There is a lot of advice out there. Forests of trees have been cut down to publish advice on college, friendships, dating, careers, marriage, parenting, and more. Be it in the form of books, blogs, magazine articles, or just personal anecdotes, there are a lot of people (both qualified and unqualified) who are only all too eager to dish it out. Some of it is helpful, a lot of it is not.
Going through a divorce I have had to confront new reams of advice. Much of it is awful and almost all of it is contradictory. I have read everything from “have lots of sex with lots of different partners to re-discover your single-self post-marriage and get over your ex” to “keep waiting for your spouse to come back to you even if you keep waiting and hoping for the rest of your life” and absolutely everything in between.
Here’s the thing: I like advice. I am not one of those people who feels like they have to learn everything firsthand. I am happy to glean wisdom from those older and more experienced. I am very glad when I do not have to repeat the mistakes of others. I like formulas, logical proofs, and if-then statements. I want to know what to do, when to do it, and how to most efficiently do it, to get the outcome I want. I want to know which variables to exclude and which variables to multiply to get happiness, success, and an obstacle-free life. (Yes, I am an INTJ.)
But unfortunately (or maybe fortunately!) that’s not how real life works. And often, other people’s advice is really the best advice for their situations, not necessarily mine. In my attempts to “do the right thing”, I have often tried to follow advice that was just not meant for me. Because I know this weakness in myself, I am also very hesitant to offer advice to others.
It was startling to me when I first got married that suddenly many of my single friends were asking me for advice on meeting someone or dating or the truly chilling question: how do you know when you’re really in love? I always answered that I was happy (read: giddy and elated) to tell our story but I did not feel at all qualified to give advice about someone else’s life. Partially because I did not do a lot of looking or dating before falling in love with and choosing my husband but also because I know people find their partners in many different ways.
Now that I am getting divorced I am getting the opposite questions from some of my single friends: What did you do wrong? What were the warning signs that you missed? How can I not end up where you are? And once again, all I can do is answer that I am willing to tell my story but I do not feel qualified to give advice about someone else’s life. Partially because I really do not know the answers to those questions, but also because I know that many couples do exactly what I did (following all the same advice and wisdom I did) and end up with much happier stories than my own.
My story is my own. And your story is your own. I want to hear your story and I want to share mine. I want to work together to find the deeper truths that live just under the surface of each of our stories and maybe sometimes that sounds like advice. But I also want to live in the tension and awe that no two stories are exactly alike and what is good, sound advice in your situation may not be wisdom for my situation. I want to find the similarities but also respect the differences between your story and my own.
With no formulas or if-then statements, life is difficult and messy but it is also what makes living life a worthwhile adventure. There is no set map or rules. There are truths to learn and goodness to yearn for and beauty to seek after. We have means to seek out wisdom and we have minds and hearts and spirits for discernment. There is a community to journey with and there is a God who loves me and loves you and desires only good for each of us. We are not alone in our attempts to navigate each of our life stories wisely.
But please, for the love of all that is good, can we stop publishing articles with titles like “12 Fastest Ways to Get Over Your Ex-Husband”? I am pretty sure that advice is not going to really help anyone.