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Deciding to Decide


The problem with cultural narratives around life changes is that sometimes they make you forget that you still have choices. We think motherhood will make us never shower and give up our dreams. That marriage will make us boring and settled. Marisa Solan’s post nails what happens when we start believing the hype. When we think marriage means having our ducks all in a row, and we forget that ducks are wily. So here is to way more Hunter S. Thompson murals in married life, and to way fewer responsibly painted neutral walls.

—Meg

Deciding to Decide | A Practical Wedding

Since way back when my husband was “this cute guy I’m seeing” we’ve been making grand plans together. They were mostly small, but they were all grand. We wanted to do stuff. So we’d just up and do it.

Want to go to a concert in North Carolina? Grab your wallet and not nearly enough clothes for the weekend and hop in the car!

Want to paint a huge and ill advised Hunter S. Thompson mural on our apartment wall? Oh good—your roommate already stenciled it on!

Want to live in Japan? Apply for a job and fly to Canada for an interview and get visas and pack a bag and HOLY SHIT DID WE JUST MOVE TO OSAKA?

It was a time of scheming and flying by the seat of our pants and ordering and eating things that we didn’t recognize. Of Doing. And loving every second of it.

When we came back from Japan we got engaged and started planning the wedding. We still had a bunch of grand plans—where we’d live, what we’d do, who we’d be. But the Doing of those plans was suddenly overwhelming. It was all so big now. What if we made one of these big decisions and it was wrong? We found ourselves putting things off. Waiting for…something. Until we had more money. Until after the wedding. Until we had more time. Until, like Goldilocks, we found a time and a place where everything was Just Right and we’d know that we were doing the right thing. And every time we put something off, it got scarier and scarier to make any decision at all. We were stuck.

In our old apartment we talked for ages about repainting the bedroom. We went back and forth about whether to do it now or wait until we had different furniture or a new light fixture or we found the exactly right shade of brown. We decided to put it off until after wedding. But that day came and went and we were still waiting to find the perfect weekend or the right dresser or who even knows what. We were paralyzed by indecision about painting a wall when we just up and moved to another country just a few years ago. And the waffling was agonizing. It was like living inbetween, in limbo, forever. Like never being anywhere. I grew to hate my apartment because I didn’t even feel like I lived there. It was just where I was between where I came from and where I was going. Of course, this explanation all comes with hindsight. In the moment all I knew was that coming home to that bare-walled room every day made me feel like burning the place down. And feeling like that did us no favors in those first months of our marriage. We were watching and waiting for this perfect point when we could start doing things again. When we would somehow magically know that this was the right decision.

The thing I forgot, you see, is that it’s all just guesswork. You try the best you can to make sure that you’re doing the right thing, but at the end of the day you can’t know the outcome. The truth is, most of the time whatever you pick will be a little right and a little wrong. All those things I mentioned doing above—they were all great, but none of them were perfect decisions. The concert was brilliant but I got in tons of trouble with my mom for picking up and driving twelve hours away without even telling her. The mural looked awesome, but it took us about thirty coats of paint to cover it when he moved out of the apartment. And Japan was brilliant and complicated and not the right place for us in the long run. I remember reading a submission on APW about someone saying that when you’re shopping for a house you may not find the perfect house, but soon the imperfections become part of what you love about it, and it reminded me that if you sit around not doing anything until perfect shows up, you’re gonna miss out on a hell of a lot of imperfect fantastic life in the meantime. I forgot that guessing wrong is always better than not even giving it a shot. At least when you guess wrong you know the answer for next time. If you don’t even try, you’re just stuck. Paralyzed and immobile. Waiting for some imaginary right answer that will never come.

Today is not some inbetween point that you have to just power through to get somewhere else. It’s your whole life, right this minute. We had to stop waiting around for the right answer. If we wanted that wall painted, we were going to have to do it. So if there’s something you’ve been waiting around for—to learn French, to see the Jungfrau, to have a baby, to move to Morocco, to pop the question, to cut all your hair off, or to try eating olives (don’t bother—they’re totally gross)—and you’ve done your research and now you’re putting it off because you don’t know if it’s the exactly right thing to do, then cut it out! Do it already! Maybe it won’t be what you expected it to be, but no one looks back and regrets the stuff they took a chance on.

Photo of Marisa and her husband by Photo Pink

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  • Sam A

    “Today is not some inbetween point that you have to just power through to get somewhere else. It’s your whole life, right this minute.”
    I really needed to hear that.. Erm, TODAY.
    Thank you!

  • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

    Oh wow this is so true.
    And I want to add, that as much as making the decision can be hard (because if, like me, you tend to analyze and overthink), once you actually decide, once you jump…. you see that your instinct is to swim, that things start flowing.
    By doing things we see what we are capable of, and only by doing them. Not by thinking of what it would be like to do things (which can be paralysing… all those imaginary, overwhelming outcomes, all those possibilities).
    It’s like Hayley said in her post last month… we are all braver than we know. We just have to take a leap of faith and jump… and then keep on moving.

  • http://partialto.tumblr.com LIZ (SINCE 1982)

    This: … if you sit around not doing anything until perfect shows up, you’re gonna miss out on a hell of a lot of imperfect fantastic life in the meantime.

    And THIS: I forgot that guessing wrong is always better than not even giving it a shot.

    EXACTLY. (I know, they’re right next to each other in the post but I feel like each deserves its own attention.) You nailed it – life is NOW, not sometime in the hazy future when we have more money or finish that degree or lose the weight or figure it all out. Live, already. I wish this were easier to remember.

  • Steph

    Thank you! I took step 1 of a risk yesterday and so far it went better than I worried it would :) Here’s to living and leaping and deciding :)

  • Rose

    Yes, stuck, that’s the perfect word for where I am now. My husband and I have just come through 2-3 years of pushing and fighting for hard, but good changes in our lives. And now, having ticked those boxes neither of us really know what to do with ourselves and that energy is becoming draining and negative.

    I suppose recognising that this is where we are is a step to resolving it, and we have both just started personal coaching, but I just really, really can’t wait to not feel so stuck anymore

  • rachelroo

    EXACTLY everything about this. Except for olives. Olives are the bomb.

    • LaLa

      Haha, I was JUST about to say this! :)

    • Class of 1980

      Everyone knows olives are horrific. ;)

  • Emily

    It is downright weird how perfectly timed this post is. Thanks for sharing the wisdom, Marisa!

    • http://thevanillabride@blogspot.com Sonarisa

      APW seems pretty psychic to me lately. Every time I stop by, it’s really relevant to my life at that moment. :)

  • One More Poster

    THIS.

    Last week, I had to make a decision about a job I am now the final candidate for. Great news. The job is not only the job, but it provides housing. Great news! The job is not only the job, but the first place my fiance and I will live to start our married life together. Great news!!

    Wait. I had a giant hairball of scared lodged in my gut all week. I thought of all the “what-ifs.” I was a giant ipod of negativity set on repeat. It was completely unfair to them, too; after all, I’d never really met them yet.

    I let the search committee know that I needed to think things over before moving forward with the final interview of the process.

    If I had made a decision at that point, regardless if it was yes or no, it would have been out of fear. (something my sister AND 2 close friends AND the FH said but took a while to sink in. Blinders, anyone??). It didn’t happen immediately, or even the next day, but the hairball of primal fear in the gut became manageable.

    Thanks, OP.

    …..And I said yes….Now, I’m excited and looking forward to the challenge!

    • http://poppiesandicecream.blogspot.nl/ Amanda

      Congratulations :) This sounds like the greatest kind of news.

    • Anon

      Oh man do I hear you on this one. I just accepted a new job, and then on the drive home, all I wanted to do was cry. So scary. Great opportunity, but also so scary.

      Thanks for this post today APW – I needed another wise lady to remind me that “The truth is, most of the time whatever you pick will be a little right and a little wrong.”

      Also, I think olives are gross too. Sorry Middle Eastern heritage, I’m not jumping on that cultural bandwagon

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      Congrats!

  • http://writemeg.com Megan

    As someone known to second-guess herself quite constantly, this post really struck a chord with me! My favorite line: “The truth is, most of the time whatever you pick will be a little right and a little wrong.” I try to always remember that choosing not to choose is itself a choice . . . and I do want my life to be a grand adventure. :) (Though maybe not the whole moving to another country thing . . . you are awesome and brave!)

  • Karen

    This calls to mind an anonymous quote I have at my desk:
    “There’s no better time to enjoy living than right now.”

    Thanks for the reminder. Right now, this moment, is all there is. And I am grateful!

    • Claire

      Also, this quote:
      Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.
      It took me a long time to realise that you don’t have to actually go, you can find contentment even if it means staying.

