Blissful agony

What's more insane: Saying no to the man of my dreams or saying "I do" twice in one year?

Published August 20, 2003 7:24PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

To say that my life over the last year has been stressful would be an understatement, and though this will sound melodramatic (something I hate), I have found more pain and joy than I had ever thought probable.

In summary: wedding; affair (mine, not his); mental illness (his, not mine); separation, new love, bankruptcy, relocation, bliss-agony, divorce, surprise pregnancy, new job.

So here I am, 26, living in California (something I never thought I'd do again), with my best friend (24), the man with whom I cheated on my husband (something I knew I'd never do), still suffering the wounds of living with a sweet, but ultimately mentally ill, man for five years, passionately in love, and unexpectedly expecting.

So, the problem (there are many that will no doubt require lots of therapy): Do I marry Mr. Fabulous? He's a somewhat traditional guy who's always wanted children, who thinks people having a baby ought to be married. I'm a very untraditional woman who hates doing what people expect and approve of, and would have been just fine never having children.

I have absolutely no doubt that I want to spend the rest of my life with him. Everything that was wrong in my marriage is so very right with my lover.

But -- I just got divorced. The day I started training for my new job was the day my divorce was finalized and the day I started to suspect I was pregnant. My mental warning signs are flashing in bright neon pink, and my romantic sensibilities are pouting in the corner. Who wants to get married because it's "the right thing to do"? Where is the fun and passion in that? I know he wants to marry me, and not just because he's a traditional guy. To be honest, if he asked, really asked (instead of the usual half-teasing, "So when are we going to get married?") I wouldn't want to say no. One crazy little part of my brain is already planning the wedding. There are practical benefits, too. Getting married now would increase our income from his work at a time when we could use all the money we can get.

But -- I got married for practical reasons before, and I'm still suffering for that. I decided to be "practical" about this baby and spent a miserable 18 hours trying to figure out how to end it. No amount of "practical" was worth that torment, so now I'm blissfully churning through pregnancy and baby books. In truth, "practical" has caused me a lot of pain. Throwing caution to the winds seems to have been a 60/40 split to the good.

I can't decide which is more insane: Saying no to the man of my dreams or saying "I do" twice in one year.

Knocked Up, Down and Sideways

Dear Knocked Up,

Slow down. You do not have to decide everything all at once at the same time right away this second immediately now. You can wait a minute or two. You can take a deep breath, sit up straight, square your shoulders, put your hands in your lap, and look out the window. If you are in California and you have a view, you might see round hills golden with the dying grass of summer; you might see a snaky freeway glinting with a thousand inching cars. You might see the side of an aging building with a Pepsodent billboard fading into the brick, or the rainspout descending from a neighbor's roof gutter. There might be a beetle crawling down the rain gutter, or a pigeon trying to sit on the edge of the roof above the smiling face of the Pepsodent woman.

Don't move yet. Don't get that cup of coffee. Keep looking out the window. As you look out the window, consider your own life, how frantic it has been this year, how extreme. Consider all those people out there, all those mountains, all those trees, all that stucco, all that clapboard, all those insects under the leaves going about their business without ever knowing of your existence. And there you are with your stopwatch in the whirlwind, your magnetism for chaos: you, the one the acrobats always ask for, who can't stop spinning because you're in love with dizziness, who cries when the roller coaster rolls to a stop, who begs the carny for one more ride. You, of all people, need to just sit quietly for a while and look out the window until it comes to you how tiny your place is in the world and what a good and freeing thing that is. You don't need to get married today. You don't need to solve all your problems today. All you need to do is feed yourself and get a little fresh air.

And then, when you have grown a little quieter inside, imagine, as you look out the window, that you yourself are not only sitting in the window but are also high up on that round, golden mountain, or standing on that distant rooftop above the Pepsodent ad, looking back at yourself through the window. Imagine that you can see -- amazing, from that distance! -- not only through the window but also through your clothes and skin and right into your essence, the point of light that is your being. This being of yours: Is it covered by questions like a bum sleeping in a dumpster? Do questions buzz it like flies? Is it weighed down by questions like a woman covered with stones in the desert?

No, it is not. Your being has no questions. This being of yours is just sitting there in your chest. It's fine.

Consider the life of this child you've decided to have. What kind of world do you want the child to live in? What do you want the child to see when he or she looks back at you from that same immense distance? Years from now when you're lost in the great void of stars, when the world remembers you and gossips about you, what story do you want the world to tell?

What's the answer? I think I know, but I'm not going to say. The answer will arrive with startling clarity, like it fell right out of the sky, yet you won't really feel surprise. You'll just know what to do. You'll find it somewhat amazing that you couldn't see it yourself, but that's the nature of perspective in 15th century painting.

Focus on a distant point on the horizon until you can occupy that point, and then look back at yourself and see what you see. You'll know what to do.

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By Cary Tennis

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