The Delicate Art of Deciding

And sometimes making mistakes

Honeycomb of Life by Marina Zumi

I was pretty sure it was love.

We all want to believe that in the beginning. We want to believe it of others — that they love us; that we are worth loving — and, secondarily, we want to believe it of ourselves — that we are capable of love.

But mostly, we want to believe we’re receiving it.

And I thought I was.

I met him at the bar beneath the apartment where I lived with two roommates. They were both blonde and far too busy having fun to settle down with any of their perpetual string of admirers who met us there, and the three of us went down to the bar every night to for several drinks that always ended as a $6 tab. (This perk was far more attributable to my roommates and their charisma and their crowd than it was to me, because none of that was ever my long game. I just reaped the rewards.)

When I arrived that night, there was one empty stool left, directly in between my roommates and him.

We struck up conversation, as you do, and he asked what I was studying.

“Finance.” I said, offering nothing more.

He laughed a little. “Huh… that’s what I studied, too.”

I waited, studying him in response, not breaking eye contact but doing nothing by way of conversational effort.

After a moment he asked, “What are you gonna do with it?”

It was just a few weeks after Wall Street had been swept away in a market landslide. So I laughed a little as I said, “well… obviously not investment banking.”

He laughed too then, and paused. We eyed each other up.

Finally I yielded and asked the obvious: “What do you do?”

And he laughed and, without flinching, said, “investment banking.”

I was getting ready for our first “real” date a few days later when my roommates saw me and stopped in their tracks, both of them horrified.

I was wearing jeans, flips flops, and a t-shirt.

“Oh…god…” one mumbled, no longer fun nor lighthearted.

The other added, “you’re not… wearing that, are you?”

I laughed, grabbed my keys and said,

“If he doesn’t like me like this, then he doesn’t actually like me at all, and he’s not the one for me.”

It was important to me that he not see me as that girl — the girl; arguably most every girl; the girl we’re asked to be; the girl so many of us will ourselves to be, the girl we so want to believe will make us happy. By proxy. The girl who knows how to dress properly for a first date.

I wasn’t her.

And I actually thought that that mindset — and those flip flops — would somehow be enough to protect me from being made into her.

I was wrong.

A few months later, we were spending most of our free time together. I liked a lot about him: he was everything that everyone thinks they want from anyone— composed, conversational; good at his job and rewarded accordingly. He was funny but not too funny, friendly without being too friendly; good-looking but not preened, casual but not unkept. He was sane, stable, decently smart. He was from the Midwest but had started his career in the city, and I think anyone would’ve agreed that he had close to the best of both worlds.

He must’ve felt something similar towards me, I guess, because at some point early on, he said, for the first time of many:

“I’m gonna marry you.”

I knew right then that he never would.

I understood, as far as anything I’d ever remotely understood about love, that that was supposed to be “romantic.” That’s a line that every girl is supposed to want to hear — especially from a man like him.

But when he said it, I found myself staring back at him, and all I could feel was,

“That’s a pretty fucking presumptuous statement.”

Like, we’d never even talked about it. And I was pretty sure I had a say.

But I shrugged this feeling off, figured maybe I was the one in the wrong, just getting my panties in some kind of emo, feminist twist. Or maybe it would just take me a while to warm up to him. Maybe I just needed a bit more time to decide.

I waited to feel the same way he did.

I ended up giving it five years.

And the only thing I got more resolute about was the nagging feeling of,

“Is this it??”

He wasn’t a bad guy. I want to make that clear.

He was a good person who meant well, and a lot of girls would’ve been lucky to have him. But what’s great on paper isn’t always great in a partner, and over time our failure to see eye to eye on things only increased. And then I also realized that “our failure to see eye to eye” was actually just his failure to recognize my perspective.

And the hardest thing about a partner who denies your perspective is that when you finally break up over it, they have no idea why.

And what it hurts is when you really loved them. And suddenly realize that they could never really love you.

So then you spend the following year — okay, more — explaining to yourself over and over what happened, and why. Willing yourself to believe that that little voice from the very beginning doesn’t quietly go away in the night. She just starts pounding on doors and breaking windows. Because it matters.

This isn’t about breakups, though

It’s not even about relationships and love.

Because relationships and love aren’t even about relationships and love — everything is about psychology and happiness.

Everything is about us.

I am fascinated by decision-making. I am fascinated by our inherent irrationality — and all the countless studies and tomes of books proving just how remarkably bad we are at building our lives — and our insecurity and our thinly veiled attempts at disguising and mitigating it, mostly by way of shuffling it around in our lives, like the way we move objects to dust around them on a mantle.

We’re bad at making decisions because we don’t listen. We ignore ourselves, we want as we’re told.

And I guess it’s all for the best, because — as I mentioned — we’re often wrong in what we’re saying to ourselves anyway.

But the solution isn’t silencing ourselves, and it’s definitely not throwing in the towel and looking around exasperated like “fuck it — what’s everyone think I should do here?”

It’s in listening better. More carefully. More honestly. More patiently. And it’s understanding and accepting that, while all decisions are irrational and ultimately based on our (albeit beautiful) but inherently messy human emotions, we can at least aspire to make them based, in part, on our own, and not just others’.

A response to Cheryl Strayed’s writing prompt, “Write about a time you realized you were mistaken,” courtesy of Bianca Bass.

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