Sunday, June 9, 2013

In Praise of Confusion

I recently met a woman about whom I was writing a profile for a magazine. Her life was rich and interesting, full of political intrigue and forging into new territory. After a few hours, she lamented the fact that she was single. She had, she admitted, recently ended a relationship with a man whom she discovered was cheating. She loved him madly, she said. Why did you end it, I responded. She was shocked. She had to end it, she said. How else could she regain her dignity?

I understand her mindset. She wasn't married to this man. There were no children whose psyches needed to be considered. And, from what she told me, I'm not sure this was a guy who deserved second chances.

Nonetheless, I always feel slightly sad for people whose behaviour is dictated by some set of social or cultural rules. If she still lived in her Middle Eastern place of birth, she wouldn't have the luxury of leaving a cheating husband. But she absorbed her culture's rules around cheating -- by women -- no second chances. Rather death by stoning.

I'm not an apologist for giving cheaters a second chance. What I am suggesting is that you make up your own minds about whether to stay together or not. I wonder how many of us default to our position because of preconceived notions of what we "should" do. And also, I believe, because living even temporarily in a state of confusion is excruciating to humans.

Yet the state of confusion is usually where we find ourselves after D-Day. Our brains and hearts hate confusion. Sitting with it is terrifying. So we cling to our "rules". I love him...but cheating is a deal-breaker. I hate him but must stay because of the kids. I would forgive him if it was just a one-night-stand. We cling to the rules as a way to find solid footing in quicksand. And yet it can  be within the confusion that we find a lasting clarity.

I lived with confusion for more than a year (or longer!). My feelings about my marriage shifted daily, sometimes even a dozen times within the same day. Not knowing what to do was supremely uncomfortable, especially for someone like me who likes to feel in control. I clung to my conviction that I shouldn't make any sudden moves until I was sure. With three young children, I used them as my shield against storming out the door. I knew my greater responsibility was to their sense of safety and stability. And so I waited for the confusion to lift.

It did. In its own sweet time. And when it did, I was able to recognize that within all that confusion a clear desire was taking shape. I didn't want to leave but the gnawing feeling that I should want to leave left me paralyzed. So by waiting until the anger had subsided and the pain felt less raw, it became more clear what my actual wants were. Not what I thought I should do...but what I actually should do.

Try not to fear that place of confusion. You don't want to live there forever but sometimes it's an important place to stop.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

More Words on Forgiveness

"Forgiveness does not equal forgetting. It is about healing the memory of the harm, not erasing it."     ~Ken Hart


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