Wednesday, September 25: Write about a time you screwed up - a mistake you made. (Deep breath. Gettin' serious over here, folks.)
I dated a man for five years who was pretty much everything I thought I wanted on paper. Smart, hilarious, kind, family-oriented, athletic, thoughtful, adventurous, religious, and most of all, completely crazy about me. My friends and family adored him, and so when he proposed on a beach with a gorgeous ring, I said yes.
And then I spent the next two months feeling like I might throw up every moment.
Everybody in the world and in my life (and on Facebook): OMG YOUR RING IS SO PERFECT AREN'T YOU JUST SO EXCITED WHEN'S THE WEDDING YOU ARE SO LUCKY HE IS JUST THE BEST YOU MUST BE SO HAPPY!!!!!!!!! (cue even more exclamation points)
Me: "Yeah, it's beautiful . . . sure, of course . . . I mean, well, probably not for a long time, I--I mean, we, aren't in a rush. . . I know, he's really great. . . Okay, so what's new with you?"
You see, I wasn't happy at all. I wanted to be happy; I was trying really hard to be happy; I could list out all kinds of reasons for being happy--but I wasn't actually happy. I had always dreamed of getting and being engaged someday, but all I could think was I should have said no. Shit, I should have said no.
So, obvious question: why did I say yes? I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I had no idea he was going to propose (in hindsight, I think he made comments here and there, but it literally wasn't on my emotional radar in a serious way), so when it happened, I felt shocked and confused. I quickly turned away from him, eyes filling up with tears, and ran away a few steps; in the moment, everyone thought I was just overwhelmed with joy. My entire family was there and it was the first day of our vacation. Was I really going to say no and ruin it for everybody? And break his heart? Hell no. It didn't occur to me in the moment that saying yes when I meant no would actually hurt him, and me, much more in the long run.
But I had no idea how to backtrack. Friends threw me an engagement shower that I fake-smiled through. I received wedding magazines and planners and bride-to-be tank tops and sweet cards of congratulations. I went wedding dress shopping (which was so awesome and fun, minus the whole getting married part). I listened to suggestions of venues, flowers, colors. My fiancé boasted about our lengthy love, made me wonderful dinners, and asked me a million questions about our happily-ever-after. Everyone else was so damn thrilled; who I was I to ruin it for them?
And maybe it would be fine. Maybe I was just overanalyzing. Maybe these were just pre-pre-pre-wedding jitters, right? I'd probably come around. The wedding was going to be so fun, and he was so great! God, it makes me wince and laugh to remember that despite my gut feeling of no no no, I naively thought everything might work itself out. I could hardly eat or sleep, and it felt like I was holding my breath underwater nonstop, but at least I wouldn't have to break anybody's heart or be the bad guy.
When I finally told him I didn't want to get married, I felt the most immense relief of my life. (And then I felt terrible for feeling so good, finally). He was a fantastic guy, but not the right guy for me, not for a lifetime, though we had a great deal of fun together and I cared for him very much. I had witnessed the immense joy and satisfaction of other engaged friends, and I knew that was the "should" to aim for. I wasn't ready to get married, even though I wanted to be eventually. I moved out of our apartment, and moved on with my life.
It had been a big mistake to say yes. Not only did I hurt someone I cared about, I wasn't honest with myself. I learned a big lesson that year: it's nice to want to make people happy, but pleasing others can come at your own expense. That experience has served as a yardstick in every relationship I've been in since then, and now I notice when I'm lying to myself a little bit or not staying true to my needs.
Saying no, then, also led me down a different path: exploring and learning from other relationships, spending time alone in Chicago, finishing graduate school on my own, living with my grandparents for a little bit, moving to the middle of Iowa, finding a deeper love, tackling another career path, making friends in a new place, and so on. I know what it feels like to make the mistake of should, and while I'm not perfect, I'm better about it. It was a valuable lesson that came at great cost, but one that has shaped me ever since, and led me to where I am and who I am today. I'm grateful for that.