I met a man, I’ll call him Martin, who was devastated about how his marriage had ended. “After 30 years and 2 kids,” he said, looking baffled, “my wife left me for another woman. How could I not know she was gay?”
“What’s the worst thing about this loss for you?” I asked.
“It’s bad enough that my marriage is over. We never had a close physical relationship anyway. I figured that was just the way my wife was and I didn’t push it. But now I question my ability to see what’s right in front of my eyes. Maybe I’m clueless about everyone I meet.”
Martin felt that his understanding of the world had been destroyed.
“Not only that,” he said, “but I’ve gone over everything we ever did together in those 30 years. My wife turned out to be a complete stranger. My whole marriage was a lie. Not only is my future gone, but my entire past has been wiped out.”
A woman, I’ll call her Claire, told me she’d just found out that her husband had been having an affair with another woman since before he even married her.
“What’s wrong with me?” Claire asked. “The clues were all there. Now that I look back on everything, I see how obvious it was. He acted differently when she was around us. He had unexplained times when he didn’t answer the phone, or was late coming home from work. I’m a complete idiot.”
I remembered something a friend said to me when I was blaming myself for what I knew were bad choices in a failed relationship. My friend said, “There will be people in your life who say unkind things to you and judge you harshly. Don’t be one of those people. Be a friend to yourself, not an enemy.”
I told Claire the same thing.
“The reason you didn’t see the clues,” I said, “is because you’re trustworthy yourself and you believe that other people are the same. Would you rather live your life suspecting that everyone is a liar? Or would you rather assume the best of them and then deal with it when they disappoint you?”
Claire shook her head, confused. “But there has to be something wrong with me. The same thing happened with a guy I was engaged to before I met my husband. I should have known better.”
A therapist once told me that we all make decisions with incomplete information. “You do the best you can at the time, with what you know and what you’re capable of.”
I know that’s true. There’s no way to be sure that our judgement is worse than everyone else’s. Even if it were, would it be a useful bit of knowledge to have?
Isn’t it better to have faith in our abilities than to believe that we’re stumbling hopelessly blind through life and will never make good choices?
The best we can do is learn from the past, use that constantly evolving knowledge to walk into the future, and hope for the best.