There’s a common saying, one that we use at work quite often. “Plan for the best, but prepare for the worst.” The idea is that you develop your plan with the goal of success, but with enough caveats to fix something if the worst outcome happens. When we start working on a project, one of the things we ask every time is “What is the worst that can happen here?” Maybe the reason that I’m good at my job, good at thinking in this problem-solving manner, is because that is a question I have asked myself all of my life. The problem, in my life, at least, is that I focus too much on the worst outcome, and don’t spend enough time planning for the best one.
There is a part of me that always expects the worst. It sees the worst side of people, expects the worst behavior from them, expects every situation to break in the wrong direction. Because of this, I tend to keep people at a distance. I show them the face they expect to see, and don’t let them in. Over time, they can build a trust with me, and I’ll gradually let them closer, show them more of me, be an actual friend with them. This behavior leads to me having a very small circle of friends, but also a tremendous bond with those I keep close. But even then, that part of me still exists, still expects things to go wrong at some point.
That behavior carries over into my romantic relationships, as well. I always feel like I’m not good enough for the person I’m with. I feel like they’re going to realize at any moment that they can do better, and they’ll leave me. Because of that, I keep a part of myself held back from the person who is supposed to be the most important person in my life. In the beginning of a relationship, it’s not as big a deal, because everything is still new and you’re always learning things about each other. As the relationship progresses, and time passes, there’s less new things to learn, and routines start to set in. It’s this phase of the relationship when that pessimist inside me grows louder. A constant fear that they’re growing bored of me. It leads to complacency, to me not trying to put in the effort because it’s all going to fail anyway. That’s not to say that I don’t try at all, but there’s a universe of difference between what I do and what I should do. Even why I do try, that voice is still there, criticizing and mocking.
In my marriage, I always tried to thank her after a dinner she had prepared. Cooking is something I’m bad at, and don’t enjoy, so I do appreciate when someone cooks for me. One night, after thanking her for dinner, she rolled her eyes at me. When I asked what was wrong, she said that me thanking her was rote, as if I were disingenuous. I didn’t know how to respond to that. That voice had an answer, though. “She’s already sick of your routines!” “Never thank her for dinner again!” “She’s got one foot out the door, loser!” The point of this story isn’t about her response. She could’ve had a bad day or whatever. People are allowed to be grumpy sometimes. The point is how my brain reacted to, frankly, a harmless comment. I did keep thanking her for making dinners, but every time after that night, that voice just scoffed at me, “Why are you even trying?”. Little things like this are terrible for a relationship’s health, and they begin to add up quickly. They lead to more complacency, and less interaction. I know that I should have talked with her about it, rather than face it alone. Maybe not that night, because we were both a little grumpy after that exchange (and again, it’s okay to be grumpy sometimes), but sometime shortly after. But I never did. I let it fester.
I hesitated to share that story. I don’t want to cast her in a negative light, and it would be easy for someone to point a finger and say that her response was uncalled for. Don’t do that. I don’t blame her for that. The mere fact that I don’t know why she was in a bad mood should show that I’m the one at fault here. I should have asked her what was wrong. Regardless, people are allowed to have bad days and be grumpy sometimes. Was she perfect? No. Are you perfect? No. Am I perfect? I think we all know the answer to that by now. This place isn’t pointing fingers at anyone but myself.
The point of that story, though, was to show how something so small could affect me for years. An almost nightly reminder of how I’m preparing myself for the worst outcome. When you live your life expecting the worst, preparing for it, it begins to take a toll on you, and it becomes easier and easier to simply accept that the worst is coming, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it. Why should you even try at that point? Just let it happen. Lie down, and let the worst roll right over you. I can’t keep living my life like this. Even now, though, that voice is whispering to me. “You’re never going to change.” “Why bother? You’ve already lost her.”
I may never be able to silence that voice, but I certainly need to learn how to ignore it.