Monday, April 10, 2017

I'm certain about uncertainty

We have, says the brilliant Rebecca Solnit, “a desire to make certain what is uncertain, to know what is unknowable, to turn the flight across the sky into the roast upon the plate, to classify and contain.” 
She's referring to art and culture but her observation, of course, applies to life. 
Humans hate uncertainty.
And we betrayed wives especially hate uncertainty. It dogs us as we try to move through the pain.
"But what if I stay and he cheats again?" 
"What if I regret staying?" 
"What if I leave and then regret it?" 
"What if I leave and he ends up with her?"
Oh, for a crystal ball that will make our choice clear.

We're not alone, of course. My 18-year-old, finishing up her first year at university, is desperate for certainty. She wants to know that her major will lead to a good job. She wants to know that the guy she likes likes her back. She wants to know that she'll succeed at the summer job she's landed. She, like all of us, just wants to know. Certainty.
For her, of course, the stakes feel impossibly high. "This is the rest of my life!" she points out to me in frustration, in response to my "take it one step at a time" urging. 
Thing is, it's not the rest of her life. It's right now.
Five years from now, her life might look very different. One year from now, her like might look very different. Opportunities will have come her way that she can't imagine. Doors might have shut that seemed like sure things. Friends will have come and gone. Dreams will have been shaped.
And the same holds true for you.
Betrayal exposes something we had cleverly hidden from ourselves: Life is uncertain. People are unpredictable. Promises can be broken.
And while betrayal's impact extends far beyond garden-variety disappointment, it's an impact that many many of us experience. There are, literally, millions of us going through the same pain. 
There's comfort in that, whether we see it or not. The millions surviving this are proceeding to live despite the realization of how uncertain any of our futures are. 
For me, learning to proceed in the face of such uncertainty, meant getting comfortable with it. It meant understanding that I'd really been living with it all along. That this idea I had –that a marriage vow was intractable – was an illusion. Had always been. We can never ever be certain about anyone, even when that person is standing in front of us promising fidelity and honesty and 'til death do us part.' 
Sounds harsh, I know. But it's become a form of liberation for me. Understanding that being with my husband is a choice, every single day, makes me more grateful for his presence. Knowing that I could leave tomorrow, and so could he, makes our time more precious. 
And that understanding has held for so many of life's uncertainties. My 88-year-old father is on borrowed time, despite his health. But I have him today.
Journalism, my chosen career, is a shaky field at the moment. But I have work today. 
I only need to know where I want to be today. I only need to know what I want today. And then to set about living that choice. 
Nobody can promise you anything further because people are complicated. We're unpredictable. Life is complicated and unpredictable. And certainty is an illusion no matter how real we thought it was. 


  1. This is something I have had to work on a lot. For me it was not as normal to live in the moment since I felt I was not in control. Going through this I am now much better at focusing on the present. I have noticed this has benefited my kids the most. Our relationships are so much stronger and better due to this change in me.

    As far as the betrayal I remember the exact moment it hit me that there was nothing I could have done to stop my husband from his bad decisions since this is about his issues. And I in the end have no control over his future decisions. That was a sobering moment. It is strange to me that I always felt that karma worked for me or the fact I did everything right in life I would be repaid. Well I learned it does not work that way. I do feel I am better off for it. It is empowering and a much better way to face life. Thanks for your guidance along the way Elle!

  2. I don't think that my h will ever stray again because of the remorse and the humiliation that he felt. But then again I never thought he would do it to begin with. Right now I don't think that he is the same man that he was then. He has grown in area's that he thought were so wrong with us. Mainly him. He just turned it to us. When he realized what he was giving up for what he was getting in return he did an about face. Especially when it came to the OW showing her true colors. He was believing everything she told him about herself and what she thought was wrong with us. Which truthfully I didn't think that there ever was until she interfered in out lives. But then again he allowed this to happen. I don't regret letting him come back the day after I kicked him out even though he slept with her one more time. It has been the effort he has made to ensure that she stays away from us, He makes more of an effort to spend time together where before his job and the Fire Department came first.

    I found out somethings about myself as well. I never thought of myself as a very strong person until I was put in this position. I would never stick up for myself. But now I do and I don't hesitate to say things like I see them. I wish I had found this backbone years ago.

