Why Everybody Else Is Happier Than You

Why does Facebook famously feed depression? The Happiest Virtual Place On Earth can feel like one endless reminder of the Things That Are Missing in our life. Offline, I look at the people around me. My single friends would give an arm to be married. Those with families of their own each have their burden, ones I am grateful to have been spared. So why are we convinced that others were dealt better cards, when every one of us remains in need of support and understanding?

happier-disney-castle

Reasons We’re Sure Everybody Is Happier Than Us*

1. We are unsatisfied with our lot, no matter how it turns. The human condition is not, in the language of mathematicians, an equation but an inequality: My life < The Ideal. By literary metaphor, we are an unfinished story, which is why our heart beats for more. More money, more time, more joy, more toys, more love. We bring to the table our fractured perspective, limited understanding, hopes conceived of an unresolved past. We will never, by the bootstraps of our humanness, be able to complete our relationships because we can’t complete ourselves.

2. Our sense of entitlement. Conflict in these imperfect relationships gives us away and pride declares, “I deserve better. He owes me appreciation, recognition. She should’ve given me the benefit of the doubt.” Disgruntled where we are, how green we find the grass on the other side.

3. The myth of perfectionism. I borrow insights from Alain Botton, author of the NY Times article Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, on our misguided notions of love because nowhere else do we so generously spin our fantasies of happiness. In a recent roundtable entitled How We Choose Our Spouses, Botton spoke of the reaction his article had garnered:

What was interesting was that people were overwhelming relieved. Look, it’s like telling people you will have an unhappy life…I think that often we suffer from a burden of shame around how difficult it is that we find it to live, to love, to make good choices…And the reason that there is something oppressive in being told that only perfection will do as the basis of marriage, is that so many of our marriages, under that kind of judgment, have to seem below par and it can seem rather punitive and oppressive as if we have failed to measure up to a standard which most of us simply cannot measure up to.

We allow Facebook and blogs to perpetuate the hope in fairy tales, the expectation that we grow up and live happy, photogenic lives.

We should learn to accommodate ourselves to ”wrongness,” striving always to adopt a more forgiving, humorous and kindly perspective on its multiple examples in ourselves and in our partners…We don’t need people to be perfect in love. We need people to be good enough.

4. Love, according to Botton, is not an impulse of feeling but a skill. It isn’t pay dirt at emotional Roulette but “with all of us deeply broken, a chance of success in love means being able to deal with our brokenness, both inside ourselves and in a partner.” I’d say this truth holds for all our relationships. “Compatibility is ultimately an achievement of love. It shouldn’t be…the precondition of falling in love.” Love is something you work, and often work hard, at. You manage expectations of spouse, friend, self, and life, being able to explain your craziness as you grow in self-awareness. But we somehow believe life doesn’t exact so much effort of those around us.


*HW won out in the argument with her twin The Grammar Mafia and managed to keep the vernacular with the objective pronoun.

STRANDED

Now, why’s the AC dying again? We just fixed it. Weird. Car’s sluggish, too.

Mph: 70. 60. 50. 45.

Ok. Gotta pull over. I run the hazard lights and crawl over two lanes to the shoulder – just in time. The Sienna gives out and it takes me a minute to realize the hood’s smoking. My eyes fall to the cubbyhole where my phone usually sits. Great. The day I run out of the house without it. Noted, husband. Noted. I can make out Pyrite Exit, 1/2 Mile up the freeway and all I can do is hope for a gas station there. Collecting my keys, hat, and the little water I have, I don’t go five yards before deciding, “Not in these sandals. Not in this sun.” Turning back toward the car, I do the only thing left to get to a phone. I stick out my thumb. As the minutes wear on, I’m not sure what strikes in me greater wonder. Finding myself “hitchhiking” or seeing that nobody was stopping. I am also a little nervous about who might want to come to the aid of a lone woman.

Before I can worry too much, a car horn interjects and I spin to see a beat-up truck behind the fence. Cozy in the front, three Latino men who look to be in their twenties wave. Apply every politically incorrect stereotype and judge by appearances, and these were not guys a sober helpless female would turn to for help. Here goes nothing. My New York sense of adventure moves me forward.

“Hi. Can you please call my husband, tell him I’m stuck on the 60 and need AAA?”

The men smile and three cell phones appear in a flash. The guy nearest me in Shotgun beats his friends to it and waiting through the rings, apologetically swings a tattooed arm to keep his cigarette smoke from reaching me.

