“How would you like to see your relationships evolved in the next three years?”
If form holds, I’ll still be alive in three years.
But form never holds.
I’ll be barreling toward 40. Maybe I’ll like myself more. I hope so. People should like themselves on their 40th birthday.
My son will have just finished fourth grade. Maybe he’ll like a girl and want to hold hands with her but not want to talk to me about it.
I might still be plugging away at my cubicle job. Maybe that will be depressing. Or maybe I’ll be grateful for the security.
I might be a published author. Hopefully more than just once. You always get better at things when you practice.
When I rank all the things that project to matter in my life three years from now, only four things stand out. All four are personal relationships. Only three are with humans.
The One with my Ex
I didn’t see it coming, but my relationship with the woman I married continues to be the most important one I have.
“But what about your son, Matt!?!?”
If you want to get all lawyery about it, my relationship with him (he’ll be seven soon) is the most relevant and meaningful.
But the thing that gives me the best chance for success with that child is for his mother and I to have a civil, healthy, friendly, cooperative relationship, that provides him the best opportunity for a happy, secure, fruitful childhood.
In three years, I have to assume she will be in a serious relationship with another man. A man who will serve as a de facto stepfather to my son. A man who I will inevitably imagine having sex with my wife of nine years and be slightly repulsed. A man who might have children of his own who will prove to be a major influence on my young son.
I will have no say in the matter, nor should I.
You wake up and breathe. You smile. You help. You care. You love. Not romantically. Just… love.
You continue to practice kindness and you build up that muscle.
This is what love looks like, son.
That’s what it must be about now.
The One with my Son
When I was a boy, I loved being with friends because I was an only child. I wanted to go play with them more than I wanted to be home, and I think it might have made my parents sad.
My mom sometimes took it as I didn’t want to be with her.
My dad? I only saw him for a small percentage of the year. Maybe he felt betrayed, too. He usually didn’t say anything. But maybe it hurt. I don’t know.
My young son was invited recently to spend the night with his friends. I texted his mom to let her know I was thinking about letting him.
“Thanks for letting me know,” she said. “But I think there’s a good chance he will wake up crying and want you, so be prepared to go get him in the middle of the night.”
I asked him whether he’d like to stay with his friends. He was visibly excited. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to be there. In that moment, he had everything he wanted.
That was the first time he has ever slept somewhere else when he was “supposed” to be with me. That’s the first time I ever felt like my parents must have felt a thousand times, each.
I know there will be more.
I want him to know he can talk to me about anything. I pray I never make him feel punished for his honesty. He must learn to communicate honestly about things if he hopes to maintain healthy relationships in the future.
It was a lesson I learned too late.
I have never loved nor been more proud of anything than that child. Nothing can stir in me deep, meaningful feelings the way just looking at him sleeping can, or when he does something that demonstrates how much he has learned and grown.
He’s a beautiful child.
I pray I always feel about him as I do right now. Right as I push this button.
The One with the Girl I Haven’t Met
It fascinates me when I consider it.
Maybe she’s laying in bed with another guy right now. Maybe she’s giving birth to a child. Maybe she’s on the other side of the world building houses in impoverished communities. Maybe she’s out having drinks with her friends. Or walking her dog. Or visiting her grandmother. Or writing something like me.
Maybe she’s sitting somewhere right now wondering who I am and what I’m doing.
Maybe I’ll be single forever. I just don’t think so.
And that means it’s going to happen again. You know. IT. Love. It’s hard to imagine. Only this time, she’s going to get a more raw, real, honest, authentic version of me than my ex-wife did. (I didn’t know then what I know now.)
With all of my insecurities (though I feel pretty good about myself these days) and baggage. With the knowledge I have a son.
That my family is spread all over. That I’m still trying to figure out who I’m going to be when I grow up.
She’s going to be amazing. AMAZING.
Because I’m picky. Because her capacity for love and patience and forgiveness will be massive. Because I’m TERRIFIED to love again the way I loved my wife because I never again want to feel the horrors of breaking on the inside. And if there IS a someone?
That means she overcame all that. That means I looked at her and she looked at me, and we both said yes.
It means we don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but for now, we want to find out together.
It means I’ll be cooking again. Hugging again. Kissing again.
It means someone will inspire me. Cheer for me. Believe in me.
It means I’ll rarely feel lonely. Just a reach away.
Maybe all of that will come true, or maybe none of it will. We spend a lot of time reflecting on the past and pondering the future.
But really we only have now.
The things that happened before don’t get to determine what happens next.
And what happens next is not something we control.
Just. Right. Now.
Breathe in. Hold it. Then out.