Beware! Timelines and Red Flags

In the midst of my divorce, I attended a good friend’s baby shower. As I talked to a younger guest about her boyfriend, her desire to get engaged, and her frustration that she wasn’t yet, I could sense in her the same discontentment which had plagued me in my 20s.

Despite my own sadness and confusion, I gave her the best advice I could muster at the time, “Don’t let your personal timeline ruin the present. Mine screwed me.”

In my case, my personal timeline had not only ruined my present but my foreseeable future.

Prior to filing for divorce and throughout much of the divorce process, I beat myself up about the choices that had led me to this place. My therapist and friends offered comfort. How could you have ever known this would happen? He said all the right things. We were all taken in by him.

And for the most part, they were correct. Most people grow up significantly between their 20s and 40s; my husband did not. During courtship, my husband had said all the words I wanted to hear. He said he wanted to be a partner. He said he wanted children.

Yet, in the quiet moments of reflection that are hard to bear when you are struggling with grief and loss, I had to admit the truth to myself. While my husband had betrayed the marriage in too many ways to count, I was also complicit in my divorce.

In my 20s, I secured my career, I traveled and had a great social life. It should have been enough, but I was desperate to get married and “start my life.” I watched most of my friends meet significant others and settle down, and I still was single.

Then when I was 28, my husband came along. He was in my social circle, he was romantic and spontaneous and said all the right things. It seemed perfect. My friends thought it was perfect. We quickly became a couple, and it seemed so easy.

But the truth is, it should have been closer to perfection than it was. It should have been easier than it was. There were numerous red flags. They were blood red and being waved directly in my path. Reckless behavior. Excessiveness. Financial irresponsibility.

There were numerous red flags. They were blood red and being waved directly in my path. I chose to ignore them. I chose to ignore them because I had a bigger plan – a timeline that stretched before me with marriage, a dog, a house, and children. And I was behind schedule.

I have had time to revise my advice: acknowledge the red flags and abandon the timeline. You cannot schedule finding a good partner. And a timeline cannot make an inferior one someone he is not.