  3. Thank you! I started writing my own posts during my valley after my husband left. Thank you for this blog!

  4. Oh control and uncertainty....
    my whole life I have lived with the goal to control things. And my life was consumed by the what ifs. Like Hopeful I am trying to live in the present. The more I do this and read blogs, books, etc about mindfulness and present living, the more I can see how beneficial it can be for my relationships, and more importantly me.
    I think battling control will be an everyday thing for me for awhile. Sometimes I win, most times I lose. But it's a battle I'm willing to fight to be a better woman.

  5. I just confronted my fiancé yesterday about texts and videos I found. He's not staying at the apartment but we talked. I don't know what to do when he's my best friend. All of my thoughts and feelings are things I would tell him. How do I recover and grieve the loss of two relationships, my best friend and lover. How do I process the change in our futures?

    1. RubyTuesday,
      I would start with a good therapist if you can afford it and just for yourself to help you sort out whether you want to give this guy another chance because honestly best friends don't stab each other in the back. Almost 30 yrs after my husband's two affairs when our kids were young, I'm questioning whether I did the right thing. For our kids yes but for myself as a woman probably not. Sure I've grown and yes things like my aggressive cancer where he was a saint helping me thru healing have given me many good yrs. honestly there are no guarantees in life and marriage is just one of them. But the black swans will come when you least expect them and it would be lovely to face the retirement yrs knowing this never happened, that our love had always been some Hallmark card. Ha! Not even close. But we've marched along, raised two lovely kids together but had I been without kids, I would've shown him the door just because we never did manage to live happily ever after. wishing you luv and peaceful thoughts.

  6. I just confronted my fiancé yesterday about texts and videos I found. He's not staying at the apartment but we talked. I don't know what to do when he's my best friend. All of my thoughts and feelings are things I would tell him. How do I recover and grieve the loss of two relationships, my best friend and lover. How do I process the change in our futures?

    1. Hey RubyTuesday. It's been just over 5 weeks since I confronted my husband and he admitted to having an affair and falling in love with someone else. If this has just happened to you, hold on tight, speak to supportive friends and concentrate on getting through each day. Some days you will feel positive and strong, and others like you wish the world would swallow you up. For me, I talked and talked and talked (and I never normally talk about personal stuff) but I did, first to my close friends and then to my husband. He is home and we are trying to work things out. I tell him how I'm feeling. I ask him questions when I need to. Sometimes I write him letters (he doesn't get all of them). I write to myself to get the feelings out.

      I don't know if it will work between us (he still has feelings for the OW), but I can say that now I feel stronger. I've made a decision about what I want and I'm doing everything I can to make things work. I have accepted that I cannot change what he thinks - he must make his own decisions. Whatever happens, I know I will survive this and I'm doing everything that I can.
      We have all lost our innocence - we all now how uncertain life is and has always been. Give yourself time to decide what you want and go for it, whatever that is.

      How do you recover and grieve? Be kind to yourself. Be honest with yourself and allow yourself to be and feel however you need to be. Everyday will be different.

      Here is a quote from a poster my friend has in her house (whose husband also cheated on her). It helps me remember that the only person we can control is ourselves.

      Have hope, be strong, laugh loud, play hard, live in the moment, smile often, dream big, remember you are loved and never, never give up.

      Big Hugs

  7. Well we certainly thought we were certain about our husbands and the legitimacy of our lives during their infidelities and look how that worked out for us?

    I love this. Indeed, one day at a time. Life is all about the present and choices.

  8. Elle
    You have a way of saying what I think and feel but have no clue how to express! You never cease to amaze me with your knowledge and you have such a sense of timing your posts that make such a difference for so many of us! How close is that book to publication?

  9. Wow! The post and the comments really strike a chord with me. Uncertainty has always provoked my anxiety. I have tried to deal with this by controlling as much as I could around me-other people and myself included. The betrayal was a cold slap of water in my face that I do not have any control. It is an illusion. I had to admit that I had nothing to do with my h's affair. There was nothing I did, or didn't do, that contributed. That was scary, and freeing, at the same time. If I didn't have anything to do with it, I had to come to terms with the fact it could happen again. I had to wrestle with demons that whispered I wouldn't survive it again, that I couldn't go on with a man that I now know was capable of infidelity-even after many years of a good and solid marriage. Uncertainty...I have had to make peace with it in my life-one day at a the forgiveness I work on every day. Elle, thank you for your beautifully written post.

