Many years ago, when air travel was devoid of the security checks of today, I was a key player in a wedding — not the best man but the next best man. One of my jobs on the big day was to pick up the groom and make sure he got to the wedding on time.
I believed at the time that he was making a mistake but was torn about what to do. I decided the morning of the wedding that the worst scenario was to say nothing and regret it years later.
When the groom got in the car, I told him that I had taken out some money from the bank and had a couple of credit cards. I was ready to drive him to the airport instead of the wedding. I would take him away to San Francisco and field all the questions and outrage for him.
"It's too late," he sighed. "I have to go through with it."
Five years and three kids later, he and his wife divorced.
That story is an appropriate response to the number and intensity of the private comments I have received after the relationship column of Aug. 22 ("Men, attend to your wives and children"). Those comments, evenly divided between men and women, told me that there is a void, that we are not discussing these relationship issues in a meaningful way.
Advice columns, radio talk shows and online forums are not meaningful — they are relationship sound bites.
The emails of two divorced readers, one man and one woman, were of particular interest. The man wrote that he alone was responsible for the breakup of his marriage and for the very reason I stated last month. He became complacent, he wrote, and took the relationship for granted, even though he still cared for his wife. When it was beyond repair, she asked for and received a divorce.
He owned his responsibility to the failure of his marriage, but I could not help but wonder what drove him to such a level of indifference with his wife that she would file for divorce.
"I worked night and day and I thought I was building something for both of us, but I realized too late that it really was just for me," he wrote. "It never occurred to me to stop and check to see if we were on the same page."
In his new relationship, he is determined to work harder.
The woman wrote that she ignored red flags and should not have married her husband. After two kids and a lot of time spent trying to ensure his happiness, he left anyway to try to recapture some of the youth he mistakenly believes he sacrificed when he got married at an early age.
These two stories are the heart and soul of starting and maintaining a "forever" relationship. Both have memories of beautiful wedding days, smiles and kisses and vows before family, friends and God, but somehow, after a while, that counted for nothing.
The woman's story is the crux of any successful relationship. In her case, she chose the wrong guy.
"We were young and of course in the wisdom of hindsight, I know now that I was in love with the idea of being in love," she wrote. "The stop signs were all there, but I ran right through them."
Ignoring red flags, or stop signs, is not only a disaster for the couple, it can also wreak havoc on family and close friends who see what the couple does not, but are in a no-win situation.
If they say something, they risk their relationship. If they say nothing, they may feel some guilt later on if the relationship fails.
As with my friend the groom, both these readers made bad choices. Both have recovered and gone on to successful second marriages, but the emotional scars will be with them forever.
STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.