  • http://unexpected-moments.blogspot.com/ Sheryl

    “So if there’s something you’ve been waiting around for—to learn French, to see the Jungfrau, to have a baby, to move to Morocco, to pop the question, to cut all your hair off, or to try eating olives (don’t bother—they’re totally gross)—and you’ve done your research and now you’re putting it off because you don’t know if it’s the exactly right thing to do, then cut it out! Do it already!”

    Love this so much. Especially the olives bit because yuck, totally gross is right.

    This actually describes how a couple of big life decisions have been made in the last year. I had a catalyst event to remind me just how important to do what I want to do with my life is but going ahead and doing those things was a pretty snap decision.

    • KB

      I second the olives-are-gross sentiment – my olive-loving friends and fiance love eating at Italian/Greek places with me because they don’t have to share.

      • http://thedilettantista.com/ The Dilettantista

        Olives are totally gross.

  • Anon in NYC

    I so needed to hear this right now. DH and I are on the precipice of many BIG LIFE-ALTERING DECISIONS, and I’m finding myself paralyzed with fear and self-doubt over so many things: money, whether this would actually work in the long-run, whether this is truly what I/we want or am I just trying to run away from what we are currently doing, etc. All of those are valid issues to think about, carefully, but at the end of the day sometimes you just have to take a leap and own it.

  • KB

    You know, usually I have something to add, like an anecdote or something that inspired me to write an add-on in the comments. This time, I have nothing except: “THIS POST. ALL OF IT. AND THE MURAL.”

  • Jesseline

    From a rare commenter – this is just such a great post, and like others, I needed to hear this today. Hubby and I stand on the precipice of new jobs and the purchase of our first home (which makes be feel way too grown up and “settled”). Posts like this are one of many reasons why I keep coming back to APW every day. I will have to remember that maybe “fewer responsibly painted neutral walls” will help with the transition…

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    Kind of the opposite of the theme of the post, but due to the title, I now have this bit from Into the Woods stuck in my head: “You know what your decision is, which is not to decide.”

  • ANOTHER ANNIE

    Awesome article – and applicable to all women regardless of relationship status. I’ve been struggling over making career decisions in the last few months. I’ve made so many mistakes in my career and I’m petrified to take another step that’s another mistake. It comes down to the point when staying where I am means missing an opportunity to do something amazing. It MIGHT be a mistake, but it might not. Thanks for the push to swallow my fear and do something!

    PS – olives are NOT gross! Black, green, kalamata… send them all my way, please!

    • dawn

      I’m glad to see some other olive fans in the comments! A great post marred only by the cruel dismissal of one of the best foods ever.

  • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

    BTW: I will eat all of your black olives.

    (I will also eat all of your black licorice, which some people also find gross. NOM NOM NOM.)

    • CJ

      Hear! Hear! for black olives and licorice!

      I get all mb’s licorice (microrant: “…which is a *flavor*, not a shape!”, hehe) and olives, and she gets all my mushrooms. Oh, and I get the wasabi peas, too, but I have to go out and buy those myself. :D

      Both my mom and hers also love licorice, but none of the other ten people in our two families can stand the stuff. Philosophically, that saddens me, but practically, that makes the three of us quite happy and well-licoriced. (And if you’ve never had Oldtimers De Echte volzoete Scheepsknopen Drop, you’ve missed my very favorite licorice ever. It’s worth finding a place on the net that imports it from the Netherlands.)

      Now I just need get back to work on item five on the list. (And my hair is not going anywhere — I’d feel like I wasn’t my programmer guy self without it!)

      • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

        Fortunately, black licorice is one of the things M. and I have bonded over. He often gets tins of the super bitter stuff and shares it with me, and I pick up bags of salted licorice and licorice with lilac flavor, and share it with him. Yay!

        • SweetAdeline

          I. Am. Horrified.

          And you all seem so nice! But now I know you’re just a bunch of olive and black licorice eaters! I’m outta here. Gimme back my post! ;)

          • Class of 1980

            Really. ;)

    • Class of 1980

      Kayjayoh, I bet you steal the black jelly beans out of Easter baskets. ;)

      • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

        What me? Never. Well, not since I became the person filling the baskets in the first place. :)

        • Rebecca

          You know you can buy bags with just the black ones, right? I may or may not have a bag of my very own right now…

  • Martha

    The olive debate is too much!

