The thing is, in this culture, marriage is not just a life commitment. It's also an eternal one. My feelings as I lay in bed the night before and held his hands across the altar were not about whether I had picked the right person. It was about whether I had the faith and devotion I needed to continue to "choose my choice" and whether he did as well. I have no doubt that this also was the crux of the feelings that he now attaches such sinister significance to, even if that is not how he chooses to recognize it. I don't think many people do. I haven't talked to a single person that also did not lie awake the night before eternally committing themselves to someone without some conflicted feelings about the ultimate implications of such a huge choice. It's no small thing to have chosen someone worthy to be the other parent to your children. No small thing to chose one person to grow old with and to meet the challenges life throws. It's no small thing to hope that that someone is going to always choose you and the best thing for your family. Romantic or not, everyone knows in their soul that marriages have the potential to go bad even if you don't think it will happen to you. Divorce rates don't lie.

The last few months have killed the romantic in me. I know now that 'Love' is not something you fall into. It is a result of an attraction coupled with a conscious choice. Choosing someone involves sacrifice and putting the other person first. I believe love can be a gorgeous thing, but it is not something that comes for free. Those who take enough of the right steps go on to get married and those who don't, break up. Those who continue to chose their partner continually build their relationship and die still "in love." Those who marry but choose to not stay committed "fall out of love" and find themselves years down the road regretfully telling their spouse "I love you but I am not IN love with you" or "we aren't compatible" and chalking it up to that magical something never having been there in the first place. After all, once you fall in love, don't you stay there?

It's not a bottomless hole, people! It's steps, and you have to keep taking that next one.

The other thing I remember about my wedding day? Looking in his eyes, thinking about how much I loved him ( and oh boy, did I love that man) and consciously making the choice to be loyal in every capacity when I said "I do." I did not look back or have a doubt my decision since that moment even though he gave me more than one reason in the duration of our marriage to "fall out of love" with him too. I never forgot my choice and choosing him sometimes took more effort than I thought I would ever have to make with the "love of my life." I see now that constantly renewing my commitment caused me to love him more even when my heart hurt. I guess I assumed that on the deepest level, he would continue to choose me too. Sucks to be wrong.

In the earliest years of our marriage (pre-kids) we were giddy with our new life and each other. "I am so lucky I get to have you forever" was a common theme in our notes and letters and love talk. We would have baffled conversations about why other couples were struggling. "It's so easy!" we said. "All you have to do is continually see to the other person's comfort, right? Everyone gets their needs met" (yes, we were young, but the logic is still sound. Also, that theory is endorsed by Pres. Hinckley...) I chose him every day and through every bad patch even while I know I wasn't perfect. For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in good times and in bad. That portion of the traditional marriage vows are not just suggestions, but guidelines. They suggest that you need to recalibrate your level of commitment through everything life throws at you, and decide to do it together. My friend has a framed quote on her wall that says "Choose thy love, love thy choice." I think that sentence is so wise, I am considering petitioning the first presidency to incorporate tattooing that on the back of the couple's hands as part of the wedding ceremony. Apparently we all need constant reminders.

Somewhere along the line J stopped choosing me and living with that knowledge every day makes me feel like I would rather physically remove my heart with my bare hands than have it hurt like this (dramatic you say? I mean every word...). I will be the first to say I was not a perfect wife, but I feel like I tried hard. I can probably list my faults better than he can even while I don't believe anything I did ultimately caused what he did. True love isn't something you "fall into." It's a reward for consistently choosing each other. For whatever reason, he gave up on that and I don't think he is likely to find it where he is looking now. I sometimes wonder if all my devotion was wasted in the long run. I don't get to have the "true love" anymore. "A perfectly attentive wife" is the best description I got from him when once it was "you are the last thing I think about before going to sleep and the first thing I think about when I wake up." What did all that "choosing" get me except the basic knowledge that I did the right thing? Will it make it that much harder for me to feel like committing to someone else is ultimately a crap-shoot? Maybe I'll get lucky next time? There is always this tricky little factor called agency and I have been more than schooled in the effects it can have on others when someone chooses selfishly. As loyal and forgiving as I could be, it just doesn't feel right now like it did me any good. I don't have lots of guilt on my soul, but I don't have a companion either. Righteous indignation, no matter how justified, is poor company in this quiet house. Being so loyal has definitely made un-committing to him that much harder as well. Nothing he did during our marriage haunts me nearly as much as his final choice not to choose his family. I can't imagine a time when my soul won't be raw from that knowledge.

