For someone who can’t tolerate a moment of your average TLC relationship show, I find articles on marriage — particularly with a psychological bent — strangely fascinating. Thanks to the presence of older friends and siblings, even before I had a clue I always figured it takes work and reflection to found a good marriage, plus a lot of clarity and self-awareness to keep it up.
The inherent “drawback” of marriage is the end of life’s “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Or at least the end of one major fork in that adventure. But time marches relentlessly onward, and if you want the benefits of marriage and hope to keep the same one “until nursing home do us part,” you’ve got to rotate the tires and keep changing the oil. A quasi-motto that I’ve held, but not yet tested, is: People change; this is inevitable. To keep things functioning, you need to monitor and (ideally) change together.
So I don’t know what changes and challenges lie in my future, although I can make some educated guesses based on the typical life of a middle-class white couple.
Of interest to me is this column, from a woman whose husband said he wanted to leave, and how she said “I don’t buy that that’s the problem” until he got his head back, and his pride, and decided he liked where he was. Not sure the practicality of that maneuver, and I don’t expect to ever face that scenario (yet the column, like so many mid-life dilemmas in fiction, interested me nonetheless).
But something she wrote struck a chord with me, because it’s something I’ve been lucky to have in my arsenal from the first moment you’d first suspect I could be called an “adult:”
You see, I’d recently committed to a non-negotiable understanding with myself. I’d committed to “The End of Suffering.” I’d finally managed to exile the voices in my head that told me my personal happiness was only as good as my outward success, rooted in things that were often outside my control. I’d seen the insanity of that equation and decided to take responsibility for my own happiness. And I mean all of it.
This realization feels like such an obvious tenet of life to me, it still amazes me that so many people don’t have it down. It’s like a defect of the human condition. Or a by-product of our 40,000 years of life as homo sapiens in one environment crashing into the modern age’s sudden proliferation of conveniences and spare time for existential crises.
I don’t know what fortune of my pscyhology, or my genes, or my upbringing makes me suited to take this freebie and run with it. I feel bad for those who don’t have it, or don’t acquire it until later on.
Yet every time I see a writer or a speaker announce it like an epiphany, my first instinct is to think: “Well … yeah. Duh!”
Happiness based on “outward success … rooted in things outside my control.” Damn, the “insanity of that equation” indeed! But maybe it’s due to the awkward transition from childhood to beyond. We can’t control this understanding in others, we can’t force it upon anyone. But the shitty alternative makes me want to grab a child, an adolescent, a teenager, shake him/her and say, “Don’t do this. Don’t fall into this trap.” If only it were that simple.