Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | January 13, 2010

Resolution #3: Eyes on the Prize

The more details of my life I put here, the more inevitable it becomes that someone who knows me will stumble upon this blog by accident and figure out who I am.

But they’ll have to read the whole thing before they can amass that many clues, so maybe I’m safe. And why would they stumble upon a blog that is primarily concerned with divorce (and soon, I hope, with life after divorce)? Hmmm?

Some more about me:

  • I was a dual major as an undergrad, and one of my majors was: History.
  • My masters degree was in: Political Science. (My concentration was International Relations.)
  • I was an editor at a college student-run, weekly news magazine. I was a news director at a commercial radio station.

In short, I have, on occasion, given thought to politics. I’m not a politics nerd by any stretch (although a friend of mine from University would often refer to me as a ‘history nerd’) but I am definitely a student of the human condition. It’s amazing the patterns you begin to see when you look at the cycles of history, of politics on the international scale, and of politics at the local level.

I have long felt that many of the most divisive issues in society (any society, any time) come down to people becoming hopelessly caught up in the means of attaining a certain goal, while they lose site of the goal itself. I could give many, many examples, but I am certain I’d end up offending someone with each example I give, and that is not my desire.

So let me instead just give one quick example: a group of people become concerned about the number of unwed teen pregnancies in their society. In an effort to curb the trend, they arrive at the conclusion that the best way to combat this phenomenon is to advocate abstinence-only sex education programs. They also discourage the distribution of contraceptives to minors under the belief that freely available contraceptives will only encourage teens to think that pre-marital sex is okay, which in turn could lead to more teenagers having sex, which in turn could lead to a higher rate in teen pregnancy.

Years later, when studies reveal that communities that follow these policies have a higher rate of teen pregnancy than communities that freely distribute contraceptives to teens, the groups that advocated these policies become more entrenched rather than adopt a new stance. They become even more committed to the notion that society must stick with abstinence-only sex education, and make contraceptives more difficult for teens to obtain.

[As an aside, let me say that I do think it’s a shame that, in the US, at least, our society seems to demonize sex while it tacitly embraces violence. I wonder what would happen if it were the other way around.]

Again, this is one example. I hope that you, dear reader, understand that my point isn’t specifically about this particular issue (an issue that is far more complex than the brief ideas I’ve sketched here), but rather about the trend in general among people to become fixated on means to the exclusion of the originally desired goals. Think about any political issue about which you have strong views. Do you focus on the means rather than the ends?

Marriage, as a social construct, is supposed to be a means to an end. For society, it is theoretically supposed to help build strong family units which may then, in turn, build robust societies. [As a history major, I assure you that the difference between theory and practice is far greater in practice than in theory.] For individuals, the institution of marriage could serve as a means to any number of ends.

As I’ve stated elsewhere on this blog, I always wanted to have kids of my own and to help raise them to be good people who would help leave the people on this planet a little better off for their having been here. I’ve wanted to build a big, happy family. Toward this end, I got married.

And somewhere along the way, my focus became the marriage.

(Must preserve the marriage. Must preserve the marriage.)

Which is all fine and wonderful on the surface, and my wife and I did manage to begin raising kids of our own, but we weren’t building a big happy family. We were building a big, stressed-out family. And we haven’t been modeling the kind of lives I’d like my children to emulate. For example,

To value love in all it’s many forms — romantic as well as platonic, fraternal, and so on.

To choose love over fear.

To value happiness.

To value respect.

By insisting upon doing everything I could to stay married to someone who didn’t respect me, showed no affection for me (however much she may have loved me, in the platonic sense), and who exemplified stoicism over happiness, I ended up thwarting my original goals.

Instead of the marriage serving us, we were serving the marriage.

While this notion has been percolating in my brain for a while, a recent post by jolene1079 at the “To Be Determined” blog brought it all to a point for me. In her post, she’s talking about dating, but the principle is the same. If the path you are on isn’t getting you where you need to go, then you need to choose another path.

(Or, as I put it in my comment on her post: if the tool you are using isn’t working for you, set it aside.)

You might come back to it later. You might not. But the important point is this:

Don’t fixate on the means. Instead, keep your eyes on the prize.

I still want to build a big, happy family. But I’m not fixated on the shape and size of that family — where it’s located, or who is included. I still want to raise happy, healthy kids. I still want to model for them happy, healthy behaviors — including a happy, healthy, affectionate, romantic love relationship. My marriage to Penny was never going to be a tool to help build that life. And so, I need to let it go.

But there’s one last point in all this that’s also worth considering. What’s true of our marriage is also true of our divorce. Divorce is a tool. To the extent that it helps me get to my goals, so much the better. But I must not fixate on the divorce. The divorce is not the end goal. It is merely a means toward a greater end. In order to achieve the best possible outcome, I need to keep my eyes on the prize.

What do I do, in this divorce and beyond, that helps me to get to my goals?

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Responses

  1. Great post. I think that when you’re in the middle of a divorce, it’s all too easy to get fixated on it, rather than on the end goal. Thanks for the reminder of what’s truly important in this whole process.

  2. Wow, you never cease to amaze me with your posts (and thanks for the shout-out to my post!)…divorce IS a tool, you are SO right, and it is the best outcome towards the prize/goal…I couldn’t agree more. More inspirations for future posts…I’ll give you credit, don’t worry 😉

  3. It’s so true…keeping the eye on the prize is something I, too, and working on. Divorce is simply one step on your journey to that end.

    As always, thinking of you…

  4. It’s a minor point, but I’m not convinced that the people who want abstinence-only sex education are really out to stop teen pregnancy. They simply want to promote abstinence for its own sake, and use teen pregnancy as an excuse.

