First published Nov 18, 2016
We were the same age, but she was so much older than I was. She always seemed to to know what she wanted, and what was right for her, and even what was right for others.
She inspired me to be a better man. To do the right thing. To take the high road. To push my limits. To do the things that made me uncomfortable so I could get past my discomfort. She never asked me to do anything that she wouldn’t do, herself. She held herself to a high standard and expected me to hold myself to that same standard.
I knew she was right and for long time, I worked hard. I wanted to become that man she wanted me to be because I knew it would be an expression of my best self. But I was lazy and fearful and I didn’t trust my own instincts.
Eventually, I had to acknowledge to myself that I was never going to get beyond my limitations. I was never going to be the kind of man who was truly worthy of her. Trying and not succeeding made me feel like a failure, although she, herself, never suggested such a thing. For her it was enough that I remained dedicated to trying.
I started to resent her moral and spiritual superiority. I resented her certainty in always knowing right from wrong. I resented the way she was always sure of herself. It made me feel less certain of who I was and who I should be. I felt I was losing myself in her image of who she thought I could be. And so I stopped trying to live in the world as she saw it. That was her world. I needed to live in mine. I didn’t want to have to think about things so deeply. I lost my drive to see how good I could be. I simply wanted to be left alone, unchallenged. And so, eventually she obliged me.
Four years of marriage ended in acrimony. It took me many, many years to understand that love.
We had no children to hold us together and so we went our separate ways. Eventually we both married other people. I heard from mutual acquaintances that she married happily, to a man who saw life as she did. I married a woman who was easy and kind, undemanding and simple in her outlook. She didn’t require much more than casual kindness and some basic respect, which is as much as I gave her. I appreciated her but there was no deep love. Her most endearing quality was that she let me be.
In the end, that was no good for me, either. I reverted to my lazy ways; no longer pushed myself uphill. Instead I remained down at the bottom where no effort was required, surrounded by those who were as lazy as I was.
In my life, I never accomplished anything without being challenged by someone else, yet when challenged, I grew resentful, angry; I backed away so as not to drown in the secret humiliation of inevitable failure.
I understand now that my first wife was right. She wasn’t pushing so much as encouraging me to create my own challenges. Positive changes are positive changes, even if they are small and incremental. It’s the not size of the change but the direction.