The first clue that something was off was the pint of strawberries. We don’t usually eat strawberries and it was the end of December – they were not in season.
As I pondered the mystery of the strawberries, the second clue came when he uncharacteristically shooed me out of the kitchen to prepare dinner. We always cook dinner together unless I’m too hangry to cooperate.
He told me later he thought he was being so clever and was acting completely naturally. The third clue was that it was a small apartment so I could tell that he was pounding meat with a tenderizer I had gifted him. Unexpected strawberries and secretive meat-pounding? The clues were inexorably barreling toward a single conclusion.
He was going to propose.
The list of things for which I have been certain and proved to be wrong is quite long and embarrassing. I was certain the stock market was going to dive after the 2016 election. I believed silk cargo pants were a worthy investment piece. I thought Justin Bieber was just a fad. It’s not that I’m wrong all the time but when I’m wrong, I’m spectacularly wrong.
It makes me wonder why I trust anything that originates from the Magic-Eight ball mind of mine. But the one thing I am usually right about is the New Year. I’m excellent at keeping resolutions. And how I ring in the New Year Eve is how I spend the rest of my year – usually alone, and asleep. I can control the New Year’s Eve though I can’t always control the New Year.
But when I have been wrong, I’ve been pretty spectacularly wrong.
New Year’s Eve 2009, I was texting a guy with whom I had drunkenly made out after finals. We decided to give dating a go and set our anniverary as January 20, 2010. That meant that after only dating one month, it was suddenly Valentine’s Day, the most fraught holiday for new couples.
He gifted well – romantic but not frighteningly expensive or serious – hand-dipped chocolate covered strawberries. I don’t often eat strawberries, chocolate covered or not, but he had spent so much time on them and there were so many and so perishable I found myself eating them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offering them to anyone who would come by.
I told him I had never had chicken fried steak, and he, a southern boy, said he would make it for me once he bought a meat tenderizer. I gifted him with a tenderizer and he gifted me with the steak – the first dinner he made for me.
New Year’s Eve 2015 I got a proposal (I said yes). We spent the New Year at a party with his friends, where I felt awkward and out of place. But my friends all texted me warm wishes from their perches around the country and I basked in the glow of my phone.
I spent, well a few months basking in the glow of being newly engaged and planning our wedding. Then we hit a rough patch. He ghosted for a week. Then, he reappeared and there was fighting. We broke up August 22, 2015, a day before my 33rd birthday. So in retrospect, and if you include the time I spent cancelling the wedding, the whole year was spent around wedding festivities, which is what one would expect following a NYE proposal.
I was certain it would be better to have the answer before my birthday. Then I realized too late this meant I would be spending my birthday alone. Everyone assumed I would be celebrating my birthday with my fiance and I couldn’t tell anyone until I was ready to tell them everything. And I wasn’t ready. And I wanted to go out for my birthday.
And so I had a pity birthday dinner with my fiance after he had broke up with me. And that was worse.
We had a lot of problems. We had a lot of outside pressures. I felt 100% certain that we could work through it.
The reason was that he had doubts. He doubted that I could communicate effectively. He doubted that I could understand him. I didn’t realize it at the time but on New Year’s Eve, he had gifted me with a several thousand dollar token representing doubt.
Doubt is stronger than certainty. A single doubt can kill all certainty, even at 100% proof.
Then I was certain we would get back together. As the months went on, less certain. And now that he has stopped talking to me for about 9 months I have to admit defeat. I am no longer certain of anything.
Why are we so certain of everything? It makes us feel good when it’s actually leading us to utter confusion.
We live in a country where everyone is certain that they’re right. A sizable proportion are certain it’s one way and others are certain it’s the opposite. The problem with certainty is that if you are certain of something good, you’ll be disappointed if you’re wrong and if you are certain of something bad, no one wants to be around you. If you’re certain that we should go left, you put yourself at odds with those who are certain it’s right. Certainty divides us and makes us miserable.
New Year’s Eve 2016 I went back to being asleep when the ball dropped and I spent a fair amount of 2017 sleeping and reading. Some things don’t change.
This New Year’s Eve I’ve given up on certainty. But it’s not sacrifice to give up something I never had. Some people think the opposite of certainty is doubt, but you can look down the crevasse and not be sure what is in store for you. Then you don’t have certainty, and it’s not quite the feeling of doubt.
At those moments, all that is left is hope.