It was just an odd computer glitch. Something with a reasonable explanation. It has to be. But I’ve sat here for the last hour or so looking at a photo I didn’t intend to find tonight. And it pushed some unexpected emotional buttons.
I wanted to find a photo on my MacBook from about 20 years ago, so I typed in a file-name search. Instead of things related to what I was looking for, the system turned up five photos that were completely unrelated to that. At the top of the list was a photo from seven years ago. I didn’t open it.
Then I worded the search an entirely different way. It gave me a handful of files again. At the top was the same photo which had been at the top of the search before. I felt mesmerized by the weirdness of what I was seeing, so I opened the file, even though I knew what it would be.
There were two faces. One was my face. The other face was that of a beautiful woman who I used to know.
The photo was a composite the woman made seven years ago. We had been talking about what our children would look like. She made something that was a closeup of her face and mine to help her envision how our genes would combine.
She thought we would have beautiful children. I thought so, too.
As I looked at this photo of our smiling faces, I thought again about how much I had wanted to end up married to her — how much I had expected that. And I found myself thinking about why I had wanted to marry her. But I saw it from a slightly different point of view than I’d seen it before.
I’d always seen it primarily as being about the love and connection that I felt between the two of us. I still saw it that way, but I saw another layer on top of that. I had wanted to marry her — and to build a family with her — to give me real purpose in life. I wanted to be responsible for her.
I wanted someone to need me. To count on me.
All of this was strongly influenced by something that happened Thursday night as I slept. I vaguely remember being awake for a few minutes during the night, tapping out some thoughts that came to me in my sleep. I found the words on the Notes app of my iPhone Friday morning. And as I looked at this photo tonight, I suddenly applied my nocturnal thoughts to this woman.
“Without responsibility, what’s the point of life for a man?” I had written. “If you’re not taking care of someone who you love, you feel useless. Having responsibilities gives a man purpose — and I lack purpose now. I need purpose so badly. I need a family who rely on me to slay the dragons of their world, not because they can’t fight their own battles, but because they allow me to show them how much I love them.”
I don’t know what prompted that in my sleep. Maybe it was connected to a dream. Maybe it was just some random thought as I was in the twilight state between waking and sleep. I’ll never know.
But as I looked at the photo from seven years ago — and thought about what I had written last night about purpose — I fully understood that additional layer of why I’d wanted to marry this woman.
She didn’t need me to slay her dragons. She’s smart enough and competent enough to kill any dragons in her way. But that increased my desire to take care of her and to build a family with her. I wouldn’t be doing it because she was weak or incapable. I would be slaying dragons for all of us — solving problems for us — simply because I wanted to express love in a tangible way.
The times in my life when I’ve had the most success have tended to be when I was doing things for someone else. Today, outside the simple needs of my cats and my dog, nobody really needs me. I lack purpose.
I have a great need to do work for someone who I love. A wife, a family. I have a need to be able to make something good and take it to a woman and say, “I made this because of you. You inspired me to be my best.”
And that’s a big part of why I wanted to marry her. I was excited to have purpose again. I wanted to slay dragons and build a future for a family who counted on me to be their champion.
Love and connection are important. I do want those things. But I also want someone to rely on me. I want the responsibilities — and burdens — of showing a wife and children that I love them and that I’ll take care of them.
That’s a purpose worth living for. And it’s a purpose worth loving for.