There’s that feeling, right after you graduate from school, or right after a breakup, when the world is wide open for a while. You haven’t said yes to any job or any date yet. At that moment, the crossroads where anything can happen, it’s exhilarating and scary.
Eventually you choose a job, or a mate, or both, and by doing that you close the door on many other possible lives. It’s healthy to choose, and go completely into something, but there’s also a mourning for the paths not taken. Sometimes we can explore those other paths through active imagination & connect to the juicy aliveness of possibility in them. Very few things are ever final. Most of us have several careers, and lots of us have several long term relationships.
In some cases the job, or the partner, or the city you live in, or having the kid is the right place to be… but it starts to feel stale, and maybe even like a cage.
We’re built for variety. We need something to look forward to. And also, there’s usually some hidden drive or energy in us that we are denying – and blaming its repression on the job or the spouse, or the kid… and maybe the melancholy is saying it’s time to wake up to that driving passion and find a way to express it again. It’s time to find that exciting, scary place inside that has a lot of living to do.
Ben and Tess
Ten years into their monogamous relationship Ben is feeling surly and resentful. Again. He feels trapped by Tess. If only he were single, he could be with anyone he wanted. Looking at attractive women is torture to him, because that spark is completely off limits. Ben is angry with Tess, angry that his relationship with her keeps him from enjoying other lovers. He is secretly terrified of losing her, he loves her so much he might die if she leaves him. And, if he indulges his desire, she will surely leave.
Their couples therapist slowly draws this out of him. Scared and embarrassed, Ben looks over at Tess and is shocked to see her face curious and open.
“I’m attracted to other people too,” Tess reveals. “I’m ok with this part of you.”
The therapist encourages Ben and Tess to connect with and feel powerfully their desire for new and unfamiliar lovers. “Nothing you feel is wrong,” she explains. “What you choose to do with your feelings is a separate matter.”
As Ben allows his strong attraction for his personal trainer to flow through his body, he begins to feel more alive. It’s not Tess stopping him from enjoying the attraction, he’s doing that to himself. Ben turns to Tess, his face open and beaming. He can feel his love for Tess beating in his chest, and he suddenly sees her as fresh and sexy. His desire for her, usually buried deep beneath a thick crust of resentment, rises up in him and he opens his arms to her. She steps toward him, and they hold each other tight.
Mira and Gabriella
It’s been a long day. It’s been a long month. Mira has no family in town, and her boyfriend works in the film industry. He’s started to make a name for himself, and he’s working most weeks now. Gone by 5 am, back home after 11 p.m.
Mira and baby Gabriella share the back bedroom behind the kitchen, and Ray pads quietly up to the little second floor bedroom each night. Sometimes Mira hears him pass by, but mostly not.
Gabriella, such a wanted baby, has begun to look like a jailor. Too much togetherness. In the bad moments, Mira cannot see any cuteness in her sweet six month old face. Nothing but a dictator, a slave driver. There are many tender moments with Gabriella, but the bad ones are stacking up.
This week, Mira plods along, as if barely conscious. Nothing but more drudgery seems possible. It’s all she can do just to drag the two of them along from morning to night, waking, eating, napping, stroller walks, laundry, early to bed, night feedings. Sometimes she hates her baby. Sometimes she wishes Gabriella had never been born.
Mira’s best friend Kate is tired of the same litany of complaints. On Friday she snaps. “Shut up! Wake up! Do something different! Steal your life back! You’re not a fucking zombie so stop acting like one!”
Kate breathes fiercely into the receiver and tries to summon more compassion. “Look,” she says, “I get it. I’ve been there when my kids were babies. It doesn’t take much change, I swear. But you can’t keep doing it all on your own. What you’re doing isn’t working.”
Somehow hearing the love under the sting, Mira wakes up. She makes a deal with her neighbour to trade kids for a few hours every other day, starting Monday.
In her first solitary hour Mira sits under a tree and watches people pass. Bliss! In her second solitary hour she puts on Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” and dances her heart out. By Friday she’s ready for a little more, so in her third solitary hour, Mira gets out her sketch book for the first time in seven months and begins to draw. She feels herself waking up, as if from a long trance. She is stealing her life back.