It wasn’t what I expected.
I thought I had a pretty good idea what the breakup would be like. But when it actually happened, my biggest regret took me completely by surprise.
It wasn’t any of the things I was worried about. Instead it was the one thing I hadn’t given much thought to at all. And it turned out to be the only thing that mattered.
Over the weeks that followed, I came to realize that there’s actually only one thing worth spending time and energy on in a relationship. It’s the one thing that makes it any good. And it’s probably the one thing you aren’t spending any time on.
I sure wasn’t.
What was I doing instead? Well, over the years I picked up quite a list…
Tell me if any of this sounds familiar.
Mostly I worried about screwing up.
I worried a lot about screwing up.
And looking stupid.
Everything from f-ing up the budget to missing car maintenance tasks. From not having enough to take the kids on vacation to saying the wrong thing when she asked if that dress made her look fat. Forgetting to do the dishes. Buying her something stupid for our anniversary. Racking up too much in credit card debt… you name it.
I worried about how to keep her attracted to me.
How to keep things from getting boring. How to be a better lover. How to keep the whites from getting dingy in the wash…
All kinds of crazy stuff.
Funny how clear everything becomes when it’s over.
The simple truth that hit me was this. None of that stuff matters. If everything ended today, dingy whites and silly anniversary presents wouldn’t even make the list.
But one thing would.
In the days and weeks that followed our break up I had only one real agonizing regret. Only one, but it was a big one.
That regret was this:
I hadn’t been the guy who I wanted to be.
Simple as that.
The impression I had left, the impact I had made, the person I would be remembered as bore little to no resemblance to the man who I thought I was and tried to be.
As I reflected on the last years of the relationship… I came away with that hard realization.
It slowly dawned on me that my wife of 12 years would be leaving a relationship with a man she had every reason to want to leave. He was petty and whiny and didn’t follow through on projects. He was quick to promise but late with the delivery of results. He was always complaining about things and never taking simple stock of the miraculous gifts he had been given every day.
Trying so hard not to screw up and worrying so much about not looking stupid, didn’t make me some amazing hero… it made me the worrying guy. It made me the guy who stressed about everything and who stressed everybody out.
Turns out worrying about and striving to acheive high quality results isn’t what she wanted.
Contrary to what a lot of guys think, she didn’t want efficiency and success and a kitchen full of expensive appliances… She wanted a guy who could make the journey enjoyable no matter what happened.
I finally got it. But even then the habit was a hard one to break.
See, once it saw what I had been and what a mess it had made, I did what I usually did…
I tried to tell her.
“I get it,” I said. “I understand what I did wrong.”
But she wouldn’t listen. Couldn’t listen. And when I stopped compulsively reacting to my emotional storms, I saw that it was cruel to make her try. It was selfish. It was an attempt to ease my own pain at having missed a huge opportunity… an opportunity that had been right in front of me every day for 12 years. And now it might as well be a million miles away.
And chasing after it. Trying to tell my ex that I wasn’t that guy. Trying to get her approval one last time was just more of the same.
Doing that was exactly what I had been doing all along. It was exactly who I didn’t want to be anymore.
Distancing myself from that habit would be a long road.
But it would begin with a big lightbulb.
That lightbulb was this:
Being a hero is not about never screwing up… it’s about who you are in the aftermath of your screw up. It’s about how you handle the events and the people and the emotions that follow the screw up.
If you can be brave and patient and kind and generous when the world is burning down around you. If you can make being that guy something that is more important than your fear of looking stupid, you will get the greatest gift that a relationship has to offer…
The gift of being the best person you can be for someone you love.
Nothing tops that.
See here’s the simple truth. You are probably a little like me… And like me most guys are focused on the outcome.
(You might not be as bad as me. You probably aren’t, but it doesn’t take a lot of this stuff to turn a great relationship ordinary. So admit it, you have trouble dealing with failure and looking stupid. It’s okay to admit it. Now let’s see what we can do about that.)
What I mean is you are focused on making the budget work, getting the car inspected without breaking the bank, making sure the vacation goes off without a hitch.
But the thing you’re missing is this.
When you are focused on the outcome
When you are trying not to screw up, when you are worried about doing things right and obsessing about how to avoid doing them wrong, you are missing out on the one thing that is more important than all of that.
See, you’re going to screw up. It’s gonna happen. It actually is the fastest way to learn new things. So, if you want to grow and improve you have to screw up. There’s no way around it.
So, think about who you want to be when you screw up.
Do you want to stress out. Do you want others to see you as the guy who cares more about what people think of him than whether or not he is being true to who he wants to be.
Which would you rather be?
Popular or Authentic?