When two people come together to start a life, they create things. Be it a family, kids, or in my case–a business. It was my first time starting a venture with a woman. I’ve been in partnerships before, but it was either with my dad or with a sibling (i.e. a bro). I’d always longed to start a life with someone, but I was jumpy till I met someone I actually wanted to start a life with.
So I made the decision to jump onboard, with somewhat of a business plan, but no relationship plan. I’d succeeded with flying colours at every business I’d built to date and couldn’t see or even contemplate how it would be different this time around. I had a long track record of success when it came to business and I never even contemplated the thought that I would fail.
But that’s exactly what happened. I failed as a partner… and because of that, I failed at the business we started.
In my mind, I was the boss, the leader, the authority figure. I was not a partner in a business and I never saw my wife as a partner in the business. As time went by, she never came to me with any issue she had. She would lean on one of the other boys instead. I was angry at her every time she did that. I would even get angry at the person she went running to instead of me. I didn’t know how to be angry at myself for all my failures. I chose, instead, to blame her (and everyone else) for all the mistakes that had been made in the business.
In retrospect, I realise that she did come to me in the very early days. I was too distracted at the time to realise all the problems that were looming in our relationship. My focus had been elsewhere.
When I gave advice on where I thought the business was headed, I was aloof and detached–seeing the business as a separate legal entity that existed independently to its owners. All the while, she looked at the business as something that we’d started together, and something that she had to keep afloat alone, since I’d turned out to be the deadbeat dad of a business enterprise.
I would continuously criticise all her blind spots without realising that I had my own. I made lousy, heartless decisions all the time. I would analyse and over-analyse everything like an academic or a scholar and never invested myself into the business as though it were a baby that we had brought into the world.
Instead, it was business as usual for me. There were days, many days, that I even treated her as the future successor of a business I’d started–one that she would ‘take over’ when I was dead and no longer around to run the show. In retrospect, it makes no sense that I would think that; or even dare to believe that to be true.
I had a script playing in my head that was outdated and irrelevant to my circumstances. And the worst part: I blamed her repeatedly for all my failures as a partner.
I was still a brilliant businessperson, and the day came; you know—that day—when you are shown the door out of the business you started because despite your brilliance and your talent, you are an absolutely insufferable individual to work with.
Everyone knows and sees how gifted you are, but no one wants to work with you because you now have a track record of causing pain and grief to everyone who has had to work with you.
And just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the cherry on the cake came to completely dismantle the relationship I had built on a foundation of clay.
My best friend had been in love with my partner all these years and now that she and I were ‘on a break’, I had finally given him the opening to pursue a relationship with the one and only woman he had always longed to be with. He asked me if he could date her and I agreed–foolishly thinking that she’d say no. The thought of her being with a guy like him–who in my mind, was a boring academic–was unthinkable and implausible.
I mean, when most people go through breakups, they have meaningless relationships, a rebound or something silly to just ‘get it out of their system’. They don’t enter into another significant relationship immediately after.
But to my chagrin–that’s exactly what I saw unfold before my very eyes. The two of them had a wonderful relationship. My best friend had finally given me the opportunity to hate myself for not being a better partner. What they shared together wasn’t exactly rocket science either.
They communicated and discussed things as equals before making decisions together. He checked in with her at the end of each day to make sure that she was doing well. They had dates once a week. On Fridays, he would get her a small gift as a token of his appreciation. Every Wednesday, he’d take her out to dinner at a restaurant he knew she would like. If there was a problem, he would look out for her; as opposed to being objective about the whole situation as though it were someone else’s problem. As far as my best friend was concerned, his partner’s problems were his problems. I had never ever thought of it in that way.
It was in seeing how strong, how resilient and how brilliant they were together that I finally realised that the problem was me. They say it takes two to tango and it’s true. The real problem arises when one dance partner has all the moves and the other one just doesn’t bring their best to the table. It looks awful to everyone who is watching. It’s even more awful for the person who has to dance with the fuddy duddy who has no idea what he’s doing.
I had a terribly long track record of playing Devil’s Advocate. If there was a problem, I would always take the side of whomever I perceived to be the underdog. And since my partner is the strongest woman I have ever known, I never—not even once—saw her as someone who had emotions or could be deeply hurt.
I would, very mistakenly, advise her to take care of and look out for everyone else–all the while blind to the fact that no one at all was looking out for the person who was holding the business together. My wife was worn out and exhausted.
