Ryan and I can take a while to decide what to have for dinner. We have a complicated system for narrowing down movie selections. Often we rock-paper-scissor for daily choices (loser chooses).
Last year we made a lot of decisions. I was admitted to a grad school program and offered a job at an international school, and we were stuck at a crossroads: stay or go?
We hoo’ed and ha’ed for a long time. We discussed it at length. We put it aside. We made lists. We trashed the lists and tried to listen to our guts. We imagined elaborately. We acknowledged that we couldn’t accurately imagine any part of it. We asked others for advice. But none of it became any easier.
It seemed like there should have been an answer to decision-making, something married couples do so often. Keeping the job, going to school, making the move, buying the house, adopting a pet, having kids, not having kids… so many decisions needed to be made together, all of them big, life-altering decisions. And not much good advice for how to go about deciding. (can I take a quick moment to note how insanely lucky we are to be able to make these decisions?)
As we seesawed, I noticed an undercurrent in our conversations, a lot of back-and-forth of what do you want to do? I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, but also desperately wanted to know what Ryan wanted to do. If I could know what he wanted, maybe I would feel strongly for or against. I came to the realization that what I really wanted was whatever he wanted. Yes, the choices were based on my job options, but as much as I wanted to be able to make a decision and stand strong in my choice, I couldn’t bring myself to clarify my thoughts and feelings.
I was so bound to Ryan, to our partnership, to our life, and innately knew that happiness wouldn’t come from the job or the location our day-to-day life took place. Those things didn’t really matter. What mattered was that he was happy there, that we were happy there.
This recognition came with its own insecurities; it seemed imbalanced for me to find my emotions so buried beneath my perception of Ryan’s contentment. Isn’t that not allowed, as a feminist, as an independent human being?
I dealt with that thought for about half a second before I corrected myself; I found my emotions buried beneath my own desire for happiness, and my happiness is obviously linked to Ryan’s, and to our marriage. I was choosing a happy marriage over a specific job or a specific location. The issue, clearly, was that there is no way to know which path will lead to a happy marriage.
And all of these realizations were happening in my own thoughts. All the while Ryan was assuring me a billion times that he was happy with either option, that he was supportive and would love living in either location, and could find a lifestyle and job to suit him with either choice.
But what if he was saying all that because he thought it’s what I wanted?
Things can get weird when you’re in your head too much.
What do we do if what we want is so genuinely what the other person wants? And if the other person genuinely wants what we want?
I asked Ryan to decide. I was happy when he did. And in retrospect it seems like the right decision, like it was just the way things were supposed to go. It’s funny how everything fell into place after we decided.
I try to remember that feeling when we come to new decisions. When we were considering adopting a dog, we each wrote down our choice, folded it up, and opened it at the same time. Theoretically this allowed us to write down our own individual opinion without worrying what the other thought. It was agonizing and I spent a good long while trying to guess what he might write down. But it made the decision a lot easier when we both wrote “yes”.
Again, this year, when deciding whether to stay in Korea or move to Kyrgyzstan, we didn’t have a set desire for one or the other. We did the same thing as the first time: we debated, talked, waited it out. Finally we had a deadline to turn in a letter of intent and, not having heard back about job options in Korea, went with the best choice for our jobs at the time.
You’d think it would get easier with time, but it hasn’t. Even with all this practice, I still get stressed. I still get nervous and work it all up in my head as The Big Decision, even knowing through experience that in retrospect it feels right no matter what.
Making decisions together is hard. I didn’t expect it to be so hard. I thought that it would be easier with someone there to make decisions with, a partner to help clarify the pros and cons of each choice. But it’s hard truly knowing another person, even after years and years of intertwined lives. And it’s impossible to know what will happen in the future or how it will work out or how we will feel. But that’s not something to get paralyzed over (is what I repeat to myself over and over again while trying to decide).
So we let one person make the call. Or we write it down and see if we match up. Or we wait it out. It is hard every time.