February 22, 2007

I was talking with JB recently about someone we know—let’s call him Billy—whose long-term girlfriend has started vigorously hinting that she’d like a ring on her finger. Billy has spent the last couple years declaring that he won’t consider marriage until he’s 30, and now that he’s 29 JB and I are wondering how this will all pan out. Will he eventually pop the question? Will she grow impatient and move on? How will he know if this is the right girl, the one he wants to spend his life with?

JB’s advice to him was, “Dude, you’ll know when it’s right. You’ll just know.” I disapprove of this advice, because while I’m sure lots of people Just Know when it’s the Right Time to embark upon a major lifestyle change, I sure as hell never have.

Marriage, for instance—I don’t think I’ve really talked about this before, but this is my second stab at holy matrimony. I was married once before, at a stupidly young age (19, if I remember correctly, which is hard to do because that was a LONG-ASS TIME AGO). He was polite, awkwardly shy, and recently back from the Gulf War; I was transitioning out of a regrettable Goth stage and enamored with the novelty of marriage. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but a couple years later I realized it was in fact a bad move, since I no longer loved him, and breaking up is way more of a pain in the ass when legal documents are involved.

For a while after that I thought I’d never get married again, because in my overly dramatic way of thinking, I could never be sure that my feelings wouldn’t change. How could I promise to love someone until death do us part, when I had no way of knowing whether I was capable of such a thing?

By the time JB and I got engaged I was a little more mature, and confident enough in the love we had that I didn’t obsess over what negative possibilities the future might hold. I wasn’t 100% positive in my decision, I didn’t just know that it was the right time, the truth is that I was willing to take a gamble.

I think that’s what it comes down to for some people. You look at your feelings, your life situation, and you just . . . take a guess. You accept the risk, or you don’t. You make a leap of faith, or you don’t.

Before we had Riley, I kept waiting and waiting for the moment when I would know that I wanted to have children. Well, the definitive knowledge that it was the right choice never came to me. I never had a moment when I felt free of doubt. In the end, I had to jump into the unknown without the confidence I wanted.

You never do know what your future will bring. Five years ago I would never have guessed at my life today, I wouldn’t have been able to believe it. Oh, it would have been such a gift, to peek forward through the years and see my own joy and fulfillment, see my ability to take on the burdens of motherhood and thrive. All I could see was fear and doubt.

I’m taking another step in the dark with our decision to try for a second baby. I wouldn’t say I’m sure it’s the right choice. I’m not sure at all, really. All I can do is balance what I know and what I don’t and what I’m hoping for and what I’m scared of, and see what comes out on top. It hasn’t been a painless process.

JB’s advice and my reaction to it illustrates the difference between the way we make decisions. JB has more confidence, he goes with his gut and he tends to stick with it. I’m a waffler, a second-guesser.

Several years ago we were hiking in Nevada, going down this steep hill covered in loose scree. JB was taking big, charging steps, he was using the rock to help him slide along. In contrast, I was mired in a fear of falling, I was making these tiny, awkward movements and trying to grasp at nearby vegetation to keep me from tripping. It took me forever to get down this hill. Forever. While JB waited at the bottom, patiently.

I wish it were easier for me, I wish I had the sort of faith people talk about when they talk about prayer. I wish I could learn to slide on the loose rocks. But I have learned to gamble. I have learned to hold my nose and jump.

I’m not sure what advice I would have for our friend. Maybe none. Maybe just the acknowledgment that some decisions are a bitch, and that’s the truth. That you can’t really be sure that your feelings and choices won’t change from one day to the next, because that’s what life is all about, growing and adapting, hopefully for the better. But if you’re really, really lucky, the hardest choices you ever make will pay out, like some great fucking slot machine hitting all three winning reels, raining joy and laughter into your life.

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