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When The Five-Year Plan Misses The Point


When The Five Year Plan Misses The Point | A Practical Wedding

by LIZ (SINCE 1982)

Two weeks after our first kiss, my gent and I started apartment shopping. As someone who plans everything down to my breakfasts five years in advance, this was somewhat out of character for me.

“Have you thought about this, honey?” my mom asked when I called to tell her I was moving. “I’m happy that you’re happy, but what do you know about him? Have you really considered the worst-case scenario?”

I understood her hesitation. The previous year had seen me lose my housing with less than a week of warning, leave behind everything but what I could carry, and move to the first room Craigslist turned up within my bookstore-serf budget, putting a river and a ninety-minute train ride between me and the nearest of my friends. The ATM at the corner deli dispensed cash in $5 increments. My new digs came with a friendly neighborhood flasher and a police force who maintained that armed robbery was a logical consequence of walking on a well-trafficked street at 4:00pm.

I had started over in this place that felt nothing like a home because my relationship had ended, and in the ugliness of that ending I had had to scramble to find somewhere else to sleep. For once in my life, I had leaped before establishing a firm place to land.

And now? Why did I feel compelled to do something that looked a heck of a lot like repeating my mistake, taking another reckless leap—this time toward someone, rather than away? If this new and precious thing between us were to prove illusory or unsustainable, R and I would need to un-combine our books and our music, agree on custody of any shared possessions, and negotiate who would stay and who would go—all while we might be angry and hurt and not particularly wanting the best for each other. Still, I told myself, it was only logistics. I could figure it out; I’d taken the applied course in how to handle all of this. I had contingency plans upon contingency plans. I had flow charts. I could protect myself this time.

But thinking about it further, I wondered if a lack of planning had truly been my problem in the first place. I had made plans before: chosen a man who was great on paper, mapped out how our relationship would progress. I had insisted we wait a prudent two years before cohabiting, thinking of it as some sort of insurance against the kind of disastrous result well-meaning aunties predict for couples who “live in sin”; meanwhile, I had ignored every misgiving, every gut feeling during those years that might have told me we weren’t right for each other. Lying awake in my sad little sublet, listening to the kids fighting on the corner, I saw how miserably I had failed to protect myself in any way that counted. What kept me up at night wasn’t the loss of material goods or the disruption of moving out, it was the fact that my relationship was over: the feelings of anger and grief; the humiliating awareness that I should have known better; the bewildering sense that even though I wasn’t in love anymore I missed that love terribly; the overwhelming prospect of learning to exist in the world by myself again. And I realized that there wasn’t a flow chart in the world that could mitigate that risk if I continued to insist on following the arrows from A to B without acknowledging that I might not have accounted for every possible input. I had been dealing in theory, while ignoring the reality that even the most perfectly drafted plan can, and sometimes must, change when actually executed. I had been living according to decisions I had made years before at the expense of what my gut—my heart—had been telling me.

And so, when R and I almost immediately started talking about moving in together, I pondered the details that were inclining me so strongly toward a decision I never would have considered in years past. I told my mother that 1) after a year of friendship I did know many facts about R, but that what was relevant was the respect, thoughtfulness, and care he had demonstrated in even our smallest interactions from the day we met; and 2) that I had thought quite a bit about the worst-case scenario, and realized that it had very little to do with my housing arrangements, after all.

Three weeks after our first kiss, we signed a lease. I moved in resolving to keep my eyes open, to listen to both my head and my heart, and to make a little space in my plan for variables—maybe even for collaboration. Eight years later, in the same little apartment in Brooklyn, we’ve weathered our share of unforeseen challenges, from family tragedy to long-term unemployment. My five-year plan, no longer the rigid thing it was at age eighteen or twenty-two, has evolved into a shared plan for the future—one with plenty of room for growth, for change, and for the unknowns that we will continue to face together. And every day he shows me how right I was to take the leap.

Photos by the incomparable Monica of Hart & Sol East (APW Sponsor)

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  • http://www.butternutb.wordpress.com Butternut B

    I am a serial five-year-planner. I moved in with my boyfriend aged 19, after being together for a year. We’re going strong but my mother is -not- happy!

    http://www.butternutb.wordpress.com

  • Anonymous

    “I had ignored every misgiving, every gut feeling during those years that might have told me we weren’t right for each other.”

    This. This is the only place regret lives in my heart. It’s hard sometimes to accept how unhappy I was willing to be for so long.

    Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful story. When one starts over and everything is new and uncharted, suddenly everything, every choice can be seen as a risk. Or one can choose to see it as just living. I chose to pretend there were no risks or that the risks were small. They weren’t small, at least not for my tender heart. But I lack bravery so I pretended they weren’t really risks. No big deal if he doesn’t fall in love with me back, no big deal if we move in together and I have to move out again. No big deal if he breaks my heart. If you’re lucky like me, you get this as payment for risk taking:

    “And every day he shows me how right I was to take the leap.”

