self·ish [sel-fish] adjective
1. devoted to or caring only for oneself; concerned primarily with one’s own interests, benefits, welfare, etc., regardless of others.
2. characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself: selfish motives.
When you think of someone who is selfish you likely think of these things, this standard Webster’s definition. But what if, instead of someone who is concerned only with themselves, it meant what it really is? SELF-ISH: Someone who is only partially living as themselves; as a masked self. A half self, less than one is capable of being; self-like, self-ish. And then, aren’t we all, really, self-ish creatures? I know I have been that person – I am that person.
Have you ever had something happen that shook your world in a sad, chaotic way and made you take a step back to think “Whoa, something needs to change here!”? They happen for a reason, much like everything else in our lives, but my way of reasoning it out has never really dealt with why they are happening and for who’s growth and good.
My form of reasoning went like this: (laughing is strongly encouraged)
- If there’s a problem with my kids it’s because their father isn’t around
- If there’s a problem with my husband it’s because his childhood was scarred and he needs therapy
- If there’s a problem with my siblings it’s because my parents screwed them up
- If there’s a problem with my friends it’s their problem
- If there’s a problem with my marriage it’s because a) my husband was married before and the ex screwed him up, b) my husband isn’t willing to compromise, c) my husband is a jerk
Do you see a pattern? Is it any surprise my husband and I have been separated before? The bottom line is we live in a population of self-ish humans living out what they think others think they should be, do, think, feel. It is a half-life existence worth so little of our energy and attention yet we give our everything into it. Why? Somewhere within us we know this is not who we really are or even want to be but it’s just easier to go along with what we’ve always done. It’s comfortable, it’s certainly repeatable. It has predictable, albeit undesirable, results.
My husband, Chris, and I have been separated for over a month now (yes, again, for those of you keeping score and I know there are some of you). I know exactly what some of you are thinking…how can you write this? Why would you want to share this? This is, potentially, humiliating! You’re probably right – but that is your choice to feel humiliated about my story. Get over it. If I didn’t share this, it would be selfish in so many ways. If you think you knew me because we grew up together or you’ve known me for years, you didn’t. If you know who I am only recently you probably know more of the real me than I’d like. If you don’t know me at all then I hope what I am learning on this latest part of my journey helps you become a better whomever you are, or who God has intended for you to be.
Chris and I first separated after less than a year of marriage. Rife with problems, conflict, confusion, anger, we couldn’t find our way back to anything that resembled who we fell in love with. Admittedly it was in large part because we wanted to move on without going thru; neither of us wanted to go to counseling because we felt we should know what to do and how to fix all that was wrong. We didn’t, we don’t, it didn’t work. We were separated then for 7 months and it sucked. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I started a brand new job the day he moved out yet didn’t want to move on with my life. I’d been left (again), devalued (again). I’d failed at what was supposed to fix all the years of garbage life raising kids by myself and going it alone. I’d failed at marriage. Truth is we’d both failed and never should have gotten married when we did. Somehow, though, it was easier and more comfortable to believe that I was the failure and at the same time make Chris believe that he had failed me. As long as I focused on how everything had been done to me and taken from me then it wasn’t my responsibility to fix anything. Therefore, SUCCESS! Self-ish. I waited and held out long enough for Chris to say he wanted to come back. VICTORY! I win – he has to ask me to come back home and I could say yes or no. CONTROL! There was a pathetic self-satisfaction that somehow I had won the war. The entire time we were separated my focus was on hoping that he would come around to all the things he needed to fix and figure it out and decide he should fix it. He couldn’t, he didn’t, he came back self-ish and I’d done nothing to look within. Two self-ish people, for those trying to work it out, does not equal one whole person. Last time I checked marriage was between two people.
When I think back over the last five years of trying to make it work with Chris I cringe. Not only did Chris come back as an un-whole person but he came back to an un-whole person who was willing to take less than half the responsibility for the marriage. That’s like trying to build the foundation of your house on wooden pallets set on sand. I’m no architect but I’m pretty sure that’s a bad idea. When I look back over the last 17-18 years though, I realize that it’s got nothing to do with Chris at all. He is a symptom, a reaction, an outcome. The problem is my 16 year-old self.