“Honey, it’s me!” I call out to prove the call is no prank.

I’m told help is on the way and decline the men’s offer to stay with me. As they pull away, the guys point behind me and looking back toward the freeway I see a young man in something like a Corvette smiling as if to ask, “Anything I can do?”

“Thank you so much but my husband is coming.” I nod my thanks and in a few minutes make out a police car in the distance. California Highway Patrol stops to make sure I’m okay and offers the cooled vehicle for a waiting room but I’m not feeling venturesome enough to climb into the backseat I associate with a jail cell. And then my knight in shining armor pulls up.

________________________________________________________________________

Later: “When I heard a man’s voice on the line saying, ‘Your wife…’ your life flashed before my eyes. I thought I’d lost you and saw myself putting T in school. And writing on your blog.

Over my dead body.

stranded3

 

The Things You Lose in Marriage

March 6
Mrs: (Exasperated at the A.D.D.)
Mr: It’s been 11 yrs.
Mrs: (Thinking no kidding.)
Mr: You should be used to it by now.
Mrs: *Disbelief*

March 20
Mr: I realized you have your own love language. You love me by serving [not with words or gestures of affection]. When you make me food without sugar and fat, that’s your gush.
Mrs: B thought I have the gift of encouragement. I know people who do and I am SO not one of them.
Mr: *pensive* I think you do. You can be very encouraging with others. You’re just hard on me and Tennyson sometimes. You know you’re driven, right? Mentally, physically, with his school, in every way. You’re hard on us because you’re critical of yourself.
Mrs: (Cupping his face, in baffled search for a clue.) How in the world are you so insightful tonight?? What did you eat today? You…had fruit. Was it the fruit??!

Pinterest: The Mission Inn

Pinterest: The Mission Inn

March 24
After a private celebration at the ritziest restaurant in town
Mrs: Honey, I’d forgotten I enjoyed fine dining and went out often in Pennsylvania.
Mr: Now you’re just a mom.
Mrs: Greaat

March 26
Mrs: Not tonight, honey. I have a headache. And you know what? I’m sure I’ll have one tomorrow, too. But you’ll have gas again, so there.
(When we’d stopped laughing) Hey, I should blog that. Would you mind if I did?
Mr: Go right ahead.
Mrs: Really? Wow, you’ve changed. You’d let me post that, huh? What – no shame? No pride? Dignity, self-resp —
Mr: You can stop now.

================

There are snippets here about relationships in time. Please welcome the guests as we slide into our miniseries, a look back in time. I’ll be bringing up the rear. Hope you join us in the remembering.

Last year
Mr: Can I guest blog?
Mrs: *Chortle. Nonstop*
Mr: Is that a no?
Mrs: *Guffaw. Laugh. Laugh*

Last night
Mr: I should open a WordPress account anonymously and send you submissions.

Witness

I was chopping vegetables for dinner, silent tears running down my face.

I had just gotten off the phone with my sister. It was cancer.

She was terrified and feeling alone, despite the love I tried to pour through the phone. All I could do was listen and witness her pain. Be a witness to her strength. To the woman she was before this label she was already chafing against: cancer patient. I had held it together for her but after hanging up, broke down. All that was left now were tears and the sound of the knife on the cutting board.

My husband came home. He walked in, set down his backpack, glanced at me and went about his business.

As I cried, he checked his voicemail. Got himself a drink. Went through the mail. When the tears did not stop after 20 minutes, he asked me what was wrong. He stood about five feet away, as if my grief might be contagious. When I told him Anne had cancer, he said with a very distinct remoteness, “Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” And walked out of the room into the office, shutting the door.

Something in me clicked.

I had, of late, become somewhat resigned to feeling lonely in my marriage. I had struggled for years over the right thing to do. I stayed mainly for my kids and if I am completely honest, also because I was terrified of being in the world again without financial support. But that night, I knew I deserved more. More respect. More love. More understanding. More dignity.

And so I followed him into the office and asked quietly, “Do you still love me?” His answer was no. He thought our marriage was damaged beyond repair.

My Before had just ended, and at my own hands. And the first of many Afters had begun.

 

Kristine at candidkay

Ruthless Blogger

Mr: So if I start blogging would you proof my posts and promote my site?

Mrs: *Disbelief* You gotta build your own readership.