My best friend is a doctor and in the early days of their courtship, he came up to me and said, “Her health is really quite dire. The stress of running a business in the middle of COVID has taken a toll on her body. If she keeps going this way, she will be dead in a few years. I’ve ran the tests and she’s been diagnosed with…”
I was shocked to my bare bones when I heard this. Dead in a few years? She was only in her 30s. We were supposed to grow old together, have kids together and even start several other businesses together. How could this have happened right under my nose? Actually, if I had butt my nose into her business, this wouldn’t have happened at ll.
As a doctor, my best friend had been sensitive and alert to the physical signs and symptoms that stress can take on the body. To think I’d dismissed the whole thing as another woman who’d lost interest in her husband after the honeymoon phase was over; but he’d picked up on the subtleties of what she was physically going through.
“What she needs most is a friend,” he said. “Someone that she can talk to and turn to. Her recovery will be slow and we all need to be patient with her. Her body cannot handle anymore unnecessary stress at this point.”
“She used to come to me,” I said. “She doesn’t anymore.”
Was there one particular incident that signalled the turning point of our relationship? I don’t think so. There were all the little things, all the little things that had added up and compounded over time, like interest on a collateral that had ballooned into a large payment that I simply couldn’t meet. It was like I had no choice but to default. I had no choice but to admit that I, who had invested in a ton of successful businesses over the years, was a terrible investment as a partner.
For the first time in my life, I was no longer the investor. She was the investor. She’d invested in me–and she was only doing what all good investors do when they realise that their investment is heading south–she had put a stop loss on it. She had made the decision to get out, before things got worse, and the losses mounted.
I had become a sunk cost.
My shrink wants me to sit down and talk about all the women I’ve been with before my wife as well as all the experiences I’ve had that have brought me to this point. But I’m not going to do that. The more I talk about the life I had before I met her, the more I relive that life–and it is a life that I am not proud of. The shame I feel for settling for less than what I was worth, and for doing that over and over again, is not something I ever need to relive.
It’s all over. It is all dead to me–as it has been for a long time. I don’t miss or want to be with any of the women I’ve been with before her.
The weird thing is, many of my exes still call me and want to keep in contact, even though I wasn’t a good partner–even back then. But I was a solid provider–a bank account, if you will–and that’s all they wanted. A man who can provide. And even though I left all those women, I never left behind the idea that I was the breadwinner.
I couldn’t bring that to my current business as my sole redeeming credential. Especially since my wife was not looking to me to be the sole breadwinner. In her mind, we were going to do this together. And in my mind, I still had to do it alone.
What I struggled with, is the subconscious mental patterning of that life. I had to rewire my brain, my responses and even my instincts–so that I would be an excellent business partner. It was a mental breakthrough I needed; and not a financial one.
And despite all the experiences I had had with women; I had never truly been a partner nor had I ever had one.
I hate myself every time I have to admit it, but, for the large part, all the women I’ve known before I met the woman I married were just gold diggers. That’s why I never took those relations seriously. That’s why I played the field and never settled down.
They demanded many things from me–but they never demanded that I be all that I can be and live up to the potential that they saw in me. They never wanted anything more than a bank account. They couldn’t care less if I was a good father or if our relationship would lead to marriage.
They were in it for themselves. To me, it was afterwork recreation. To them, I was their financial plan for life.
I was done with afterwork recreation and I had no interest in being anyone’s financial plan for life.
But being in a team in an organisation is a lot like being cast in a movie. You are given a role to play. A script. The Director tells you what to do and you perform to the best of your abilities. At the point that we accept a role in a movie, we are given a ‘job description’ of who the character is and we are told that this is the role we need to play.
Imagine, if all the actors of this movie, instead of playing the role that they were cast for–and accepted, mind you–decided to fight among themselves for the starring role. But the star of the show has already been cast. And you realise that you have chosen–and even happily signed up for–the role of the supporting actor. It’s even the role you wanted and had dreamt about your whole life.
You are the Hermione Granger or the Ron Weasley. Hermione’s the smart one and Ron’s the resilient one. They’re the ones who are there for Harry cause they know what he’s up against… You know, the evil nemesis–the one who cannot be named. They also know that Harry can’t do it alone. He’s not meant to. He’s meant to do it with Hermione and Ron.
