“Do something!” This is what people say when they have no clue what is going on and therefore have no basis to make an informed judgment on what needs to change - as if any “something” is better than the status quo.
And yet, applied to myself, the siren song of thoughtlessly flailing about for a different something started as a whisper until it grew to an insistent, powerful, beckoning call. I have been incredibly tempted over the last few years to “do something” to mix up the grinding sameness of my vaguely disappointing life. A new car, a new house, a new job, a new state, a new spouse, a new (ere/van-)life - I’ve fantasized about it all. Life-defining choices in high school, college, graduate school, marriage, parenting - I’ve regretted them all.
What does one reasonably and maturely do when one fears that one is losing oneself to, is being institutionalized by, one’s twin jobs of earning money and raising a family? It reminds me of this quote from David Foster Wallace:
This vague unsettling feeling I keep having is this constant gnawing sense of fear of having had, and lost, some infinite thing. But when I bring my terrible gaze to bear on this question of what exactly have I lost, the truth of it skirts the edge of the light and hides just outside the reach of my consciousness.That is real freedom. That is being educated, and understanding how to think. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default setting, the rat race, the constant gnawing sense of having had, and lost, some infinite thing.
Over the last few weeks (months? years?), I seem to have grasped at identifying some part of this lost “infinite thing” through a series of experiences and conversations with various people. A few threads:
1. thinking about @p_k’s suggestion of finding that thing “that demands your focus and your energy and your love while somehow giving you even more”. You know the only thing that came to mind over these weeks as that thing? Intimacy with other people. I have somehow become a sort of open person, not in groups and not in bullshit schmoozing, but in one-on-ones. When people tell me nothing but negative secrets, I certainly get weighed down - I don’t want to be your emotional toilet. But when they listen to my negative secrets too and we can share our positive secrets...man, that makes me feel alive.
2. I’ve always struggled with a certain feeling of a lack of intimacy in my marriage. It’s not that we couldn’t or didn’t talk to each other about negative or positive secrets, and it wasn’t that we didn’t share physical intimacy on a normal-ish, regular-ish basis. It was just this vague feeling of something missing, something important. I don't want to get into the specifics too much because it's just too vulnerable to share, even pseudonymously and even for me, but let's just say that there are certain ways that we just don't (can't?) connect. Two ships passing in the night. This was brought into stark contrast by a couple of experiences, one of which was this:
The situation @cL described in his journal to which my response is above just does not happen in my relationship and it makes me feel incredibly adrift when even basic understanding of the other's position requires HOURS of conversation, argument and, ultimately, despair.suomalainen wrote: ↑Fri Oct 04, 2019 8:40 amVery impressed with how quickly you [@cL] and the gf saw the issue, identified the issue, owned your respective emotions, took responsibility for your own contributions and were able to address the issue, in what appears to be a very efficient and mature-like manner. So not at all what happens in my neck of the woods. You should apparently run some couples-therapy workshops in your newly-found spare time.
3. When the kids were younger, there was real intimacy with the kids given their total reliance on you and their desire for your attention and your snuggles. As the kids get older, that type of intimacy completely vanishes, replaced by something more congruent with their own development and individuation. It's a form of intimacy, but I have begun to feel more like a mentor or even observer than a real actor in my kids' lives. And, frankly, I think this is as it should be, notwithstanding the longing in my heart for my cuddly little boys who gleefully greeted me at the door whenever I came home from work.
TL;DR - This vague sense of having lost some infinite thing is at least partly this sense of lacking the intimacy, the deep, real, no bullshit connection to other humans, that I seem to be designed for.
Perhaps the reason for the thing being so hard to detect is that it occurs precisely at the spot of utmost vulnerability. It requires you to accept that the very thing that one has feared for years - that your marriage isn’t what you had hoped it would be, is the irrefutable reality. The mind recoils. And so, a whisper at first, becoming more insistent...”DO SOMETHING.”
Well, I did something. But I did it eyes wide open, not to a vague unsettling feeling, but to a specific identifiable cause. I started a conversational ball rolling that will end in one of two obvious ways. But more importantly, this conversational ball will force this vague, unsettling feeling into the harsh spotlight where it will finally be seen for what it is. Frankly, I'm exhausted just thinking about the series of conversations that will ensue, but...the alternative of living with this vague unsettling feeling (whether I had self-identified it or not) had become unbearable, so I am forced to walk this path, ready or not.