Things Come In Threes

Or maybe they don't

I don’t buy into the “things come in threes” concept. Yet sometimes it feels like they do. But when you examine them, you could fill in the gaps between the three things with a bunch of other things. Things don’t come in threes, they come in ones, you only happen to remember three of them in a row. Us humans like a good listicle.

I was a wreck at the start of 2013. My marriage was on the ropes. We had a rocky December with some of the lowest moments in our marriage and, for that matter, some of the lowest in my life. For a while, I was clinging onto the idea that it was somehow salvageable.

All we need to do is go to a couples counselor and work on it together. Splitting up doesn’t make sense. We’ve been together for so long and have shared so much of our lives. If you add up all the things that have gone wrong recently, they don’t equal divorce.

The problem was she already had one foot out the door. I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty details for now. But in hindsight, I don’t blame her.

So in January 2013, the rational part of my brain kicked in and realized it was over. Of course, there was some lingering denial and wishful thinking. It’s hard to completely turn off your feelings for a person when you’ve been together over a decade. Even if that person is much different now than when you first met. Even if your time together hasn’t been very happy for quite a while. The fear of losing them hits you hard.

A year and a half earlier at my brother’s wedding in Maui, I even knew then something was amiss. In retrospect, it’s amazing it took as long as it did to come to an end.

In mid-January, I moved out first. I got an apartment in Santa Rosa with my friend and coworker Tristan. He and I worked together at a horribly mismanaged company in the sales department. Neither of us cared to be salespeople, but we both somehow stumbled into the job.

He had gone to Brown University, was well-read, played the guitar, and spoke fluent French. We would have conversations late into the night and watch thought-provoking movies together. We talked about moving down to San Francisco and starting over down there. I wanted to get into tech startups and both of us were looking for a way to move on from the company. The plan was to save up for a few months and make the plunge. I admit it was a rough plan.

A few weeks after we moved in, I drove to my parent’s place in Los Gatos to watch the Super Bowl and stay for the weekend. I’m not a huge football fan. But the 49ers were playing and I grew up watching them with my Dad. So I made the 2-hour drive from Santa Rosa to watch with him.

On Saturday night as we were watching a movie at their house, I got a call from our sales manager, Brad.

“Hey Lyle, Tristan got into an accident on his bike today. I’m not exactly sure what happened yet, but his family asked me to let you know,” Brad said.

“Oh, no, that’s crazy. Is he okay?” I replied.

“I know he’s at Memorial Hospital, but I don’t know much beyond that. I’m going to head over there in a bit.”

I texted Tristan:

“Brad called and told me what happened. How’re you doing?”

He didn’t text back.

About an hour later, I got a text from another coworker:

“He got hit by a car and his head got hit hard. Now he’s in the ICU. They had to put him into a medically induced coma to reduce the swelling so his head can heal.”

It’s sad to admit, but right after feeling bad for him and for his family, I felt sorry for myself. Only a few weeks prior, I had made the decision to move forward with my life. Now I was alone again. It’s not like we were dating. But he was around to distract me from my feelings. From feeling like I could burst into tears at any moment. From feeling abandoned.

Now left to my own devices, I fell right back into wanting to get my marriage back. I had a gaping, emotional hole that needed filling and I didn’t know what else to do. I cringe thinking about the desperate things I texted or said on the phone to her.

She held firm and started putting together all the legal crap that comes with divorce. On the surface, we had one of the easiest divorces ever. We had no kids. We had already sold our house. We each owned our respective cars. I was keeping the dogs. And she didn’t want any furniture or other household items. Below the surface, it wasn’t easy at all. No divorces are and I doubt many feel amicable while people are going through them. It's more likely that’s the story people tell themselves to ease the pain they felt then.

I didn’t have many close friends in the area, so I hung out with my coworkers in the days and weeks after Tristan’s accident. It was weird to lean into my work when not too long before I was plotting with Tristan about how we’d get the hell out of there.

In a stroke of luck, one of those coworkers, Danny, was looking for a place to stay and he took Tristan’s room. It must’ve been awkward for him at first to be staying in the same room as our now disabled co-worker did just weeks before. I was thankful for it since I couldn’t afford the rent on my own, and, to be honest, I needed the company.

We were both single. I wasn’t in the best mindset for dating, but I joined him at local bars from time-to-time anyway. He’s one of the most personable people I know, with an infectious laugh and outgoing personality. And seeing as we were reasonably attractive guys, we’d invariably end up chatting with some women. Most of the time, that’s all it was. A fleeting conversation at a bar over a few beers. That’s it.

Do I actually want to meet someone at a bar? I mean, I don’t even drink that much. I have a better chance of finding an alcoholic than a girlfriend at a bar.

It’s amazing how humans keep going in the face of adversity. You’d think we would go through something traumatic and give up. But most of us can pick up the pieces and move forward.

I guess we don’t have a choice in the matter. Time keeps on ticking away whether we like it or not. And we’ve got bills to pay and need food on the table to survive. That’s it isn’t it? The need to survive. At the most basic level, we’re all trying to survive, day-by-day. It’s like we get knocked down a few levels on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and have to build ourselves back up.