  10. So much of this hits home for me, as your words so often do, Elle. I'm a year out from d-day and I think that this wraps up a huge lesson that I've come to learn over this past, very difficult year. Nothing is certain and that's life. That's real life. I've been searching so hard for solutions to my pain... searching for answers, reaching for forgiveness, convincing myself I'm over things I'm clearly not yet. I used to love the word "closure"; always thought I needed it. Closure is certain. It's final. There's nothing left unsaid. I guess I'm one of those people who also loves being right and getting in the last word too. But I've come to realize that I'm never going to reach closure here; not the naive-kind of closure I sought after when I was just a teenage/college girl myself... back when I, too, needed certainty about everything in my life. I've definitely come to realize that there are no easy or certain solutions here. The pain is not suddenly going to disappear. Our marriage is not magically going to be perfect. This is a long and ongoing process. And it is hard work. After a year, I'm proud of the progress we've made, but I'm really realizing what I've signed up for. There are still many more difficult years and obstacles ahead of us. I keep reminding myself that this is also an opportunity to rebuild the life and marriage that I have always deserved. While it's not always easy to keep up this optimistic view, I am beginning to embrace the uncertainty of it all. I'm definitely not as scared about making big life changes anymore either. I've been pretty unhappy in my current job position and have finally gotten the courage to start pursuing something new. I've been on a few interviews and it's really scary to think about making a big change after more than 10 years in the same position. But let's face it... I've been through much scarier. And I know that I don't have to settle anymore if I'm not happy. The future is uncertain, but I'm hopeful of the opportunities to come.

  11. How is it that almost every post I read here makes me look deep into myself and question so many of my closely held beliefs in life? Seriously Elle, how do you do this all the time? I've started and erased several posts because of my scattered thoughts. I just re-read Jack Kornfield's "A Lamp in the Darkness" while sitting at the pool this morning. It is an easy yet profoundly deep read but I need to read it over and over again when I'm scattered. Chapter 7 is "The Zen of an Aching Heart". I probably read this 5 page chapter with it's meditation a dozen times before letting it all sink in again. On page 50 there is a line that reads, "The first thing you need to do when you've suffered loss or betrayal is to find a way to regain your dignity and wisdom so you can bear the aching of your heart." This cuts to the core of what we feel in the light of betrayal and this post about the illusion of certainty in our lives. Reading your post, thinking about the reality and truth of every word and internalizing this is profound. While I do pretty well most days I do still allow my wandering mind to lead me down the path to despair and "what if" at times which totally undermines progress. If I embrace today for what it is, which is a very good day life is good. Sometimes I think that when things are going well for too many days in a row I begin to feel uneasy and think, "when is the other shoe going to drop again and I expect something bad to happen". What if I could meet that uneasy gut feeling with a different thought, "what if I just expect good things to happen today?" When I verbalize that out loud in the morning to my husband he sort of beams at me and confirms that yes, we should expect good things to happen today because life is pretty darn good for us both individually and together. The last page of the chapter reads like this, "Place your hand on your broken heart, or your stomach, or your forehead, or wherever you feel the hollowness of your loss. Touch your measure of pain with compassion while simultaneously remembering your dignity and wholeness. Make a vow to be true to your wholeness and let go of everything that makes you feel you are small. Feel that you are--at the deepest level--your own Zen master, and that you see and understand all, and that you can hold it all in your vast, open heart. I can only be certain about me. I'm liking who I am more and more all the time. Peace and love to you all.

  12. Part of the trauma came from realizing that there are no absolutes. I believe in marriage, my husband is my best friend, he will always be loyal to me, we will grow old together, my children will never have to live in a broken family. These were sacred truths for me. And they were neither sacred nor true. It can be so scary without your constants to hold on to. But you discover your own strength. When the person you depended on lets you down in the most basic way, you learn to depend on yourself.
    I still want to be in control. But so many things are still in flux. I have to learn to live with uncertainty. We have to take the journey step by step, and not rush to the anticipated destination. When it's time, we'll get there.

  13. I am sitting at just about a year out now, and I can honestly say that dealing with the uncertainty has been the hardest part for me, but also the most rewarding. I feel like I'm swan-diving with arms outstretched with no visibility out of an airplane, but there is freedom in that too. It's scary as hell, but I honestly needed to let go of control in my life. I wish I didn't have to learn it in such a painful way. Once I let go of everything that was never in my control anyway, I could concentrate on the things that do matter and somehow really live for the first time. Nothing is certain, I can be fooled, I have good intuitions, people will let me down sometimes, people will support me and have my back sometimes, life is ugly and life is beautiful at the very same time. Who knew???



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