I was getting married seven years ago today, but I backed out.
I’ve written before about the choice I faced at the time when two women wanted to marry me. I was torn about what to do, because any decision I made was going to hurt someone badly. I ended up making the worst possible decision. I lost both of the women — and hurt all three of us.
As I get to the date that would have been my seventh wedding anniversary, I find myself thinking about that decision again. And I wonder what good it does me to know what I should have done — since I have no way of going back to 2008 to share my current knowledge and wisdom with my younger self.
The memories of the weekend during when I decided whether to go through with the planned wedding will always be strongly burned into my mind. I was spending the weekend alone in order to make the decision. The woman who I intended to marry was waiting for my decision, as was the other woman, who desperately hoped I would choose her instead.
From the place where I sit today, it’s an easy decision. I could lay out the facts for almost anyone and it would seem clear. But I was so wrapped up at the time in fear that was born of deeply rooted emotional dysfunction that I couldn’t see that.
As I think about the decisions I made — to back out of the wedding and then to remain on the fence until I’d lost them both — I can be dispassionate. Both of them are married today and I have no remaining connection to either of them. It’s mostly ancient history — except in those moments when I’m back at that decision point in my mind.
Putting myself back into that moment does something more than make me think about my poor decision. It makes me think about three things.
It makes me question my ability to make rational decisions. Most of us like to believe that if we give ourselves all the logical facts involved in a decision, we can come to a rational conclusion, one that will give us the best possibility of doing the right thing. We think that if we’re intelligent, rational and observant, we can make good decisions. But the more I look at many of my own decisions, the more I question that. I had my eyes wide open about both women and about myself, and I think I was bright enough and rational enough at the time. Still, I fumbled the decision badly — for reasons that I was blind to at the time. I fear that we do that routinely. I believe we make decisions for emotional reasons and then find “rational” reasons to listen to our fear or other emotions. How can we possibly trust our decision-making?
Thinking back to my decision seven years ago also makes me think about how useless it is to come to conclusions about what we should have done once upon a time. I’m at peace now about what I should have done. If I could get into a time machine and go back to that day in early July 2008 — the weekend when I made the decision to back out — I would know what to do, based on the facts that were available to me at the time, not even including anything I’ve learned since then. I understand my own psychology better — as well as the psychology of the woman I almost married — so I feel certain what I should have done. It took me a long time to feel certain about it. I thought I would feel better when I was finally sure. But now that I no longer debate what I should have done, I find that it’s useless to know. It doesn’t even seem to make me a better decision-maker. It seems to be worth nothing at this point.
Third, putting myself back into that decision point makes me realize how much my choices affect other people. In addition to hurting two women (and myself), I also affected the paths of numerous other people around them. If I’d married either of them, they wouldn’t have been available to marry the men they married. One of the women has a child who wouldn’t have existed if I’d married her. The more I think about it, the more ripples I see insofar as how many people are affected — all by something that seemed (at the time) to be a decision all about me.
If the two women and I could all three go back to that decision point, I suspect all three of us would come to the same conclusion about what was best for all of us. I would have chosen the obvious one, who I believe would have still chosen me at the time, even knowing the future. The other woman would have bowed out gracefully, realizing that she wasn’t right for me — and that a much better match for her was going to come along.
For a long time, I pined for the woman I should have chosen — after it was too late. I beat myself up repeatedly and placed all the blame on myself. I’m no longer at that point. She’s moved on and I have, too. There’s another woman who will be just right for me at some time in the future, but that doesn’t change what I know I should have been doing seven years ago today.
I’m not sure there are any lessons for me in this. It just makes me aware of how chaotic and messy our decision-making is — and how wrong we can get it.
I should have gotten married on Aug. 3, 2008. I think she and I would have been very happy together, even though we can both be pretty dysfunctional at times. But I don’t have a time machine, so I can’t change anything. I’m just left to look at an empty date on my calendar that might have been permanently important if I’d done something different.
All I can do is hope that I’m fortunate enough in the future that a series of unlikely coincidences and tumultuous decisions will lead some woman and me to a happier outcome. Maybe I’ll even learn one day to forget this date and let myself completely move on.