Sure we all need some help picking up the pieces when shit hits the fan. Some of us are fortunate and can lean on family and friends or we have the means to talk to a therapist. We’re the lucky ones. But even those who don’t have those luxuries usually find a way to persevere. Of course, there are those who lose their way and turn to destructive behaviors like drugs and alcohol. In the grand scheme of things, those paths are rare.

In the end, we’re all marching along to the beat of time.

Yeah, and we’re all minuscule, hopeless, insignificant cogs in a huge machine that doesn’t give two shits about us. I mean, what’s the point of it all?

At first, I thought marching along to the beat of time was a depressing thought. Yet the more I ponder it, the more I see the beauty in it.

Don’t you fucking turn this around into a positive. I can’t stand when people do that.

“You got fired from your job? At least now you can find a new job where they value someone as smart and talented as you. You deserve it.” Ugh, nauseating.

They always start it by saying “at least.”

“You had to put your dog down? Aww, I’m sorry to hear that. At least he’s no longer in pain and he’s in a better place now.” Yeah, but now he’s not laying by my side anymore and I miss him like crazy.

“Your special needs daughter woke up twice in the middle of the night again? Well, at least you were able to go back to sleep for an hour before work.” Just don’t.

In the end, we’re all marching along to the beat of time. At least we get to go on the journey and play our part in the human experiment.

Ugh, sigh.

Okay, okay, let me try speaking your language. What I mean is we’re all moving forward as a collective species. And we’re trying to improve our lives and the lives of our loved ones, regardless of the crazy shit that happens to us. We're like this massive colony that's trying to make things better for us and for generations to come. And we all play a role in it. Can't you see the beauty in that?

Alright, I see what you mean. But isn't it easier to veg out, watch Netflix, and do nothing so we don’t have to think about the hard stuff?

For sure. And it’s okay to do that for a while. But most of us get sick of feeling like crap and decide to do something about it. Maybe it’s a book that helps get us out of the funk. Maybe it’s a loved one that snaps us out of it. Maybe it’s more gradual and comes from within ourselves. I could keep listing more.

Go for it.

Maybe it’s as simple as a smile from someone walking by; one of those small, human connections we thirst for when we’re down. Maybe one of our friends invites us to hang out and we tell stories and laugh our asses off late into the night.

Go on.

Maybe it’s seeing that happy couple at that restaurant smiling and laughing together and instead of getting sad about it, this time it made us smile and we realized that maybe, just maybe we can feel that same way with someone again.

Umm, that one was oddly specific.

And then we think, “There is some hope after all. I'm not destined to be alone for eternity. You know what? Screw this. I’m going to put myself out there and try to meet someone new. I deserve it. Why wouldn’t I deserve it?”

A few months after unceremoniously and awkwardly signing the divorce papers with a notary and without my ex present, I was feeling better.

I had gone on a business trip to Philly. Then I took over as the sales manager at the horribly mismanaged company. So now I was part of the problem. But I was determined to fix things from the inside. Like that would ever work.

I was hanging at my friend Terry’s parent’s house in Santa Rosa one warm night in early May. We were chatting and drinking beer in their backyard. Terry is a software engineer, self-described nerd, and a huge sci-fi book fan. His Dad had a collection of 300+ board games until that same house burned down in the Tubbs fire in 2017.

Terry was also single then and we were commiserating about our lack of dating lives. Granted, I was still married — in the eyes of the law, at least — because the divorce wasn’t finalized.

Who knew there was a 6 month waiting period to finalize a divorce? If only there was a 6 month waiting period for getting married. Like a free trial period. Maybe that could help people avoid this mess and heartache. Nah, we’re all too dumb when we’re in love.

“You should try OkCupid,” Terry said.

“Why?” I asked.

“They ask you a bunch of questions and then they have this cool algorithm that helps match you up with someone.”

“That’s cool. But has it worked for you? Like, have you met anyone on it?”

“I don’t know, I’ve never used it.”

It was such a nerdy software engineer answer.

Later that night, I signed up for it. I uploaded a few pictures of myself, wrote a short bio, and answered a bunch of the questions.

I might as well try it. It’s free after all. It’s not like I’m trying to get married again anytime soon. I’m just trying to meet new people and have some fun. And with OkCupid, I can be reasonably sure she’s not a chain smoker or a fan of The Chainsmokers.

I don’t recall everything I wrote about myself. But I do remember saying I’m good at leisure sports. It’s true. I’m good at sports like golf, bowling, darts, cornhole, and poker (if you consider it a sport). Anything where you can drink or eat something while playing, I’m probably good at it.

My friends used to call me Long-Term Lyle because of the lengths of my past relationships. I wasn’t in that many relationships, so they were working off a small sample size. But they were mostly right. I liked being in a relationship. Maybe it’s because I had trouble being alone with my thoughts and insecurities, I’m not sure.

I liked being married too. There was a certain comfort to it that didn’t exist for me in previous relationships. Of course, that all came shattering down with the divorce. But part of me still believed I could find it again. And I could better know what I wanted and needed in my partner the next time around.

So it shouldn’t have shocked anyone, or myself, that the first person I met up with in person from OkCupid would go on to be my wife. For the record, neither of us has ever smoked a cigarette in our lives and she has no idea who the Chainsmokers are.

That was the third thing that happened. I still like being married.

Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. I’m honored. In a world where attention spans are getting shorter each day, it means a lot that you’ve spent this much time with my writing.

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