    (And I totally agree about the sex/violence dichotomy. It’s really a shame.)

    I like the toolbox analogy. And the idea that while a tool may not be useful now, you may need to come back to it once the situation changes.

    I wonder if the most immediate “prize” you need right now is to get laid! 🙂

  5. As an aside, let me say that I do think it’s a shame that, in the US, at least, our society seems to demonize sex while it tacitly embraces violence. I wonder what would happen if it were the other way around.

    Hells to the yeah. Excellent point.

    But more on topic… I agree with you. Which is another reason why I enjoy studying A Course in Miracles so much. In ACIM, the focus, the “goal” if you will, is the content rather than the form.

    The content = happiness, peace, contentment

    The form could be anything. If you continually aim for that content, you will find it – just as you would reach goals that you aim for. The difference is that when the content isn’t serving you, you are more apt to release the form, i.e. the relationship that isn’t working.

    It sounds like this is the realization that you’ve had in your marriage. Keep the same thoughts as you progress through your divorce and after.

    Great post!

  6. Even though I am about as far from being in the middle of a divorce as a person could get, I just had an “aha moment”, pertaining to my love life, as I read this post and all of the very insightful comments.

    THANK YOU!

    P.S. I also continue to be in awe of how quickly you’ve attracted the smartest bloggers on earth to read and comment on your blog.

  7. I think when you are in the process of divorce, divorce IS the goal. It was hard for me to put my energy into anything else before I’d got my life in order. Once you’re divorced, then I agree completely … what is that you want from this next phase of your life?

    I agree that divorce opens your mind to what a family might look like – I’ve talked to my son about that several times since my divorce. We are still a family, we’re just not mom, dad, two kids under the same roof. And there are several ways you could have a big, happy family, with or without a committed partner.

  8. Just wanted to say that I enjoy your blog. I am 40.5 (blame the kids) father who has been using his own blog for an outlet for years.

    The one thing that I consistently find in the blogosphere is more proof that we all face the same challenges. It is a crazy world at times.

  9. I think that the divorce is a goal in addition to a means. What comes out of that divorce will affect the tone of your life for a great number of years to come. And in the moment you might feel one way…I’m okay with this amount of child support or I’m okay with you taking all the furniture…because you want to get beyond the divorce and start finding happiness without Penny. But those decisions will affect you for a really long time given that you have young children. I have a friend who recently ended child support. His daughter was 2 when they split and it is like a huge rock has been lifted from his shoulders. They had one child. More children. More child support.

    I am NOT advocating that you don’t pay child support. I’m just using that as an easy example to show that divorce is a goal in itself. The way you split the time you each have the children. How you split holidays.

    Just some disjointed thoughts..my first try at this post was better but it disappeared somewhere…

  10. Your otherwise excellent post glossed over WHY people become hopelessly caught up. Your example of the abstinence movement is an excellent choice, for they seek to impose beliefs upon reality without backing it up with knowledge. Your description of your relationship with Penny also fits my definition. Pardon me while I ramble through an attempt to define what I state.

    “How it should be” affects nothing more than marriage in our lives. We know little about maintaining relationships until we get married, because for relationships, marriage is “how it should be”. The images of a successful marriage are buried under the monumental effort of creating a marriage, the wedding. If the amount of information regarding wedding planning were to be as accessible for people seeking to understand relationships, a lot of questions might well be raised as to whether “how it should be” is truly the best thing to do. For instance, was not getting married too vile to consider for Penny when she settled for you (your words, as I recall)? I don’t get the sense that she ever thought about her actions in this light, for being married to someone was “how it should be” and maybe she didn’t see any better prospects on her horizon.

    Despite American openness regarding sex, for too many gaining the necessary knowledge of the role sex plays in a relationship is hampered by beliefs of “how it should be”. We are not to explore sex outside of marriage (despite many doing so) because that is NOT “how it should be”. Those whose youthful curiosity strays too far outside these limits might find themselves obligated to follow the path of “how it should be” whether or not they are ready. I know this happens, for it is why a family member got disastrously married the first time. Her views on “how it should be” made two families rather miserable for several years. The resulting dissolution only made it worse.

    Defaulting to a position of “how it should be” is so much easier than taking action to ensure that things really are as they should be. It allows for a more instant gratification under the deluded hope that things will work out in the end (another item that falls under “how it should be”). Reward is seen as an entitlement, and the labor necessary to truly earn that reward is seen as an unnecessary and costly time expense. So much better to trust that “how it should be” will be observed by all involved for mutual advantage. Would that this were so. We would all be much happier in our lives.

    I don’t know if this helped, but I got it off my brain.

  11. Seriously, you should watch Up in the Air. It will resonate with you.

    Visualize what you want your life to look like after the divorce. I think you are a visual person based on your writing style. If you can picture it, the dream seems much more possible.

  12. […] My goal, as stated in an earlier post, was to have a blueprint in place for our divorce no later than the end of March — to have our separation at least mutually “recognized” by then — and to be well and truly living in separate households no later than the end of June (although sooner, in both cases, is better). I committed to these deadlines (and others, which have already been completed) in that earlier post, and have kept my eyes on the prize. […]

  13. […] I was focused. I kept my eyes on the prize. […]

  14. I wonder what Penny would say if she had a blog? I’ve always been curious about that.

    I’m fascinated by your political science and history degrees. I think you’ve mentioned them before. If I could go back in time and go to university, I’d take the exact same thing. Actually, I keep meaning to ask my brother to give me his history text books just so I can read them for fun. I didn’t appreciate that stuff back then.


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