As with so many things, I am mostly trying to take the advice to stay in the present and focus on the now rather than the "maybe's." It's hard to do when you are a planner like me. I always kind of want to know what is going on. Having such an unsure future and a unhappy present is hard to deal with. It makes me feel like nothing will change now. I guess I know I wouldn't do anything differently if I had to do it all over. That is some comfort.

Can I give some unsolicited advice? Make your choices count. Choose your love and keep choosing them. Falling in or out of love is in your control and the recipe for success or failure is very simple. Don't assume that because you made the decision to get married that you are bullet proof. Agency. Choice. Your level of love is up to you. In a healthy relationship, both partners will reciprocate, but even if he/she is not, do it anyway. Don't let the fact that things are easy at first fool you. Loving someone isn't hard. Staying in love takes more effort and that is the way it should be. Nothing that is that worth it should be without effort. The hardest things are often the most rewarding.

This morning, I felt like a failure. It doesn't matter that I didn't choose to end my marriage. I get to share in the failure of it forever. I have to take on faith that the loyalty I exhibited for so many years will someday not be the cross I am carrying every day. I hear it gets better than this?


  1. Cynj-I just wish there was something I could do to help you. I'm glad you know that this isn't your fault. No one is perfect, but I know from first hand observation that you were an excellent wife. You supported J in so many things and there was love there. Anyone could see it. I know that doesn't help. And I too am baffled to think how he could give up such a wonderful family. It's just not right. Plain and simple.

    I so admire your writing ability, I hope you make this blog into a book also, I think it's important.

  2. Again, not trying to stalk you but your blog has struck a chord with me so I check in to see how you are doing, even tho you don't know me. Hope that's ok.

    This post, with all it's pain, is beautiful. I am going to make a copy of it and have my children read it before they marry.

    "Can I give some unsolicited advice? Make your choices count. Choose your love and keep choosing them. Falling in or out of love is in your control and the recipe for success or failure is very simple. Don't assume that because you made the decision to get married that you are bullet proof. Agency. Choice. Your level of love is up to you. In a healthy relationship, both partners will reciprocate, but even if he/she is not, do it anyway. Don't let the fact that things are easy at first fool you. Loving someone isn't hard. Staying in love takes more effort and that is the way it should be. Nothing that is that worth it should be without effort. The hardest things are often the most rewarding."

    I am the child of divorce and my own marriage journey has been bumpy at times. I am so sorry you have had to swallow this bitter pill. I felt like crying when you said you weren't a perfect wife...of course you weren't...perfection is not a requirement of being loved and cherished.

    Bless you in your journey and thank-you for sharing your wisdom.

  3. Cyndi, you are such a good writer. Court is awful. I hated hearing "Allen vs. Allen."

    I do know that as I sought the Lord's will in my situation that I felt such comfort and peace. The Lord will let us feel certain feelings, it draws us closer to the Savior because He felt these feelings first.

    I PROMISE it will get better!

  4. You didn't fail, you were failed. There is a big difference. You have been trying and praying and working and, while it may still seem a failure in your eyes, I know that it is not in the eyes of our Father in Heaven.

    And I would absolutely get that tattoo.

  5. I'm with La Yen- YOU aren't the failure in this story- quite the opposite. I'm in awe of the loyalty and 'choice" you made because I know darn well that there have been lots of times in my marriage when the going got tough and I didn't do it. I own that, but I also resolve to do better in the future.

    As for the obsessive cleaning (and organizing?) to give yourself a feeling of control- welcome to my world sis :) Just stick with the therapy so you can keep it to the happy place where you have a clean, organized house but you aren't, you know, crazy like me :)

  6. Cyndi,

    Again, what a beautiful post. I think it's amazing that you are so in touch with your feelings and able to express them so well. Your thinking and reasoning are spot on.

    It must have been surreal in that courtroom, but the real victory is that you are dealing with what is and not wasting away wishing for what was. (Something I am trying to master right now.)

    You are great!

  7. Touching and tender. The wisdom you expressed is amazing. I too will copy this and give to your brothers and all young women's leaders I know. This refiner's fire is making you into an amazing, wise woman.

  8. Oh my gosh...you seriously need to write a book. My sister is going through something similar and I know your blog helps her. I love reading it and it draws me in. Thank you for sharing and inspiring us :)

  9. Cynj,

    This post, and your blog in general, exemplifies why I will look for the qualities of my wonderful sisters in my future wife. I believe in your standard of love, and will adopt it in my life.

    You are doing wonderful things. Wonderfully hard, wonderfully beautiful things. Stay with it.