Monday, October 06, 2008

A View Of Handling the Truth, Ready or Not

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I married for the second time back in September 2007. After my first marriage failed, I vowed I'd never remarry because the first failure was emotionally and financially catastrophic. Why go through that pain again if I didn't have to, right?

Well, I ended up meeting a man who I thought was worth the risk. It seemed like a good investment at the time - he was kind, we had a lot in common, he seemed to genuinely care for me, and I fell head over heels for him. He assured me time and time again that he wanted to be with me for the rest of our lives and pledged his fidelity to me. After thinking it over, I decided to make the investment and give marriage another shot.

Roughly six months later, my emotional investment crashed. Turns out he was, to keep with the theme, was investing with me and at least two other women. He thought he was keeping his, ahem, assets safe by making sure the women were in other states. What harm could come from diversification, I imagine he thought. One was long term - he'd been seeing her almost as long as he'd been seeing me. They even began talking about marrying in 2010. The other(s) just offered, shall we say, short term liquidity. I chose to divest and get out of his market. I can't begin to tell you how angry, embarrassed, and confused I was as I went through my separation and divorce.
Through it all, one question kept coming to mind: Why? I wondered how I let myself get taken in by someone who was not the best choice for me. I wondered how much of what he said, did, and vowed was true and how much was pure junk. I wondered if he'd said the same things, made the same vows, and pledged to love the other women the same way he'd done with me. What I've tried not to do, however, was blame the other women. It was (and still is) hard, but in the end I had to remind myself that in the end it was his actions that were wrong. (In fact, I found out the one he was involved with the longest didn't even know he was married.) The women may have had some culpability, but not as much as him. They didn't take a vow before all creation and the state to love, honor, and foresake all others with me 'til death.
I also had to remind myself that I had some culpability in this situation. There were several times when I had the nagging feeling that something wasn't right. Instead of paying attention to that gut feeling and exploring it, I chose to move forward without seriously thinking of the future. I didn't question the long term and chose to focus on the immediate moment. That was a bad emotional investment, but I went forward and ended up paying a high cost in the end. I also had to accept the fact that I may never truly know why he did what he did. I didn't (and don't) like the idea of not knowing the full truth, but in the end it's more important to learn from the mistake and move on than dwell on what may have happened to the point of emotional paralysis.
My marriage and the way it ended came to mind as I watched the news this weekend. It's funny how the financial crisis and bailout parallels my personal situation. There's so much anger, resentment, hurt, and fear in the country today based on the ongoing failures of the financial system. There's a ton of mistrust about how the bailout package will work. The panic that's setting in seems to be taking us to the point of economic paralysis. There's so much fear that things are going to get worse that things are getting worse. Just today the Dow took another tumble, falling below 10,000 because fear that the credit crisis is spreading globally. People are afraid of failing and don't trust the solution they pushed so hard to put in place, so they're pulling out of a perceived failing market - leading to more failure and mistrust. It's an ugly, downward spiral.
What's even uglier is that there doesn't seem to be is a willingness for everyone involved to accept their share of the blame. One example of this can be found in today's Washington Post. The National Urban League sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asking him to refute claims by conservative pundits that subprime mortgages to minorities led to the current financial crisis and needed bailout. According to the report, Mr. Paulson received an electronic copy but did not respond.
This is sad on several levels. First, it seems to me that it would be an unfair overstatement to lay the entire blame for the current financial mess on minority home ownership opportunities. Many people took advantage of too good to be true financing and mortgage opportunities, buying homes they couldn't afford based on the allure of easy financing and ARMs that seemed like they'd never adjust up.
Next, it seems to me that the man who now controls the purse strings for the proposed bailout should, at the very least, make some sort of public response to the letter. I'm not saying that he has to agree with the charges or disagree with them. What I am saying is that he should be willing to sit down with the National Urban League and hear them out. Their concerns have some legitimacy, and any solution to the credit and financial problems need to include open discussion about how to make sure the housing market is accessible by everyone in this country. To not respond sends a message that the Treasury Department - an arm of the federal government - either doesn't care or doesn't know how to respond to the letter. Whatever the case, that doesn't help to instill trust that our government is willing to do any and everything to resolve the ever growing problem.
Finally, it seems to me that all of us need to step up and take some ownership of this problem. My ex-husband, for whatever reason, wanted to be unfaithful. His ability to act on that want was made easier by my willingness to look past my feeling that something was wrong, and his ability to find other willing partners. Similarly, the financial system was allowed to create an unchecked, lightly regulated loan market with little regard to future cost. People were willing to buy a home that under different circumstances they would be scarcely able to afford because there was easy "buy now, pay later" credit. When the market could no longer support that model of financing, bills came due and it was time to pay the consequences.
It's time to acknowledge that we (and I mean the collective "we") helped create this situation by not being fiscally responsible ourselves, then work individually to make sure we never give into financial temptation like this again. I'm just as guilty of financial irresponsibility as the next person, indulging my urge to buy something pretty by whipping out the credit card instead of truly determining the difference between want and need. I'm not as bad off as some, but I could be a lot better financially. I also could've followed my head instead of my heart when it came to remarrying, but I didn't and ended up having to deal with the emotional fallout. The good thing about this is learning from the situation and it's aftermath, making the pledge to improve instead of lashing out and looking for a scapegoat. Improvement and growth starts with each of us individually, then working together to make all of us better. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy folks. Here's hoping we're brave enough to accept that.
The truth is right there in front of us all the time, waiting to be acknowledged. Are we ready to face it and do the right thing, or will we keep looking for the easy way in the short term with no regard for long term effects? In other words, why go through that pain again if we don't have to?
More later.

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