Sunday, 6pm: kneeling down to lock the door at work after a long, satisfying week. I was saying goodbye to a dear friend and her baby who had come to visit and we lingered in the doorway, chatting. Then, as it happens rarely but surely a few times during one’s lifetime, I had the unique, definite feeling that someone was staring at me. I shook it off and said goodbye to my friend, but my heart did a weird speeding-up-thing that it does when there’s a reason to be on high alert. And then, scanning the area in front of the glass doors, I locked eyes with him.
There, less than twenty feet away, the ghost from my past.
Seated at a table, chair facing me, clearly not looking at the person he was with who was speaking to him.
No, he was definitely looking at me.
A brief second that felt like an hour ensued where he might’ve, you know, nodded…or raised his hand in greeting. He did neither, and I did what any normal girl does when confronted with the one who screwed with your head in the past: I totally panicked.
I jumped back. My heart pounded. I looked again. Yep, still looking at me.
I stepped back and put my hand on my chest, and stammered to my co-workers that he was there…the guy who’d made a mess of me years back, the one who continually messed with my head even though he had a girlfriend, the one who sent me the most incredibly dear, thoughtful gifts and said we were meant to be together even though I had a boyfriend, the one I finally kicked out of my life when I really wanted to give things a chance with C.
One co-worker ran to the door and said, “Umm? He’s gone,” which made my heart beat even faster. He’d seen me…and bolted.
My other co-worker shrugged his shoulders and one said, “You’re making a big deal out of it; it’s just a coincidence.” Um, pshh, definitely not…but whatever.
Why was he there? He lives far away. What the HECK was he doing there?! Why come to that parking lot, on that day, at that time? Why point the chair in my direction? Why just…stare at me like that?
Time went on. I thought about it. On my way home, I called a friend who had been there for so much of all of it, those “screw with Jen’s head” years. And I randomly blabbered out this realization, which is why I’m here right now, slightly embarrassed over morphing into a teenager for a hot second, writing this to you:
“When I was younger,” I said to my friend, “I thought you’d meet the person you were going to marry, and then all other suitors who had a chance at your heart would disappear. You know, Poof! Like, if you were meant to be with the person you married, the fairytale would begin and life would eliminate all other contenders. They would be dismissed. But what I now know is that they don’t disappear. Marriage isn’t this thing that is meant to be that pops up and solves all problems. Marriage is a choice. Every day, you choose. If you want the ‘happily ever after,’ you get it because you choose it, every day, every time. And when the other people who make your heart race pop up, you lock them out of your heart and re-choose your spouse. Every time.”
She, my friend, who is recently married, totally got it. “It is a choice. You don’t just get to have your spouse for the rest of your life. You choose that person every morning that you wake up.”
And as I walked in the door and told my husband the story (we have a “no secrets” policy), I realized that what I was realizing about marriage isn’t just about marriage. It’s true for everything.
Life doesn’t get loaded and locked into place. You make a choice. You decide who you are, every day.
It’s all action. Nothing is given or set in stone. “Who you are” is a very liquid, malleable thing.
You decide in the moment whether to say the cruel thing that wants to leap off your tongue, or whether to be kind.
You decide to tell your friend the rumors being spread about her, because she deserves to know.
You decide if you are the sort of person who gives second chances, who honors the benefit of the doubt.
You choose to repair a damaged relationship or to burn the bridge.
You decide to have an impeccable work ethic, to be true to your word, to keep your promises.
You choose not to interact with the ghost from your past, because you’ve been down that road, and you know exactly where it ends.
Life is part becoming who you are, and part deciding who you are.
I’ve loved discovering this in my marriage, because I can choose everyday to be a good wife. At work, I can mess up and choose to out myself and be a better boss. I can abandon my workout schedule and have the chance again to choose to be an athlete.
People who have met me in my thirties have such a hard time believing that I once was a totally wild, impossible to reason with, kind of crazy person. I lied, I cheated, I got myself into all kinds of trouble, I ran away to another country and I threw an engagement ring in the ocean.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned I can choose who I am. And so I’ve chosen to be better. To be honest. To be kind. To dig my heels in instead of running away. To be responsible. And every time I make a little choice, I add to the new, stronger house I’ve built. Eventually, it will be impenetrable.
A concern of mine for people who believe strongly in the law of attraction is that LOA (and novels, and Disney movies) can suggest that things arrive to you, wrapped up and perfect. You manifest the fairytale and poof! The fairytale is there.
What I’ve experienced is that it’s more like a box of ingredients arrives on your doorstep and you have to make the fairytale. From scratch. And your oven temperature doesn’t always read right. And sometimes the recipe calls for a teaspoon when you really need a tablespoon, and parts of the recipe are in some weird language you can’t even understand yet. And if you want to keep your freshly baked fairytale, guess what? You’ve got to keep stirring those ingredients together, everyday.
Kindness. Compassion. Attention. Affection. Willingness. Patience. Trust.
In your marriage, in your career, in your life.
When my husband brings me coffee in bed, when he gets tears in his eyes because I’ve got tears in MY eyes telling him about something amazing that happened at work, when he makes the bed even though he hates it, and he plans secret dates for us…that’s not a fairytale that was delivered to me. That’s a fairytale that we wanted, we forged, we lost, we regained, we fought for, and we continue to work on. Everyday.
I’ve chosen that when I see the ghost from my past, I don’t go getting hooked by my curiosity into interacting with him. I continue locking the door and I walk away. Because my recipe doesn’t call for weird ingredients that can spoil the whole thing.
People write to me and ask me all the time, “When will this suffering end? When will I finally stop feeling sad about my ex?”
That’s a difficult question to answer. Because time IS a factor when you’re healing from something like that. Part of it is buckling down and facing the suffering, the grief, the loss. But it is also at least 50% choice. When I decided to get over C, it worked because I decided to get over C.
You may not get that right now. You might be smack in the middle of suffering and can’t see your way out.
But when you see a light at the end of the tunnel, for God’s sake, go for it! Make the choice.
You don’t have to remain the jilted lover, the heartbroken ex, the pathetic victim. You get to choose.
So choose something else. And choose it every time you have a chance.