My Biggest Regret
I lived this motto. This call to badassery. The insistence that we shouldn't cry over spilled milk, but should appreciate the wisdom that's earned from living.
Funny because it wasn't until I began earning wisdom from living that I began to experience regret.
Despite regret being regarded as unnecessary by many leaders, that doesn't stop me from cringing when I think back to one particular mistake. A mistake that was born in someone else's mind regarding my romantic relationships.
The Manufacturing of A Mistake
Let's say your brain is a warehouse where you manufacture successes and failures, and good and bad decisions.
Let's say that on occasion your warehouse has difficulty processing a particular function, so you outsource the task of brainstorming a defined problem to an external consultant.
And let's say that external consultant approaches you about expanding their scope of work beyond the defined problem and into a different area where they feel they can add value to your life.
The consultant surveys the issue, but is incapable of surveying a few locked away compartments of the warehouse. This will materially skew their data. Further, the consultant's expertise is limited to their body of experience. Plus, their feedback will be shaped by their temperament and value assignments they place on both material things and virtues, which most likely differs from yours.
As warehouse owner, you listen to them define the problem. To be clear, the consultant (not you) has labeled a thing in your warehouse a problem and has defined it.
Everything inside you says that although your warehouse could stand for improvements, the resolution presented by the external consultant is not the right fit for you.
With analysis in one hand and misgivings in the other, you must decide if you'll:
(1) Accept that there's a problem
(2) Accept the consultant's definition of the problem
(3) Move forward with the consultant's call-to-action
(4) Reject the prescribed call-to-action to do what's better for you
How you proceed is completely up to you. You must take responsibility for the outcome, pass, fail, or worse. What's worse than failure? Knowing a disaster could've been avoided if you hadn't dismissed your own wisdom.
advice from those who "know you"
As singles, we get an abundance of advice. Most unsolicited, some sought out. A lot of that advice is dispensed by family and friends, people who know you.
But, do they?
I mean, do they know your spiritual makeup? Do they know your relationship needs? Do they understand the power of your intuition? How it works or how you feel internally when a powerful attraction or repulsion dominates every cell in your body?
These things are impossible to know, mainly because they are, at best, poorly explained with words.
We leave ourselves vulnerable when we too quickly alter who we are based solely on external relational criticism. This is exactly what I did, which is how I got myself (and my warehouse) in trouble.
an UNRELIABLE ASSESSMENT
I was 21, in college, and contemplating dating Aaron.
Aaron was attractive, but I had strong reservations.
After spending a little time with him every day after a summer music course he and I were taking, he let his real age slip out. Turns out, he was two years younger than I, but initially claimed he was older. Plus, he wasn't interested in education and it showed, embarrassingly so. I was ready to pass.
Yapping away about the situation to a friend, she offered her thoughts.
First, she listed my problems, as defined by her: (1) I was too hard on guys, (2) I should soften up, and (3) I should give people a chance.
Then, she told me that I should: (1) Forgive the lie. He was probably just scared I'd lose interest and (2) date him.
There was some truth to her assessment. To this day I'm conscientious about the company I keep, so yes, I have high expectations of others, but they're the same expectations I have of myself. Nevertheless, she was asking me to compromise my expectations of integrity and intelligence for the sake of dating.
I readjusted after the criticism was levied on me. I didn't want to seem unrealistic in my expectations, which was the message I received from someone whose opinion I trusted and respected.
Against my better judgement, like a fool, and with my reservations still fully intact, I began dating Aaron.
the relationship lab
Single life is partly made of experimentation and experience.
In a way, we're social scientists. Mixing different elements and hoping for the right formula, learning which combinations are harmful.
From beginning to end, Aaron was toxic for me.
Beyond lying about his age, he lied about his social status. He lied about his family pedigree. He lied about money he didn't have (but did) to avoid treating us to a movie so he could buy alcohol instead.
He lied. He lied. He lied.
So many of his lies were about painting himself to be someone he wasn't. And the others were about sheer manipulation.
Having come from a working class family, in a working class neighborhood, and working to pay my way through college, I never understood who he was trying to impress. So you have doctors in your family (lie)? Nice. I don't.
We met in the summer. By December, with Y2K on the horizon, when the world was scheduled to come to an end, I was exhausted, and I was done.
I'd experimented with not being hard on him. I'd experimented with being softer. I'd experimented with giving him chance after chance. I'd experimented with taking bad advice. I'd experimented with not listening to my instincts. I was done.
Listening to my consultant resulted in a warehouse disaster of which I was completely at fault.
I don't blame my friend for this relationship. The truth is, I was a willing participant in the entire experience.
I listened to the criticism, internalized it, compromised my values, and put someone else's thoughts about what was best for me above my own.
Then, I put up with behaviors that were egregious for the sake of being a better person in someone else's eyes by someone else's standards. I let lies slide, I didn't speak up more, I didn't leave sooner, I forgave too much, and most important, I gave him a chance in the first place.
I let myself down.
It took me a year to begin to trust myself again. It took longer to forgive myself. Even thinking about it now takes me to a tough place. I'm 21 all over again and sick with regret.
When I read my journal from that time, I want to hug the younger me and tell her to not be lead to believe that something is wrong with her because certain behaviors, words, energy, or things she can't verbalize repel her.
This is less about my friends (and your friends) and more about listening to the voice on the inside. You alone must value and respect that invisible part of you.
WHAT I LEARNED
· Listen to my instincts
My instincts are so intact that I trust them fully. That doesn't mean that I don't consider feedback. I do. I just don't replace someone's thinking for my own.
· I'll make mistakes, but I should make sure they're my own
Making my own mistakes hurt, but allowing someone else to make a mess out of my life with misguided advice hurts exponentially more.
· My biggest regret
Allowing someone to make me second guess and ignore my instincts.
Don't listen to your friends?
This message could be all about not listening to your friends, but that would obscure the truth of the matter. Besides, understanding other people's perspectives is valuable.
This could be about not dating people who lie. Again, I want to hug the younger me, then maybe throw in a friendly "Duh!"
It's about having the courage to listen to our gut, even when we can't verbalize why our gut is giving a good or bad read.
People who love and care about you are not maliciously offering bad-for-you advice, but their advice may be in conflict with the spiritual you.
It's about having the courage to make your own mistakes, instead of giving other people control to create mistakes for you. And that even includes adopting my perspective.
It's a balance between listening to different perspectives, then deciding for yourself.
Here's the thing about friends and family. They want the best for us--their version of the best. I should know. I'm somebody's friend and family too and I have a vision for their best lives, according to my taste.
I know it can get confusing. We're told to lean not onto our own understanding, but onto God. Consider that leaning onto God can be your trusting your God-given instincts. We're also encouraged to, for the sake of growth, make ourselves uncomfortable. It's up to us to decide what that discomfort might be.
There's so many things going on with people that I'll never know. Will that stop me from giving my two cents? Probably not. Will I sometimes encourage someone to do something that goes against their nature and instead caters to mine? Yes. Will I give bad advice? I absolutely will. I won't mean to. But I hope...I hope to eternity, that when I give bad advice or encourage someone to go against their nature that they trust themselves more than I trusted myself when I started dating Aaron.
I hope they politely nod, then say to themselves, "I'm not doing a damn thing she says to do."
That would make me happy.
Photo credit: Barbara via CC Flickr