He Says: What Else Could I Be Doing?
I like to always think about what else I could be doing. This is true for the most mundane aspects of my life as well as the most important. It isn’t that I have “grass is greener” syndrome and always think I could be doing something better. In fact, it is the exact opposite. I like to think about what else I could be doing so that I can avoid any sort of “grass is greener” syndrome. If I’m having one of those days at work where I want to be anywhere but at the office, I think where else I might reasonably be. In all likelihood, I would be sitting on the couch watching TV or a movie. Maybe I would be reading a book or working out. Maybe my wife and I would travel to the mountains for the day. All of those options could be really nice, but are they so much better than what I’m doing? I like my job. And I’ve had days I feel pathetic just watching TV, or antsy sitting around reading, or I just have no desire to be in the mountains. Any option I have has plusses and minuses. Everything I could be doing at this moment could be fantastic or it could be a bore.
I find this exercise to offer illumination on my decisions that is twofold. First, rather than just complaining about where I’m at in life, or what I’m doing at any given moment, it allows me to look at the entire landscape of my options. Simply grumbling about what I’m currently doing just enhances the distaste I have at the moment. However, looking at all possibilities most often allows me to remember that this is what I have chosen and I did so for a reason. No one forced me to work today. No one forced me decide to fix up a room in the house. No one forced me to work out. I chose what I’m currently doing and I did so because I either wanted to, or didn’t like the alternatives. Either way, it was my choice, so endure and enjoy. The second benefit evolves directly from the first. Once I remember that it was my choice, I can reassess that choice that I made. Do I in fact want to working in this manner? Why did I choose to fix up the house? Is there a better situation for my wife and I in a city outside of SLC? Maybe I didn’t think my decision through when I first made it, or maybe the circumstances have changed significantly since I made the decision. The exercise of thinking about what else I could be doing, whether it’s what else I could be doing right now instead of writing a blog, or in a broader context like where I am currently living, allows me to continually reassess the reasons for what I have chosen.
Now, I realize this would not work for everyone. I realize that people who are constantly second guessing themselves or individuals who are maximizers and are always out to please may not benefit from this approach. This may, in fact, do more harm to their daily choices than good. For myself, however, I find it extremely beneficial. So when my lovely counterpart proposed this blog topic, I saw value in the exercise. Don’t get me wrong; I stared blankly at her when she first suggested, “Hey, how about we write about what we would be doing if we were single?” My blank expression quickly turned acerbity when I thought maybe this was her odd way to reveal that she was cheating on me. Then I became dejected thinking about how my wife was leaving me! In a matter of seconds, however, my woebegone disposition quickly came back to reality and I thought, “Yea, that could be an interesting topic to write about.” (If nothing else, it should be worthwhile to document the beginning of our separation. I jest, I jest).
To be sure, this could be a highly volatile exercise to undertake. But when I thought about it, it made sense. I think about what else I could or should be doing with many other aspects in my life, why not in this ever so important relationship that is our marriage? Maybe I will remember how much I love my wife and why I got down on one knee in the first place. Maybe I will discover parts of our relationship on which we can and should improve. In the end, maybe I will understand more fully the current place I am at in my life and where I might be headed. As I began to think about what else I would be doing if I were not married, I realized I had performed this task many times before. Maybe not as purposefully and consciously, but I had thought about it before in one way or another.
For example, about a year or so ago my father-in-law was visiting us in SLC. Somehow the conversation drifted to how my wife and I would be if one of us lost the other. To her father’s dismay, we both agreed that we would probably be quite promiscuous at first. I think we nearly gave him a heart attack to hear that. His first child of six to get married and here she is agreeing with her husband that they would both be promiscuous if the other passed away. How absurd is that? But it was the truth. We both assumed we would most likely be in pain or feel empty and we would look to find comfort in sexual excursions, knowing full well the wanting proposal that this was. I think that response remains true in this instance. Whether I am single because I had my wife and lost her, or because we simply never met, I think my life would be empty. I would lose the daily enrichment she has brought even if I never actually knew what I was missing. I would be empty and plaintive. I would grasp at straws to enrich my life. In this instance, I would be grasping at sexual straws. And from there, the picture just got worse.