Mr: Hey, being married to the Holistic Wayfarer must come with benefits. I provide the house you live in.

Mrs: I gave you Tennyson. *Wild card never fails*

Mr: I contributed half. *Shoot*

Mrs: I slaved to build my blog. You think you can just ride on my coattail? I never mentioned A Holistic Journey in my vows.

Mr: *Ten minutes later* I want a cut of the blog royalty later. I’ve given you post ideas.

Mrs: Man does have a point.

Finale: Why We Love

bouquetWhy do we marry? I mean, why do we want to? I think eyeing that green, green grass of marital bliss, as singles we think more of the physical and emotional intimacy and the charming notion of making house. Those who live by convictions of faith or tradition that prescribe sex only within marriage may in particular feel this way, but people the world over copulate outside marriage. So it’s a broader question I’m asking. We are in love with the idea of being in love and want to sustain that feeling. We give ourselves away on this point: we root for the lovers on screen and in those pages as they push against every obstacle set before them – culture, race, class, war – and strain to touch fingertips. Elizabeth Gilbert says: It’s all about a desire to feel chosen. [My friend] went on to write that while the concept of building a life together with another adult was appealing, what really pulled at her heart was the desire for a wedding, a public event ‘that will unequivocally prove to everyone, especially to myself, that I am precious enough to have been selected by somebody forever.’ Although still retroactively tired from the rigors of my own lovely wedding and wishing I could’ve traded that satin shoe for an elopement, I think this woman gets close. We want to be marked.

CLAIM
Wanting to get married looks different for men and women. Though I won’t name the bloggers who’ve disagreed with me (aren’t you glad, Curt, Brad?), I think men are wired to pursue, their pleasure to be found in moving toward the woman. And women want to feel desired. In wanting to find someone to settle down with, men don’t think, “Oh, I want to be wooed.” I’ve said in the past that our very biology suggests this dynamic at play. And yes, I’m on shifty ground because in this feminist day many women in fact do the chasing. But descriptive behavior is not what I have in mind. I have yet to see a successful, lasting nuptial where the woman had insisted herself on the man and overpowered him (or manipulated him into it). Whether or not you agree, you see the majority of us wants to lay claim to someone and be claimed. Not be out here floating, forever available.

Love limits, almost by definition. Love narrows. The great expansion we feel in our hearts when we fall in love is matched only by the great restrictions that will necessarily follow. F and I have one of the most easygoing relationships you could possibly imagine, but please do not be fooled: I have utterly claimed this man as my own, and I have therefore fenced him off from the rest of the herd. His energies (sexual, emotional, creative) belong in large part to me, not to anybody else – not even entirely to himself anymore. He owes me things like information, explanations, fidelity, constancy, and details about the most mundane little aspects of his life. It’s not like I keep the man in a radio collar, but make no mistake about it – he belongs to me now. And I belong to him, in exactly the same measure. Gilbert in Committed.

BELONGING
Single people can stake out a community, especially in this age of options with meetups and interest groups of every hue in the rainbow. But this doesn’t quite mute the loneliness for most. It is an exclusive belonging we seek, one that is both horizontal in the emotional connection as well as vertical in the building of a home, the roots we want to lay. Even animals mark their place in the world. Communal affinities don’t require the private intimacy that Gilbert reminds us comes in a committed relationship. We want to desire and be desired, and in the heady throes of romance declare and hear the longing. I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. CS Lewis (who else?)

KNOWING
In The Signature of All Things by Gilbert, scientist Alma Whitaker had been quietly following the work of Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace into her waning years. The men had no idea who she was or that she too had actually come up with the theory of evolution that had propelled them to fame. Darwin never publicly spoke an ill word about Wallace, nor Wallace about Darwin, but Alma always wondered what the two men – so brilliant, and yet so opposite in disposition and style – truly thought of each other. Her question was answered…when Charles Darwin died and Alfred Wallace, per Darwin’s written instructions, served as a pallbearer at the great man’s funeral. They loved each other, she realized. They loved each other, because they knew each other. With that thought, Alma felt deeply lonely, for the first time in dozens of years.