Why choose to be the supporting actor, you may ask. The starring role is the ‘best role’ right?
My individual accomplishments have never made me happy. People around me are wowed by it, but I wasn’t wowed by it myself. I know I should be, and on some level I am proud—but my heart yearned for something different. I always knew, deep down, that life is not meant to be lived so selfishly. Our creations are meant to be shared. I have always considered myself a self-made man, and it took me a long time to accept that I had received the support of countless people who had made my accomplishments possible.
My father, for one, while not perfect–had given me a head start in business. My mother, who blessed me with wonderful genetics, always came down on me hard whenever I fooled around with women and didn’t come home. She instilled in me the importance of being a well-rounded person and was furious whenever she found out I was dating yet another gold digger. I deeply regret all the times she had to contend with the women of questionable quality that I got involved with.
My parents parted ways a long time ago, but they remain great friends. I was fortunate that I, myself, did not have to live with the animosity that couples go through when their parents split up. I had always had this idea in my head that if my parents had stayed together, perhaps I would have been happier. But that’s the thing–we don’t, and are not supposed to, get the fantasy we have in our heads about how a partnership should be. And while my parents are no longer together, they both love me a great deal and did their very best to give me a great life.
And they did. It is an excellent life.
For me, there’s only one thing left to do–and that’s to grow up. I don’t want to be one of those countless of men out there who succeeds at business and thrashes his personal life. When I die, I don’t want people to say, “He was an excellent businessman and a lousy father and partner.”
Partnerships, like a business, require hard work, commitment and care.
I was heartbroken when I saw my best friend with my wife. I missed her. I had taken her for granted. It was no one’s fault but my own. I see that now.
I saw that I ran away every time we had an issue that was too unpleasant to deal with. If she was having problems, I gave terrible advice more often than I didn’t. I treated and spoke to her as an employee; and not a partner. I was a lousy and selfish lover. I was hypercritical every time she made a mistake and never appreciated all her hard work or all the things she did get right. I made many decisions that were detrimental to the business because I didn’t ask for her input. I took on projects and clients that she hated. I allowed her to get mistreated time and time again. If someone spoke to her unkindly, I would get frustrated; instead of being there for her so that she would feel she had support as she went through it.
My best friend and I are still friends. I have no one but myself to blame for what I allowed to transpire between the two of them. I should have said no when he asked me. I never should have given him the green light to date my wife. If I had said as much, he never would have pursued it. I can’t allow myself the luxury of feeling betrayed as it didn’t happen in secret. My wife even asked me if I felt comfortable with the decision and I’d said yes.
I should have said no. I should have said, “What’s wrong? What do you need? I’m here for you. I want to make it work.”
But that’s not what happened. Instead, I chose not to be there. I ran away from the commitment I made. I even gave her the green light to run away from the commitment she made. She later told me, “It takes two people to make a commitment work. What’s the point of keeping the commitment I made to you when you’re not in it with me?”
I’m not sure if she’ll ever forgive me; but I hope she does. In retrospect, it must have taken her a lot of courage to take another chance on love after I’d so mercilessly broken her heart.
I now realise that that was what I loved most about her. She was never the best; nor had she claimed to be. She was never perfect; nor had she tried to be. She was never in it for a fling; she had said as much a few months in.
She wanted me. She wanted to start a life with me.
And the scary thing is–that I wanted the same. I needed her. For the first time in my life, I had someone I needed and deeply wanted to be with. I was so terrified of finally having what I wanted; after such a long string of bad luck–that I screwed it all up. I felt so undeserving of such good fortune that I didn’t know how to cherish it when it finally came into my life.
My only wish is that God gives me a second chance. I know better now. I understand things now that I didn’t back then. And above everything, I am deeply repentant that I screwed it all up. But repentance is not enough. Restitution must also be made.
Before I finish this long confession, I want to say something. Something I’ve never said. I didn’t love her because she was intelligent and beautiful. I didn’t love her because she was the best lover I’ve ever had or because she’s a great cook. And believe me, she is all those things and so much more.
I love her because she is the bravest and most courageous woman I’ve ever known. And I should have understood that even the brave fall down sometimes, but that does not mean they bow.
Because when it’s time to get up again, you’ll see them rise and march towards a well-earned victory.
And that’s the only sort of woman I’ll ever fight for.