When Did This Happen?

These past two months have been two of the roughest months of my life. All of a sudden, everything I had thought was true about my world and my role in it has changed completely upside-down, and things are suddenly a lot different than they once were. I’ve gone from sure and certain knowledge that I would never marry, let alone live in a beautiful house with an incredible wife, to being deep in the midst of planning not only a wedding but also the house that my fiancé and I are building together.

Her house. Our house.

Her patch of dirt. Ours.

My future alone.

Our future together.

It’s just one of those things that I had assumed would never be a part of my life. I used to get very depressed about what I thought was true, that I would never marry; but then I got used to the idea, and was even happy about it. Then along came Jennifer who, in her refreshingly straightforward way, said, "It’s no longer your own life, Richard. You now share it with me, the same way that I share my life with you."

Frankly, it was an impossible dream that I was happy fantasizing about, and not really worrying about making come true.

Upside down. Topsy-turvy.

It’s not as though my upcoming marriage to Jennifer is the only area in my life where major, hoped-for-but-unexpected-anyway goals have been achieved. In the area of my personal health, I had assumed that I was doomed to be very overweight for the rest of my life. Then I went and joined an exercise program through the hospital, hoing mostly just to bring down my blood pressure, and wound up losing something like twenty pounds in six weeks. Certainly nothing to sneeze at. And certainly an achievment that I’m quite proud of.

And achieving these goals has given me tons of courage to take on the other major area of my life where I’ve usually been lax: my career. And with lots of encouragement from friends, family, family of friends, and a surprisingly supportive boss, I’ve made surprising headway in advancing my career; I’ve learned, for example, to avoid headhunters and go straight to the employers themselves, which has gotten me much better results. I’ve found that I have a lot more to offer than I had originally thought. And I’ve learned that things just aren’t as bad as they seem.

In a way, major achievements and victories in your life can be just as frightening and difficult to cope with as major losses. Either way, you may find that the patterns and ways that you had used to handle your life before are no longer adequate, and you must now find new ways of doing things. And that can be frightening: what if the new ways don’t work? What if I try something and I fail? If I start doing things in a new way, what happens to that part of my life which was so comfortable doing things the old way?

At some point, though, you’re going to have to simply bite the bullet and come to grips with the fact that the old ways aren’t going to work any more, that you need new ways of doing things and new ways of being. You need to let go of the old ways, move away from what’s comfortable and familiar, and come to grips with the new. And, I think, that’s a large part of growing up.

Not everyone does that. Some of us choose a set path early on in life, and do things in one way forever. Sometimes the old ways stop working and start leading only to failure, but it’s simply easier to hang on to what you know, blaming the world around you for your misery, not understanding that it’s the choices that you continue to make that place you where you are now.

I’m in a strange place. I’ve never been this happy before in my life: I’ve found the person who fills that hole inside my being that I didn’t even know was there, and who completes me in ways I never even thought were possible. But on the other hand, there are more changes happening now in my life than have ever happened at any one time before, and it’s sometimes a bit overwhelming. Fortunately, I know I’m quite ready for it, and I know that when it’s all over — if it is ever over — my life will be much better than it ever has before.

So what I find myself wondering is this: when did my priorities suddenly shift? When did I become a person who thinks about mortgages and career advancement more often than he does about role-playing games and eating cold pizza until the wee hours of the morning? Wasn’t it just last week that my first roommate and I were wandering all over the UC Davis campus singing Monty Python’s "Lumberjack Song" at the top of our lungs? Not, of course, that I’ve stopped doing those things altoghether; it’s just that my values have changed, my priorities have shifted, and my life has moved on.

What I find myself asking most often is this: when did I start growing up?

There are, of course, those people who claim that I am no closer to being a mature adult now than I was at the age of three (hi, Mom!). But who cares what they think? Ultimately, my life isn’t being led for them. And now it’s no longer being led for myself, either. And that is probably the best part of the whole process.