Described to be unattractive, Alma had been hungry for the love of a man all her long life. Like her, we want to be known and cherished through our utmost faults, and be shown our own possibility of beauty. We discover the fuller breadth of this gift when we step over the threshold of matrimony. Marriage is one place this marvel of being known and (still) loved unfolds as you bump against each other’s offenses and annoyances and realize it’s forgive or bust. This knowing goes beyond the acceptance in the schoolyard, the affirmation that we’re all right and likeable. It goes even beyond the assurance from parents that our loveability is in sure standing. Which is why when we feel our spouse doesn’t really see us it cuts deeply. And so love is hard. It not only demands expression and attention but exacts its greatest testimony, sacrifice.

SACRIFICE
Even as a girl, my wanting to get married someday was bound up in my yearning to be a mother. In truth, what I wanted more than anything was to hold my baby to my heart someday. (Sorry, honey. I got the trash tonight.) Taking care of my latchkey cousins on my visits, I also wished I could raise them myself – literally, as a teenager at the time. If I were assured in my single days the recognition of Gilbert as a writer and her place on the TED stage for a trade-in on my hopes of marriage and motherhood, I would have chosen this life unblinkingly. (Okay, so I lingered on that stage a few minutes.) Remember, this from a woman for whom every minute writing is a drop of rain on a parched tongue. No, I didn’t see boyfriends only or primarily as potential fathers and I made sure to enjoy the romance with my husband. Well aware that nothing this side of heaven could ever fully satisfy, that I would always want more, I would still have felt palpably, if not achingly, incomplete without a child of my own. Well, one day, I fell in love with the baby in my arms before I went on to follow the miracle of his growing.

TPotSo why would I surrender the chance at unimpeded devotion to my art and intoxicating acclaim (presuming I had Gilbert’s talent in that alternate universe) for the daily sacrifice of my body, time, and energy in the obscurity of motherhood? Turn my back on the opportunity to be known by millions around the world, in order to wash cloth diapers by hand and pour over a stove? The question is its own answer. A childhood friend realized when she had her first child that her mother had always been looking at her. It is the sacrifice that is our delight, the unique experience of giving wholeheartedly and relentlessly to a life that delights as much in the taking. Babies and young children have nothing to give back, at least intentionally. They don’t see you because they can’t the way you do them. It’s not their job. The art of parenthood is the art of knowing. The more keen your observations, the better you decode the cries, the shyness, the explosion of energy, the ways they cope with fear. This correlation holds with friends and spouses also but at least in adult relationships we can expect some return of pleasure and appreciation on the investment of our emotional resources. Parenthood is such a one-way street, especially in the early years.

The sweetness of a man’s attention is the reason it might not have drawn me as compellingly as motherhood. (Masochist, remember?) Because where sacrifice is the measure of love, you don’t get more pain out of the business of forging a family than you do in childbirth. It’s not that one must give birth to experience love in its fullness. Love is too rich, has too many dimensions. I personally know fathers who make the better parent and we have need in the world for foster parents and caregivers which many, many step up to fill. There are women who can’t or don’t want children who give in many other ways out of a bottomless storehouse of love. This simply happens to be my narrative. I would make a better birth mother than an adoptive one. And there is something organic and visceral – downright bloody – about birthing that it discloses its own mystery on love. The pain is so mind-blowing it is a foretaste of death. You will permit me to speak because I felt every bit of it when I brought my boy into this world unanesthetized. And I’m not putting a higher premium on parenthood over the privilege of being a spouse, either. In fact, I don’t believe we should. All I am saying is we want to love so much to the point of giving up something, to the point of hurting, and women happen to find this generous opportunity in the physical and emotional capacity of the womb that is part of our design. Ironically, the high calling of sacrifice is the very reason so many marriages fail. Negotiating the give and take day in, day out into decades can get tiresome in the least under the selfishness of human nature.

So whether we become a parent or remain single, we want to mark not only our place in this world but upon other lives. Where we inscribe our sacrifice at great cost, we know we have really loved.

Not Getting Through Husband

When a sentence was not halfway out of my mouth this particular morning, Mr. Wayfarer’s phone beeped.  As I continued talking, I saw I’d been trumped by Text Almighty and the dialogue had turned into a soliloquy. I got mad at the ready disregard for my words, at Husband’s adulterous adoration of his phone.

I came back to the grievance later and huffed, “Actually, I should just text you from the next room, go to the office and text the conversation.  You’d listen then.” He started laughing, helpless against the truth. He added, “Text See me in the office. I’d come and you’d have my full attention.”

He wasn’t the only one laughing.

He’d have to come without the phone, though.