    This is my favorite line: “The thing I forgot, you see, is that it’s all just guesswork. You try the best you can to make sure that you’re doing the right thing, but at the end of the day you can’t know the outcome.” Because it’s completely true. The only thing you can do in life is make the best decision with the information you have on hand. I mean, really, if we were all psychics we would never do half the things we do. The scrunchie would never have been invented, acid washed jeans would never have seen the light of day, and Bill Cosby would have picked a different sweater.

    • Karen

      Absolutely! We make the best decisions we can with what we know now.

  • Holly

    I was also fearless when I was younger. Decisions?! Bah – I laugh in the face of choice!

    Then I married my first husband. I was only 20. I learned a lot, don’t get me wrong. But I’ve spent days that could fill years lamenting that decision. Somewhere in regret I found fear. I’ve since then second guessed a lot of my choices. I’ve made other bad decisions because of fear. I’d say a choice is a choice, neither bad nor good. When you choose out of fear instead of from your gut I think those are bad choices.

    I hate being stuck and it makes me cranky-pants. This is something I’m working on. To me it’s harder to make gut decisions when you are making choices for 2 people (in our case 3 because I have a kid). What really is helps when you have someone who has your back or agrees with you most of the time (thanks FH for being amazing!). So, I guess I have some walls to paint while planning a wedding instead of waiting until the end of the year; probably a good diversion anyway.

    P.s. I was eating olives – that I requested special – while I read this. That made me LOL.

  • Kater

    “In the moment all I knew was that coming home to that bare-walled room every day made me feel like burning the place down.” – a nice dose of hilarity/perspective as I’m currently feeling the same way about a living room rug & a bathroom paint color (in a rental house where we’ll only be for a few more months). Great post, love reading sharply written stuff by smart people.

  • Meghan

    “We were watching and waiting for this perfect point when we could start doing things again. When we would somehow magically know that this was the right decision.

    The thing I forgot, you see, is that it’s all just guesswork.”

    THIS. Thank you!!

  • NTB

    “The thing I forgot, you see, is that it’s all just guesswork. You try the best you can to make sure that you’re doing the right thing, but at the end of the day you can’t know the outcome.”

    Yep, pretty much. My parents always told me that the things I would worry about in life would probably never happen. It’s the things we DON’T worry about that can catch us off guard and make us wonder…’wow, I never thought this would happen to me…’ or ‘wow, I never would have imagined my life would turn out this way…’ for better or worse.

    I have this semi-grand idea that we will buy a house in a year or two, then have a couple of kids two years after that, but who knows? So much could change between now and then; so much could happen (both good and bad.) I look back on my college days and think that if someone told me that my life would be what it is right now, I would think they were nuts. The frustrations involved in ‘just getting settled as a married couple’ are kind of getting old. We want to be financially stable; we want more routine and more predictability.

    Alas, without a crystal ball, being able to foresee our future and how things will work out is impossible; we make plans with the best intentions, but as John Lennon said in that great song of his….’life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…”

    • Katherine

      “if someone told me that my life would be what it is right now, I would think they were nuts.” THIS!!!! I never in a million years would have thought my life would have turned out the way it has so far (or at least the last 6 years of it, LOL), and you know what? All things considered, it’s pretty damn amazing. No, we don’t own a house yet, are on a shoestring budget, we’re on an-almost-two-year schedule between us getting engaged & actually getting married in 9/2014, and I’m driving an almost 10-year-old car that is starting to slide into the grave. But I’m in love with my best friend of over 20 years, and getting married in a place that has held so much significance for me for my entire life I get giddy just thinking about it. We both have stable jobs, a decent apartment, and family and friends close by. Just goes to show you that sometimes life is even better than what you thought it could be, even when it’s not perfect.

  • Sara

    I had the same reaction moving out of the country – sounds fun, let’s do it, holy crap am I in Egypt? – and the same types of hesitations now. I’m not married, so some of this doesn’t apply. But in a whole nother sense, everything does. I’m a worrier. I tend to examine every major decision without a deadline, using a magnifying glass and finding every con of each side. Should I stay in this job? Should I get a better couch? Should I buy a place or continue to rent? Should I move out of state?

    Decisions with a short deadline are easy – gut instincts haven’t steered me wrong. Give me 24 hours to make a decision, and I’m your girl. Any longer and I start seeing the cracks in that original instinct. Its also how I took multiple choice tests in school – first guess, no double checking (except to make sure I had actually answered the questions) because otherwise I ended up freaking out at the end of the test.

