When I was younger, not so long ago in the grand scheme of things, I ached very deeply for something that would make me “complete.”
I threw my heart around to at least a dozen not-so-deserving young men who quite honestly didn’t know what to do with it, and looking back on it now I can somewhat understand their predicament. I might have found whichever young man absolutely perfect for me, I might have devised ways to rearrange my life to make a life with him work out, but he simply was not into the plan. I was his friend, nothing more, and never would be anything more.
I will hasten to add that I think a number of these men truly did me wrong in a few different ways. First, every last one of these might-have-beens had led me into thinking I was something extra special to him. The attention and what I interpreted as advances (some could truly be interpreted no other way by a reasonable woman) instantly caught me and I didn’t want to let go of what I saw as something pretty good. The problem always was that these young men didn’t see anything “special” in me aside from a friend that he could talk to about music, literature, theology, or life in general. I was easy to talk to and available, so we became friends. Nothing more.
This broke my heart over and over again. Why wasn’t I “good enough” to be loved by this young man? Each loss compounded, and I felt like a failure. I recognised very readily that I was young, but I also realised that plenty of young people have made some pretty dumb decisions that have upset the course of their lives–and I had already tried to make some pretty serious blunders.
The thing that bothered me most was knowing that I was on the verge of menopause at 22, and that multiple doctors said that I would not have children easily, if at all. If I was going to have a family, I needed to get on it. This rationale probably seems silly to most, but it was and still is important to me. I feel a little vindicated that the Orthodox marriage ceremony mentions children so often, because I feel like the two, in a normal world, go hand-in-hand. That was what I wanted for my life. If children weren’t in my future, then marriage was probably not either. Monasticism was a good choice for me, but it wasn’t the best choice. My heart wasn’t there, and I couldn’t make it work. Not then. I have to admit, I look back and wonder what would have happened if I had chosen monasticism. I would have still considered the might-have-beens, I’m sure. I think I could have had a good, productive life as a monastic. But it didn’t quite fit and I couldn’t force it to.
It was about a month after I returned from the monastery with the direction from the abbess to “get back out there and see about finding a husband,” that I met my husband. He was the first truly good, wholesome young man who had ever pursued me–and without much push from me. I actually rejected his advances initially, like had happened to me so many other times in my life, over things that were big both superficial and not. The point was that at first, I was not willing to give him a chance. I wrote him off like others had written me off. Under the direction of a good priest, I decided to give this young man a cautious piece of my heart and we started very seriously getting to know each other. Two years later we married.
Looking back on these events, especially now, is almost overwhelming. I was certain so many times that these young men I carefully selected were perfect for me, and if they disliked certain aspects about me (usually my weight), then I was determined to change to make me like them. I knew at the time that changing in order to garner someone’s love (unless it is a flaw–then change away!) was completely wrong, but I couldn’t let go of the dream that I created for myself.
Do you know what didn’t help me get past the heart aches, though? Being told, “You’re young,” or “Someone will come along,” or other such statements that would either discredit my desires or wrongly give hope. I knew (and know) plenty of women who wanted to marry but frankly never did. The “right guy” never showed up. Then suddenly they weren’t young anymore. Yet I wasn’t willing to just marry anyone either. I would rather not marry the right man than marry the wrong one.
Reflecting on all of these things makes me so thankful for the man I married. I think about each of the might-have-beens that I “missed out on” and thank God I didn’t ever gain any of their attentions despite my efforts. Had I married a man who didn’t like “fat” women, or who thought I needed to be cheerful and positive at all times, I would likely be alone or perfectly miserable right now. Losing a child is a huge, life-changing experience. If the love between a couple isn’t well-founded and selfless, it’s likely to just dry up. My husband and I have had to cling to each other more and more since Seraphim’s death. We have fought a lot (especially August through November), but we’ve gotten a lot of experience at forgiving each other. Sometimes I feel a tinge of “crazy,” and my husband loves me just as much and tries to help me through the pain, thoughts, and struggles. He isn’t perfect; sometimes the best he can do is listen to me and tell me, “I don’t know what we can do.” But do you know? The listening is what I need the very most right now. I need to be heard. I need what I say to matter, even if it is a little unreasonable, or if there is no solution. Sometimes I need to give voice to what I feel so that it has value and can be handled better.
I have the absolutely best husband I could have ever hoped for in the decade of my hopes and heartbreaks. He is so good, sometimes I fear I will drive him over the edge and lose him, but he is so selfless and forgiving that I think if this is the worst it gets, I shouldn’t worry about that at all.
The only thing I ever needed to hear all of those years was: “You need a man who, when things get harder than you can possibly imagine, will support you and love you more than ever before, who won’t expect unrealistic or superficial things of you. If that man doesn’t come along, you’re better off without one at all.” This seems practical, but that isn’t what we usually tell young women who are heartbroken. And sometimes they don’t need to be told anything–they just need to be heard. I sure do, even (or especially) now.
If I could meet up with younger me, I would tell her what I said above, but not much else. I think the young men I fell in love with and who broke my heart made me better, and were good experiences–even the worst of them. On one level, I read books and listened to music I never would have known had it not been for my idolisation of those young men. I learned many important things from our conversations and see the world differently because of them. I regret very little of any of it. It was part of my life; it made me, me.
I hope we can cling to the lessons about life we’ve learned from our children who have come into our lives for such a short time and then out again. I will always see the world differently because of them, too.
And I’m glad I married the man I did every single day.
“Better this than parting. Better to be miserable with her than happy without her. Let our hearts break provided they break together.” The Four Loves, by C.S. Lewis
(I have been thinking about writing this for a while, but this song popped up on my Pandora station an hour ago and I realised how fitting it was.