I realized I would, in likelihood, throw myself into my work. I would constantly be toiling in front of my computer and missing out on those around me. I would probably drink far too much. The realization of the pathetic man I was presenting to the world would cause me to drown my sorrows and wallow in my impetuous existence. I would likely ignore the friends and family that have long supported me. Thirty years down the road, I saw a distressed recluse whom everyone found to be vexing. At this point, it didn’t take me long to end the exercise of “What if I were Single?” I was frightened by the degenerate I saw. In this holiday season, I felt as if I had been visited by the Ghost of What Christmases Might Have Been, You Schmuck. Needless to say, I didn’t like the person I saw. I didn’t want to think about where I might be if I were single anymore. I wouldn’t be anywhere as lucky… I should be more thankful for what I have. Maybe I need to stretch my hand out across this couch and thank my wonderful wife for loving a fool like me.
I was always a chronic dater. In fact, I have had three long term relationships, each of which lasted several years. This includes the five years my husband and I dated before we were married. Thinking about it, since the age of 16, I have not been single.
Not that I think about being single regularly, if at all. But as we continue to reminisce about the last three years in Salt Lake and the possibility of moving back to Portland, I briefly wondered where each of us would be if we would have made different decisions about our paths since we left the West Coast. This included imagining where I would be—and who I would be if I were still single—living my life without a husband.
It was weird. But it was also entirely possible. What if I had never gotten married?
So, in the spirit of the list-making I love, here are the top five things that would be different if I were still single.
1. I would be a work-a-holic. I think I might be work obsessed anyway. Or maybe just so inefficient at what I do that I need extra hours after the normal nine to five to complete projects. While I figure out which is the reason for my work ethic, I can guarantee that I would work a lot more than I do now if I were single. In fact, when we did long distance the first year of our engagement, I thought it was actually fun to pick up a serving job to fill up the hours I wasn’t working my marketing position at a start up. Yup, 7 am to 6 pm at the start up. 7 pm to 1 am being a server and doubles on Saturdays and Sundays.
2. I would be lonely. I grew up in a big family and have always had great friends. I love being with people. Having a husband like mine guarantees I almost always have someone around. The house feels fuller. My social schedule is never empty if I don’t want it to be. There’s always someone to answer a question or respond to statement, even if I’m simply talking to myself.
3. I would spend money… happily. I’m obsessed with shoe shopping and eating out is one of my favorite past times. Since marriage, however, I would say I’m on lock down. Frustrating, yes. Impossible to respect, no. I get it. But I do often think about how much fun it used to be to buy whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
4. I would travel a lot. I used to make day trips to Las Vegas or fly home to Seattle on whim before we got married. Of course, this was still during the times you could find a flight for $99 roundtrip on Alaska Airlines and my husband was either a student or living in a different city. But even at $300 a flight these days, I would still save as needed to travel whenever I felt like it if I was flying solo myself.
5. I would clean more. Or less. For almost two years—right after college while my husband was finishing undergrad and then attending his first year of law school—I lived alone. And one of the benefits of having a space to myself is that I could clean when I wanted, or not. I was welcome to leave the work clothes I’d stripped off after a long day in the middle of the bedroom floor when I felt like it. I could scrub my kitchen clean every morning and never have to be concerned with another person coming in right after and making a mess – or cleaning up his own mess in a way I didn’t like. It was lovely.
With the aforementioned being said, what I realize is that nothing on my list is important enough to have over my marriage. Do I occasionally look back on the freedoms that come with being without a committed relationship? Sure. But all of those things have been replaced with a fulfilling enough love that I don’t particularly miss them. And let’s be honest, if I really wanted to buy those shoes, or work more, or take a day trip to Vegas, I think I’m convincing (also known as sneaky) enough to make it happen.
In the meantime, I’ll make the compromises that marriage requires to keep our relationship working. After all, I’m coming to realize that this is what a happy relationship is about.