“Who Said Anything About Being Happy?”

ViaPicture

Window view.

Monday April 13, 2015
Via Rail Train
Somewhere outside Toronto

Hey Kate,

Right now, I’m wishing I could make a business class seat on this train a semi-regular office – it both weirdly productive and wonderfully soothing.   I find I can get into a real work flow interspersed with regular intermissions of just listening to music while looking out the window (ideal daydream/thinking time).

It reminds me of being in my twenties, when I feel I had so many more opportunities to be in-between time and space.

Something I miss.

So I tend not to swear in print but occasionally it’s required: what a  f*cking crazy week you’ve had, I can’t believe all of that shit went down in one day. I am so sorry you are having to go through this.

Seriously, forget what I was saying last week, if anyone deserves a drink (or something better?) its you.

How’s the week since then been?

Your line about dismantling a life that you spent all these years building really stayed with me – (as so often your words and ideas do).

[Side note: at some point, you should write short story that takes place just in the span of one day, and share this meta reality that a few meetings one Wednesday can destroy what took almost two decades to create.)

It’s just so profoundly sad and speaks to the giant impermanence that looms over our families, careers, children, relationships, homes and most of all, ourselves.

We put so much angst and effort into planning, stressing and working on all of these areas but if we truly acknowledged or understood that none of it lasts, would that better inform our choices or would it just  make it all worse?

What do you think?

For a number of reasons, relationships and marriages have also been at the top of my mind these past few days.

First, there was your letter.  Then a coffee with a married friend currently in the throes of an affair and a long conversation with  another also in the middle of a divorce.  I gave a talk on The MomShift at UWO on Friday and then stayed for the next speaker who proposed the idea that its not motherhood that holds women back professionally but the “normative frameworks around being a wife.”

Which of course had me re-thinking about all the above scenarios and my own marriage.

And to cap it all off, in a random event,  I was a bridal model for a friend’s fashion shoot.  It felt odd wearing a wedding dress – I felt much more  like the mother of the bride.  But strangely, I was very much ok with that – I think its because it made me feel wise – not that I have answers, but unlike my twenties, I now know I don’t have the answers.

I agree that disappointed expectations are at the core of midlife angst, divorce and general frustration.

What do you think of this idea that it is often the unspoken expectations around being a “Wife” that really challenge women and that all this time, its been falsely conflated motherhood?

So my first book was on arranged marriages and what I found was that one of the key elements of their success is that expectations are generally clear and they are realistic.  In contrast, I think culturally we have the opposite scenario where marriage unveils expectations or belief systems that often the individuals themselves didn’t realize were so important to them.

While that book was positioned as a dating advice book –  it was really a personal search for a framework on marriage that I felt could work for me.

As a little girl,  I never had the white wedding fantasy. You?

Marriage in South Asian culture is layered with generations of heavy cultural expectations and duty and after observing the examples around me, I decided that being a wife was not for me.

Wedding

Not my wedding but from the photo shoot last week. It’s ironic that I did this, since I’m actually not a believer in the “wedding industrial complex” – w/ thanks to Anne Kingston for the language. I do love my hair though!

This continued into my twenties when The Yellow WallPaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman was one of my favourite stories.

Growing up with the backdrop of  arranged marriages  also meant  I’ve always been skeptical of the idea of finding “The One” or having a soul mate – I think we can actually find happiness with any number of  people.

But I struggle with the idea that two people can continue to grow and change together in way that works for both of them, especially as we live longer and more varied lives.  Then there’s the monogamy thing….

And yet, I incredibly value the power and shared purpose of the particular partnership I’m in.

One of the other bridal models asked me for the biggest surprise I’ve had about being married.  I told her it was how deliberately I try and work at creating the relationship I want with R.   The amount of effort it takes to maintain a relationship was something I didn’t appreciate or value in my early twenties.

On this idea, I should ask: have you seen Anne Kingston’s incredible book The Meaning Of Wife?  At some points its worth a read – a super engaging review of the cultural norms that shape our experiences as wives including often changing the characteristics that drew our partners to us in an effort to align with sense of being “wife material.”

I think I did that for awhile and then realized if I don’t change this, I’ll make myself miserable and no longer be me.

I actually disagree that our generation got a raw deal (but I’m always the half full person) but really we have more choices and options that ever before.

I think the problem is that too many of us lack the imagination or will to create the lives we want, maybe because we’ve never sufficiently stopped to think about what that really looks like – away from the cultural pressures, marketing and noise that surrounds us.  Or the numbing behaviours that described.

Maybe as you say, our expectations are just too unrealistic.

Right before I started writing this, my Mom called with a story about a family friend trying to get her late thirties son to meet potential candidates for an arranged marriage.  He’s in the middle of making a significant career change as well and is looking for what will make him happy.

His South Asian parents are of course devastated. His mother and mine had a long conversation, “..on why these children are so worried about being happy”.

As she told him, “You should be focused on getting married and building your career, not about happiness.  Who ever said life was about being happy?”

It’s a snapshot of the age old disconnect between immigrant parents and their children (the overarching theme of all my favourite Amy Tan novels.)

Growing up with that, I’ve often thought that one of the most subversive things I can do is own my happiness, my sexuality and my life choices – all things that my  own Mother wasn’t able to do.

Yikes, this letter  is way longer than I meant for it to be – but a last thought – dismantling a life whether from a gradual erosion or a sudden change of events is an insane amount to process – so please give yourself permission to honour that and not feel like you have to feel better now or move forward  too fast.

Can I recommend booking a train trip? Just listening to music and staring out a window, not reading, writing or working but being is just awesome for processing.

Serious hugs.

x. Reva

 

 

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