    Happens for me too and I couldn’t be more grateful. I try and tell him that a lot too because he changed my life and beliefs in what was possible.

    • http://www.superfantastic.blogs.com Superfantastic

      “It’s hard sometimes to accept how unhappy I was willing to be for so long.” Augh, yes.

      I think when I met my husband, I could tell that whether he was right for me or not, he was extraordinary. So the risk of never knowing whether we cold have been good together felt bigger than the risks associated with going all in to find out.

      • Anonymous

        For me there was the moment I thought no matter what, he was who I chose to be the father of my children and I felt confident I wouldn’t regret that decision. Then I realized if I was sure he’d love our children so much, maybe what everyone had been telling me was true, maybe he loved me that much too. Still trying to believe in it, but having game changing thoughts about stuff definitely helps in risk taking.

        • Courtney

          My husband and I had a breakup while we were dating in college. I remember tearfully admitting to my roommate that what I was most upset about is that my kids wouldn’t have him as a dad.

          Thankfully, we reconciled a year later and are now happily looking forward to the day that we will have children together. I still have my moments of “how can this wonderful person love ME this much?” but that belief that he will adore our kids helps me believe he can adore me, too.

    • http://irvingplace.net Kayjayoh

      “I had ignored every misgiving, every gut feeling during those years that might have told me we weren’t right for each other.”

      “This. This is the only place regret lives in my heart. It’s hard sometimes to accept how unhappy I was willing to be for so long.”

      Yes to both of these. My last LTR was so full of red flags and warnings that I should have broken things off within a couple of weeks. Instead I spend 2 years (and two breakups) in a mentally abusive relationship and then about 5 years recovering from it. It did leave me wary when starting a new relationship. I watched for red flags, for unease. I found none. I’m relaxed and happy now in a way I’d never been with my ex.

      I do try not to beat myself up for ignoring the warning signs. I remind myself of the things I learned, and how ever choice I made in the past, for good or ill, led up to where I am now: which is a pretty good place to be in.

  • berdz

    All of this. So much this. And also “the humiliating awareness that I should have known better”. It’s been years, and I still feel that sting.

    • Anonny

      Wow, so timely…

      I, too, had the world-shaken-upside-down experience of an abrupt ending to a long-term, cohabiting relationship that I had understood to be the mutual building of a future together. I, too, had to abruptly relocate, start over and rebuild in a place that didn’t feel my own, because my life was unrecognizable. I, too, had about a million red flags… particularly in the last year of what had been a five-year long relationship, but, really, little, randomly dropped red flags all along…almost from the beginning of my relocating to be with him. I, too, had the experience in the end of knowing that things were no longer tenable, but feeling humiliated, made the fool, stupid for choosing to ignore the misgivings, both little and large, that wiggled into my consciousness. I chose to sweep them under the rug, because I was so in love with the idea of “our story” working out. You put it perfectly…I grieved for the love that was lost, even though it was no longer there anymore, and I lived with it for too, long, knowing in my heart it was gone.

      I, too, met someone whose kindness, compassion, and character stood out ot me as remarkable, and we became close very, very quickly…and quickly progressed to talking cohabiting. I was so afraid of making the same mistake twice…but we are now newly engaged, and I can see more clearly how my previous experience has helped me NOT to make the same mistakes again and again. I was very wary when “jumping” into a new relationship, and struggled with whether I was showing good judgment, and with whether others would judge me for potentially “making the same mistake twice.” They didn’t, though. Everyone who loves me knew better than I that this was not the same guy, not the same relationship. I am definitely not regretting taking the leap.

      I agree that my choices and losses put me where I am, now, which is a good place to be, even if the getting there was a hard road.

  • http://fancystephanie.wordpress.com Stephanie

    “What kept me up at night wasn’t the loss of material goods or the disruption of moving out, it was the fact that my relationship was over: the feelings of anger and grief; the humiliating awareness that I should have known better; the bewildering sense that even though I wasn’t in love anymore I missed that love terribly; the overwhelming prospect of learning to exist in the world by myself again.”

    Oh dear God YES. I am so there right now.

  • Pingback: Anger, Grief, and Leaps of Faith | Fancy Stephanie

  • ART

    Sometimes I read these posts and think, hm, did I write and submit this in my sleep? :) Plans are nothing, planning is everything.

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  • http://Brokensaucer.blogspot.com Sera

    One thing I have learned in the last five months is that I must trust my gut. I’ve never been good at the five year plan or the one year plan, but when I trust my gut I am never wrong, and when I ignore it, things become worse and worse until the ground crumbles underneath me. Your story resonates with me so much. It’s truly beautiful.
    After the third date, I knew I would marry my husband. It took us eight years, but still I knew. And now we’ve been married for almost four and I love him more everyday.