On Fearing Happiness
In the back of my mind, I hear my girlfriend's voice: “Your thirties is all about doing the things you swore in your twenties you'd never do.” It's so true. She's right all the time, damn her.
I'm thirty now. By fewer than two months and yet, I'm already contradicting my strident twenty-something declarations. Here I am, not even all the way divorced, and I'm moving in with the man of my dreams. The untamed girl who swore she would never settle down, that monogamy was not for her - what does she do? She falls in love and picks out a nice antique house and takes up knitting and gardening. What the hell is happening to me?
And it's the most terrifying experience of my life. What if I screw it up because I'm…flawed? What if I'm fooling myself and it's not real? What am I doing buying a house with someone? That's a bigger commitment than my marriage was!
I know I'm not the only one who regards happiness with such unbridled suspicion. It seems like everyone I talk to sort of expects to be miserable, to fail, to run up the down escalator, for the fist of irony to flatten them on the most perfect day ever. Why is that thought so much more comfortable to us than the idea of happiness?
Maybe it's perfectionism. Maybe we're so afraid that we'll drop the ball and lose happiness forever, we feel it's safer not to try. Certainly, if life is ever-changing, happiness will end, or suffering will end. Maybe we figure it's got to be less painful to get better than to get worse, so we put our money on suffering and tell ourselves that life is pain, pick up a prescription, and learn to live with it.
But you know what I think? I think maybe we're afraid that happiness is boring. I think we're addicted to drama. I know I am … was. Getting rid of the drama makes so much space in a relationship. I'm not sure I ever really loved anyone before, because I was so busy trying to be who they wanted me to be, and trying to make them who I wanted them to be, I couldn't possibly have room to love. Simply loving someone, allowing them to be exactly who they are, even when he's being a big baby, even when he's taking irrational frustrations out on me, even when I'm taking my irrational frustrations out on him, is decidedly undramatic.
And this un-drama is spreading in my life like a daisy-edged plague. The allure of the hyperbole is fading away. Nothing seems to be the best ever or the worst anything anymore. Playing cards with my daughter is nice. Watering the plants is nice. Traffic isn't so bad. Neither are most other unpleasant things.
It's been great for my parenting life. We don't have arguments much anymore. I don't get angry when she resists me. “No” has become acceptable to her, because I don't argue about it anymore. We both have space to feel whatever we feel, whether it's happy or sad or frustrated or scared. We trust each other more. We have more fun now. I feel awfully content.
And when I do get swept up in a drama, it seems like it isn't long before I smack myself on the forehead and say, “Jeez, what a bunch of wasted energy!”
Like this: I just spent weeks freaking out about what my ex would say when I told him his daughter was moving in with another man. I spent hours and days deliberating how to say it, what he might say, what I might say back. I tossed and turned, I threw up (though that may have been the leftover turkey sandwich).
When I finally talked to him, it was fine. We had a nice conversation, maybe the nicest in months.
After it was over, I laughed at myself because I did it again – I put my faith in drama instead of truth. I didn't trust happiness. I expected something to come along and destroy it. I expected him to forbid it. But of course, that wasn't him forbidding happiness; I was forbidding it and projecting it onto him. He just wants a stable environment for his kid.
I'm finally starting to really get (on a practical level, not a philosophical one) that we do create reality. And since I've been seeking a reality of peace, it's finally starting to manifest. Which is just weird and a little scary and makes me rub my eyes and look around a lot.
But getting all bent out of shape about the ex really bothered me. Experiencing the drama of agitation and fear felt like a failure, in a way - like the emotional repo man would come and reclaim all my happiness and I would be back in the dark, empty room with the inner judge tapping her foot and clucking, “See, I told you so!”
It's like a puzzle with a piece that almost fits. On the edge of my consciousness, I can barely see, if I look out of the corner of my eye, (oh dear, I've lost it three times trying to type this!) that it's okay to feel anything at all. It's the resistance to a feeling, or the attachment to it and subsequent fear of losing it, that causes the problem. Frustration, anger, fear - none of those things hurts near as much on their own as the feeling of not wanting to feel those things. And it's the resistance to them that makes the drama.
I know I still have work to do around this. I know that I'm feeling so much better because he reacted well, and that if he had reacted badly I would probably still be writhing around in the mud pit of crisis. Somehow I need to disconnect this approval addiction, the fear that I won't be okay with people, and that if I'm not, I'm a horrible person. Good thing I'm still alive – I've got plenty to do.
So in case you've gotten this far and thought, “Yeah, but what does this really have to do with parenting?” here's your answer.
At the core, parenting is about teaching our kids how to be adults through our example. If I wanted to teach my daughter to be a miserable self-loathing anxiety hound, I was so on the right track.
But what I want is for her to be happy and thoughtful and not take life too seriously. Unless I'm just another do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do bully (which, incidentally, does not work. Ever.), I have to show her how to do it. Which of course means that I have to do it myself. And then I think of that magnet on my refrigerator with the Gandhi quote: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” and it all starts to come together.
Life on this earth is an inexact science. There is no right way; there is simply the way we each are at any given moment, which is infinitely changeable. How else could I have gone from a free-spirited escapist to a relatively low-key, committed and happy woman in such a relatively short period of time?
External force is exerted on each moment from an infinitely changeable Out There which, because they are so interconnected, isn't really Out There. It's In Here. (Don't think about it too long, it scrambles your brain.) The important thing is to be whoever you are, wherever you are, as a conscious choice. Whether it's playing with your kids or sitting on the freeway, you chose it.
So either revel in it, or choose something else.