The arguing began within five minutes of waking. I couldn’t believe it.
I had tried to cool things down last night so I could sleep. But here it was.
The same damn thing, like a broken record.
Everything, an irritation
First, there was the email that knocked me for a loop. Not that I shouldn’t have expected it, but on some level, the words were more grating than usual. A friend, in a new affair, was bubbling over with excitement.
She’s younger than I am. No kids, steady job, and she falls in love annually. It is her usual relationship rhythm. It isn’t what I want for myself, and yet, I am envious.
Then there was the phone call from overseas. Someone I hadn’t heard from in awhile and I already guessed the reason – a woman. Again, I should have been pleased. He sounded truly happy, and I was happy for him.
But I am envious.
Worst of all was this morning.
The arguing. In my own head.
First, recognition of the feelings, then frustration, then the nagging worry that by the time I am “free” to take the reins of my own life, I will have aged out of a shot at relationship, at the excitement of something new, at the ability to appreciate it – or even to desire it.
And then, the refrain. My own voice, chastising.
Stop it. Be nice. This is great news. Everything is fine.
When you go to sleep with arguing in your head, and you wake up to the same dialog – the voices of social convention versus emotions – how do you mediate?
- Do you eventually tell the emotions to just take it on the chin, and shut up?
- Do the niceties win out just in time to utter pleasantries aloud or type them into an email?
- Is this just the price of keeping friendships intact? Or maintaining your own moderated optimism?
Conflict between what we feel and what we allow to show?
Right. That’s stating the obvious. The necessity of the public face is part of our culture – not just the public face we maintain online or in our jobs – but in our relationships, casual and intimate. It is also a matter of good manners.
And you know what they say – “Fake it until you make it.” It works for some; it works for short periods. But as a way of life?
How much time is spent denying emotions we term “negative” rather than giving them air time, all the while castigating ourselves for feeling them in the first place? Doesn’t the resulting clash make everything worse?
Isn’t it human nature to wish you were the one who stumbled upon a new love interest? The job of your dreams? A brief break from your reality?
Sure. We can always find someone worse off. We know that.
What about the other so-called negative emotions – anger, hurt, jealousy? What about loneliness? Why is that such a dirty word? Don’t these emotions have a right to be heard?
When you’re treading water and know it to be a victory – for you – doesn’t it feel like defeat when others are passing by? Must we always put on the happy face in our competitive culture – as if everything were fine?
Everything is fine
Frankly, around here, everything is fine.
Oh, sure. There’s those damn forms for my kid, but the finish line is in sight. There’s the usual routine which can be wearing, but it’s manageable. My older son is self-sufficient and doing well. My younger son is a polite and responsible kid. They’re both healthy. We have a roof over our heads and food on the table.
I have plenty to be grateful for, and I am.
The pace of the race and the happy face
But it’s still a rat race. And the pace of the race hasn’t let up in a long time, though I constantly tell myself “one more hurtle” and then we can relax. I know this to be a coping mechanism. I know this to be an effective coping mechanism, for me.
But the arguing! The tirades in the ring of Reality Self versus Optimist Self, not to mention the social conventions that seep into our inner dialog and require us to look on the bright side, keep our chin up, and put on a cheery smile.
Must we? Really?
Name that tune!
You got it.
That, too, though I remind myself again – everything is fine. Because it is, even if I have to fight to convince myself. Even if “fine for now” doesn’t feel like enough. Even if the next email, the next phone call, the next anything may drop me over the edge into a funk.
And then the arguing starts again. Scolding, because I’m not counting my blessings. A reminder to find perspective. And I will do both. But can’t I cut myself some slack and feel the feelings without feeling guilty?
Shouldn’t we all do that?
Previews of coming attractions
In three months my son will know what college he is attending, and we will know the cost. When you know the size and shape of the next challenge, it’s easier to deal with.
Six months from now, he will begin a new part of his life – perhaps nearby, perhaps not. Either way, empty nest promises a new phase that is certain to unleash considerable turmoil. And opportunity.
Reality Self and Optimist Self will go a few rounds. I’m hoping for a draw, and greater freedom to choose – and accept – whatever comes next.
© D A Wolf