  • OneMoreMeg

    This is really what I needed today. I’ve recently decided to leave my job at the start of April due to the toll it’s taking on my health. Is the timing perfect? Uh, well, no, but I don’t think there is such a thing as the perfect time to choose to be unemployed. But it is time to hold tight to my supportive fiancé and take a leap of faith.

  • Emilie

    I’m still trying to figure out how to reconcile my tendency to spontaneously go to Disney World or decide sleep outside in a hammock (just because) with my fiance’s tendency to plan, budget, and set very specific goals. I’m have a lot of anxiety about how this’ll work when we merge lives. And finances. I know one of the beautiful things about our relationship is that we are so different, and I really value the ways in which we’re not the same. Anyway, really unsure how to feel about it. Do I mourn my life as it’s been changing? Does it have to change? Should I try and figure out how to maintain my more adventurous spirit? Do I drag him along for the ride? Or do I go into marriage with hopes it won’t change anything. Ugh. What does it look like to meet in the middle? Must we meet in the middle? Or can life continue as is?

    • Rebecca

      So, I can say from experience that deciding to spend three months in India, leaving your person behind, will definitely make you feel like you are independent and still your own person, and coming back will definitely make you appreciate how nice it is to be an “us” rather than an “I” all the time.

      However, I really recommend a less extreme method perhaps involving only going a quarter of the world away for maybe a week or two. I’m pretty sure that would have worked fine.

      Which is to say- sometimes you do your own thing, sometime you do something in the middle, sometimes you do his thing. But by no means should you be less yourself- that’s the person your fiance wants to marry!

  • http://smazzle.blogspot.com casey

    I posted about this yesterday, but listen to Mandy Patinkin’s interview on Q with Gian Ghomeshi (just the last 2 minutes of the 27 minute interview. He’s brilliant on fear – don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, acknowledge it, sit with it, and then act in spite of it.

    Mandy Patinkin on Fear

    I love it so much. Clearly, since I’ve shared it here twice. I really connected with it given my husband is about to quit his day job and buy a franchise. Cue deep breaths. And fear sitting on my shoulder.

  • marbella

    This is the perfect post for me today! I just got home after a counselling session where we were talking about ‘analysis paralysis’ and how I feel compelled to over think everything in an attempt to be prepared for any eventuality, and how it is now crippling me in feeling I need to know ‘when will be the perfect time’ for us to have kids. After making a transatlantic move 6 yrs ago, it seemed like it shouldn’t be that hard for us to move across the US at the end of last year. But it actually brought up a ton of anxiety that had been festering for a while and sent me into a horrible downward spiral. Thankfully I found a wonderful bunch of professionals (massage, acupuncture and CB therapist) to help me start to pull myself out of it. Thanks for a great post!

  • http://www.doomedforhappiness.blogspot.com Shana

    oh man.. I LOVE this. I’m going to make a list of things I’ve been putting off and just do them.

  • SJ

    When I moved to this country to be with my fiance, I practically bounded onto the plane without a second thought. That’s just the way I was — I had already moved around a ton to live and travel.
    Four years later, though, I’m a ball of stress. I’ve had a terrible time living here, and become so anxious and sad that I barely recognize myself. Yet now that we have a chance to move on together, I’m nervous! I want to get out of this country and start a new life, but I’m so afraid to be burned again by making a bad life altering decision, and get stuck thinking in a loop of “better the devil I know…” and “What if….” I’ve become a fearful person due to this experience, and I worry that I will never get back to myself.
    Also, olives are gross. Speaking as somebody who lives in the Middle East.

  • http://fourfeeteightpaws.blogspot.com/ Rowan

    I <3 this post. The feeling of waiting and waiting for your life to start and being so frustrated was where I was for about three years. I can see it now in hindsight but while in the middle of it it is hard to identify.

    Along while back a wedding graduate (I can't remember which one) said something along the lines of: yes you have a lot of choices in your wedding (e.g., white flowers vs. pink flowers), but on the day you don't see all those choices lined up next to each other, you only see the white flowers and you'll love them. I try to remember that when making a choice.

    My mom is also the kind of person who regrets every choice she makes. If she wrote a memoir it would be called "I should have had the short ribs." No matter what she picks, later she thinks she should have picked the other. It drives me crazy! I try not to rethink the choices we've made, trusting that we made the best decision we could with all the information we had. I think this is all you can do.

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