The Danger of Going Along
For the majority of my life, I have been a "just go along with it" type of person. Speaking up and saying what I wanted, or offering my opinion when it went against the grain was awkward and uncomfortable for me. I found myself going along with many situations, some that were my choice and some that were not.
It didn't bother me to go along. It was easy.
It also created huge problems in my life.
The Runaway Bride
In September 2001, I cancelled my October 2001 wedding.
I had mailed invitations. Bought a dress (Actually, my Mom bought the dress for me, something I felt horribly guilty about after deciding to call off the wedding).
We had a church, and an officiant.
I had been with my fiance since I was 15 years old. He had moved to New Hampshire while I attended college and we moved back to Maine when I graduated. We lived in a nice apartment, and had nice jobs.
What could possibly be wrong?
In the 8 years we had been together, I went along with what I thought I was "supposed to" be doing. Graduating high school. Check. High school sweetheart? Check. Go to college. Check. Get married, get a house with a picket fence, have children . . .
Whoa, whoa, whoa . . .
Wait, hold up.
I don't really like picket fences. And, at the time, I didn't want kids!
In fact, I was kind of ambivalent about the relationship I was in. That's a huge and scary thing to admit. Because in some relationships, one person can have stronger feelings than the other. And the one with stronger feelings wasn't me. My fiance was a nice person, a good human, a hard worker. But in all honesty, that spark, that dramatic pull that occurs between two people . . . it just wasn't there for me.
I was coasting along because I thought I had to, wondering why everything felt off.
Over an August week in 2001, I finally learned why.
I had been called to work at an auction on the coast of Maine for a few days to make a little extra money right before the start of my second year teaching elementary school. My mother was the office manager for the auction company, and suggested the opportunity so I could add to my small teacher's salary. All I would be required to do was walk out in front of the crowd and hold small auction items.
While interacting with the other employees during the auction breaks "back stage," one of them, Chris, caught my eye and I felt a weird pull. We laughed and joked around. We sat and talked during breaks.
I turned my engagement ring upside down.
And on the last day of the auction, after the items had all been bid on and we were cleaning up, I did something totally reckless and out of character.
It ultimately changed my life forever.
A Reckless Decision
I was supposed to make the two-hour drive back from the auction that night with my mother. Just before everything was finished, Chris and I stood out by the loading dock, talking and awkwardly attempting to say goodbye. Neither of us wanted to. The air felt electric. But . . . I had to drive home with Mom. I had a fiance!
This was crazy.
We did say goodbye, and I went to find Mom. She surprised me with a last minute change of plans. Another employee had asked if Mom would ride with her, so the lady didn't have to drive the long night distance by herself. Was that okay with me?
Sure . . . I didn't mind. And, I started thinking. A dangerous thing, as it turned out. I walked to the parking lot. My head was full of noise. It sounded like a buzzing, insistent, louder as I approached my car. As I put my hand on the door handle, I knew. I knew I was about to do something that would change everything.
Chris was riding in a truck, carrying equipment from the auction, with another employee. They should still be at the loading dock, because I hadn't yet seen the truck pulling around the building.
I did the only thing I could think of. I threw my bag on my car, turned, and ran. I ran across the parking lot, in the dark, looking like a complete loon, I'm sure.
I ran around the building. There was the truck, about to pull ahead. I was in the headlights, trying to slow myself to a casual jog. Hey, I normally jog across parking lots at night, it's cool.
When the truck stopped, Chris got out.
Do you want to ride with me?
We rode together in my car, stopping at the McDonald's drive-through for a late night dinner. We did nothing suspicious, only talked.
I tried to tell him I was engaged, but was too scared. What would he think? Would he get mad?
The next day, back in my old life, with a clarity I rarely felt, I sat my fiance down and tearfully explained the entire situation. I told him I wasn't fair to him if I married him when I was unsure about my feelings for him. It wasn't fair to feel a spark with someone else and pretend it didn't exist.
The wedding was off.
The relationship was over.
I moved out that afternoon and went to live with my parents while I sorted myself out. I started teaching two days later.
I didn't contact Chris. It felt wrong. I felt like I had betrayed my fiance, I was a mess, and that it wasn't right to offer hope to this new person if there wasn't any to offer.
In the end, it was Chris who contacted me. I didn't know it, but he had called my mother to ask about me.
She explained my situation to him. Gently suggested that maybe now wouldn't be a good time.
He came to my parent's house anyway, on a sunny afternoon, and we stood at the edge of the driveway while he told me he felt like I felt. He didn't care what the situation was, he just knew he wanted to see where this went. The night I dropped him off at his house after the auction, he told me he had wished on the stars in the night sky, "Please, God, let her be The One."
Not The Ending You're Hoping For
If you're hoping this is a Happily Ever After story, a love story, well, it is and it isn't.
Chris and I married in 2003 and had our daughter, Sophie, in 2005. In 2009, after several years of the walls of our marriage slowly crumbling, Chris left. We divorced in 2010.
I was absolutely broken and devastated. My heart was shattered. I often wondered, in my moments of darkest despair, if this was my Karma for what I had done to my previous fiance. But hour by hour, day by day, I healed a little.
I learned to be on my own. I took care of myself, and my daughter. It often felt like pulling threads together that didn't quite meet, yes, but I made it work, somehow.
Lessons Learned, The Hard Way
Do I regret any of the events that happened? No.
Do I wish things had been different? Sometimes. What had seemed like a perfect marriage slipped away as we grew up and things changed.
The one thing I do regret, in both my first engagement and in my marriage to Chris, as that I all to often "went along" instead of speaking up. Only when pushed to the brink do I act in bold and scary ways. If I better understood how and when to use my voice, I would have been able to halt the unraveling of both situations sooner . . . maybe.
But the truth is, it all happened that way it did. I have a beautiful, amazing daughter who would not have existed otherwise. I believe things happened in the way they were supposed to happen, and although my lesson took a long time to learn, it was a valuable one.
Going along with things in life may feel easy at the time, but it often isn't easier in the end. Feelings of resentment and anger can simmer below the surface. Constantly doing what other people want to do, or what they want you to do, can eat at your confidence and make you question yourself. You may lose the ability to even see what you want, because you're so used to agreeing with everyone else.
And when you stop speaking up in your own life, it can make it much harder to fix things when you finally do. Addressing the problem when it's a problem can feel confrontational, awkward, and uncomfortable if you're like me, but it doesn't even compare to the heartbreak and destruction that occurs from never saying anything at all . . . until it's too late.
Ultimately, just going along cost me almost everything, twice. It's a lesson I had to learn the painful, hard way.
It took me many years to realize "just going along" with things was my way of putting off decisions, hiding, avoiding confrontation, and refusing to assert myself. I didn't have the tools I needed to be able to cope, so I made some up as I went. Sometimes, my easygoing solution helped, but more often than not, it made things harder in the end. If I could say one thing to the younger Me it would be this:
Speak up, for yourself and your life.
Sometimes, you're the only one who can.
Have you had a time in your life when you didn't speak up and it caused a major problem? Do you think there are times it's better to just go along with things? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
I have never written about my first engagement before, but I did previously publish some thoughts on the demise of my marriage. Check out: