Put the Past in the Past

Once upon a time I asked a woman to marry me because I loved her, and she loved me and said yes. It didn’t turn out as we hoped.

In some other lifetime I would like to be married to her. I haven’t stopped loving her. But not in the marriage we had. The marriage we had was bounded by my many constraints, and by my lack of integrity and imagination of what was possible. It never touched, moved, inspired, or fulfilled me. Maybe the former behaviors were the cause in the matter of the lack of fulfillment, or the lack of fulfillment was the cause in the matter of the behaviors. It’s hard to separate. She had cause in the matter, too, but that’s her story. To ever succeed a new future would need to be created together–mutually, authentically. We would need to live everyday into that new created future with purpose and intention.

I am not planning this will happen; or hoping this will happen.

This is a thought experiment in imaging what would need to occur in order for the possibility of such a future to be possible. This is about my way of being, and my acts, that would be required to create a future possibility of a new way to be married to one another that might be available to my wife and me.

It begins with putting the past into the past.

No new future can be created if we bring the past into our futures. Since there is no certain future other than the default future our brains conceive based on all our past experience, to create a new future that never would have happened we must remove the past from the future and put back in the past. And leave it there.

One life sentence I’ve lived with since a teenager is my need to be the good boy, the good man. Good boys don’t swear; they don’t smoke; they don’t take drugs; they don’t drink; they get good grades; they excel at a sport in which none of their friends compete; they aren’t fat; they are cultured; they read great books; they are polite and sophisticated; they aren’t tarnished by money; they always please and always say yes.

I know exactly when and where I formulated this life sentence. I was in 10th grade. I asked the prettiest, most socially prominent girl in my very small class of forty-eight students at my elite private school in Pittsburgh to the prom. We had never been on a date. I don’t think I even especially liked her. Her answer was, “Nonnie, you’re trying too hard.” (Yes, Nonnie was my nickname—long buried and forgotten.)

What she meant by that was I wasn’t in her league socially. Her family’s name fronted a large steel company. One of the main streets in downtown Pittsburgh bore her family’s name.

Old Pittsburgh steel money.  Old Pittsburgh steel status.

My father was in the steel business, too–a senior executive. But he earned his way in; it wasn’t granted; and it was new.

Maybe I was trying too hard and what she said to me was meant with good intentions. She wasn’t a mean girl, or even an especially snobby girl. But my default emotions triggered a dozen insecurities. No, I could never compete socially with these classmates whose names were brand names, known throughout the country. But I could be better.

I scored the highest SAT’s in the class. I won the English Prize (civilized people excel in literature and major in English.) My school didn’t have a swimming team so I swam outside of school on an AAU team and set national records. I went off to an elite liberal arts college. I got a master’s degree in Anglo-Irish literature at Trinity College, Dublin. I got an M.B.A. I worked internationally.  I did all the right things.

So fuck her and her social status.

But I’ve been carrying this with me for fifty-three years. I can even recreate in my mind exactly when and where she said those words to me. I see it clearly.

Being the good boy is the racket I play in life. It hasn’t served me well. I get a payoff of being “good,” being right, occupying the moral high ground in any and every situation.

But this comes at great, heartbreaking cost. It has cost me my wife’s love, and my marriage.

I have declared to her that this racket has been disappeared. I have acknowledged it and have put it in my past.  It no longer holds any significance in my present, and will never be carried into my future.

It leaves me free to be.

Who I am, who I really am, unburdened by this life sentence, is now a journey of discovery.  I get to create a future I would not have had, to get beyond who I wound up being.

I am thrilled with my decision to move to Boston. I’m thrilled that nothing is certain—to see what freedom that allows. Yes, it’s scary and risky.

Where does my wife fit in this future I’m creating? I don’t know. I’m open to all the possibilities that didn’t and never existed before, which include no possibilities at all.

But I know that a more authentic and effective way to conduct my life is available to me.

I promise to live it.

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