In the months after Tony and I got engaged, we argued. A lot. There was yelling and temper-losing and storming and door-slamming. It was very romantic. Oddly, it wasn’t covered in Martha Stewart Weddings.
every pre-marriage thought should have its own colour scheme and inspiration board
I had parents who argued a lot. It started when I was pretty young, and lasted until I was 20, at which point they split up. Their divorce proceedings were about as amicable as those in The War of the Roses. This was not a mistake I ever, ever wanted to repeat, to the point that I was against marriage for most of my life.
“And that’s how you should have stayed,” I thought, lying in bed one day, beside myself with grief and fear. I was 110% certain that it wasn’t going to work out between us.
Barb responded with one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. She said,
“There is no objective truth.”
I don’t know if it was wisdom or desperation, but eventually, I wrote a woman who’d taught a yoga retreat I’d attended a few years earlier. I considered Barb a sort of spiritual fairy godmother, and so I confided in her that things were not going well with my husband-to-be, and asked if she had any advice. I asked what her secret was to her long marriage, and whether she’d be willing to pass it along. I told her I wasn’t sure I was doing the right thing.
In other words, just because I was struggling with my relationship, it didn’t mean my relationship was “wrong.” Just because Tony and I were arguing, it didn’t mean we were a bad match. There was no “right” way of doing things that I hadn’t figured out yet - I just had to do my best, and trust my heart.
This is the exact opposite message from the one we are given 99.99% of our lives. At school, we’re taught that good grades mean you're smart. We grow older, and are told that thin is attractive, and money is success, and fame is more success. Poverty is failure. Weddings are happiness. Children are more happiness. The more possessions we have, the better we’ve done.
Barbs words helped a lot at the time (I married the guy, after all,) but the mentality stayed with me for much longer. I applied it to everything. How I keep my house. How I act in front of someone I’m trying to impress. My relationship with my family. How much exercise I get. What I eat - that one never ends, like a parrot with dissassociative personality disorder lived in my brain. I shouldn’t eat gluten. I shouldn’t eat meat. I should eat meat, but only if it’s organic and grass-fed. I only should eat organic vegetables, except they should be local. Organic isn’t sustainable. I shouldn’t eat grains, or sugar, or drink booze. Except I should drink booze, because I should relax! I should have a party! With lots of booze! I should invite lots of people! I should make cupcakes, because I AM A FREE WOMAN AND NO ONE CAN TELL ME WHAT TO EAT AND I’M GOING TO MAKE THEM FROM A BOX WHO THE HELL NEEDS VEGETABLES?
This wasn't conscious, of course. I didn’t use most of my brain energy this way on purpose. But one day, I was sitting down to meditate – you know, the thing that’s supposed to bring you to acceptance and a blissful state – and was trying to decide what kind of meditation to do. I tried one kind for 30 seconds, then switched because that was "the wrong kind." I did this about 4 times, until it dawned on me that this was how I lived my life, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
I put my face down on the floor, and cried.
I cried for a long, long time. It felt like a 40 ton weight was lifted from on top of me – a weight I’d been carrying around for so long, I didn’t even know it was there. I think it’s what Oprah calls an aha moment. I realized that if I had a mantra, it would have been “I’m doing it wrong.” And that is no way to live.
I still catch myself doing it. The first clue is usually that I’m feeling anxious, or really sad, "for no reason.” Sometimes it takes an hour to claw my way out, sometimes a week. I'll let you in on a little secret: telling yourself that you're telling yourself you're doing it wrong THE WRONG WAY is not a way out. Forgiving yourself is.
Forgiving yourself, and realizing that you've been wired this way. It’s normal to think this way, but it’s not helpful.
Because if there was only one right way of doing things, the world would be a really goddamn boring place.