During an ongoing conversation with a friend about happiness, I asked him what it is in his life that keeps him from being happy.
“What does this elusive happiness look like? What do you believe will bring that happiness? How will it manifest—will you find it, will it find you, or will you make it? What are you struggling against, that you feel is keeping happy away for more than short bursts? What are you willing to change or eliminate in order to make room for this happiness?”
Of course, this banter comes on the heels of my own burst of unhappy this weekend. I have been frustrated that life isn’t necessarily how I want it to be. Since DH moved out of state two years ago, he has had very little interaction with the boys. Phone calls and email have been sparse, and visitation totaled 28 days in that two-year span. (Though I am happy that he has been making a much more concerted effort to rectify that, as of late. <fingers crossed>)
That has left me with very little time in which to connect with myself on my terms. His absence coincided with my starting college and work, so I have lived in the constant pace of mom and student and employee. Constrained by obligation and time and money, I have had to forego a lot of the time to be “free” I’d previously had when the boys were with their father.
Because the boys were getting older and more self-sufficient, I’d been able to take some time away from them, a few hours for class or work or the occasional (bad) date. Then I met Rango.
“Wow,” he said during our first date, “with so much going on, how do you find time to date?”
“If it’s important to me, I will make time for it,” I replied.
Eventually—especially once GOAL was added to my plate—I started to butt up against real limitations. There are only so many hours in a day in which to accomplish what needs to happen in our life. I had to make serious adjustments.
Of course one of the first things to go was working out. If the exhaustion isn’t enough to drop me in bed by 9:00, household chores or schoolwork keep me busy. Now that I’m at Mercer in a program for working adults, my day starts at 6:00 a.m. and often doesn’t end until class lets out sometime after 10:00 p.m.—plus the drive home and the unwinding before I can even sleep before I get up and do it again. Having the boys for nearly 100% of the year also added substantial additional cost; it turns out teenage boys eat a lot, and their school/social activities are time-consuming and expensive.
This week, again, Facebook popped up with my “memories”—pictures from that day in years past. This time it was from a specific night three years ago with Pandy. I looked at the picture and thought, “I miss my purple hair. And I miss my collarbones.”
Toward the end of my marriage, I rebelled against the domesticity I’d created. I felt trapped and struggled to find meaning or purpose that didn’t stem directly from my role as wife and mother. Never happy in the medium, I swung the pendulum so far in the other direction that it, at times, wreaked havoc on my life.
So while I desperately miss the freedoms that come with fully embracing the Sassafras O’Malley persona, I am also careful to remember the confusion and static and sheer craziness that often came with that liberty. Sassafras has a tendency to be where she probably shouldn’t be.
Right now I’m living the life I need to be living: working full time, taking care of and providing for my children, going to school more than half time in order to finish as quickly as possible, succeeding by everyone’s metrics, including mine. And I have the support of a life partner who helps with as much as he can.
But sometimes, I still feel unhappy.
While doing homework over the weekend, I read a quote by Simone de Beauvoir: “Those who are condemned to stagnation are often pronounced happy on the pretext that happiness consists in being at rest.”
Because I’m not able to do what I want, when I want, I often feel stagnant. I feel trapped by circumstance that’s changing far slower than I would like, given my incredibly impatient nature. Sometimes I feel resentful when that circumstance is to blame for the lack of freedom and the feeling of stagnation. And it doesn’t matter that my head knows better; my gut is screaming that it feels wrong, that it feels too much like my life before, and my heart gets angry.
When I feel those emotions, I have choices in how to react. I can scream and go off my fucking rails, which very people have ever seen. For everything I have experienced with Rango, he has never been witness to a full-fledge Stephie Meltdown. I can choose to hold it all in and just pretend it’s not there, cycling slowly through more resentful. Or I can feel it and acknowledge it and let it go.
Knowing myself the way I do, I usually choose the latter, but Rango called me out on my methodologies. He complained that I become cold and distant, obviously struggling with some emotion that I refuse to let escape the icy surface. He’s right. I eventually found that the quickest way out of my own head was to jump in, dropping into it as quickly as possible, and then use that downward momentum to push off the inevitable bottom, letting the pressure release as I rise back to the top in a stream of my own bubbles.
But as long as I feel like there are things missing or that I am bound by circumstance, I will still have moments of discontent. I will still have impetus to feel unhappy at times.
Maybe happy isn’t the goal. My former therapist told me once that happiness is a fleeting emotion and that content is likely the healthier alternative I am most likely to feel content when I am living my life on my own terms, in my own way and at my own pace. But because I have relationships with other people, especially those three men who live in my house, I am morally obligated to take their contentment into consideration as well. What I want is sometimes in conflict with what they need.
So for now, I’m trying to make the best of it. I’m trying to make those small changes I talk about in my GOAL speeches, to pick up the pieces I keep dropping and put them together in the ever-expanding mosaic that makes up my disco ball. For once in my life, I’m thankful to have these big hands that let me hold more than seems possible.