Saturday, February 7, 2015

Other people's lives

Like everyone, I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking, "Wow, I wish my life was more like hers" when I talk to someone who is experiencing something wonderful like romantic love.

But I'm learning, over and over again, that things are not always as they appear.

Yesterday I got my hair cut by a woman who has been part of my social circle for over a decade; I don't know her well, but we know a lot of people in common, and she actually participated on my Breast Cancer 3-Day team many years ago.  I hadn't talked to her in ages (she had never done my hair before - I decided to pay for a nice haircut for once, instead of going for the bargain, and so I went to her....but that's another story!), so we were catching up.

She caught me off guard, and said, "I was SO surprised when I heard about your divorce.  You were such a happy couple!"

I nearly fell out of the salon chair.

The thing is, I did my absolute utmost to make the best of my life, to make the most of my marriage, to be the kind of spouse I'd want to be married to.  I didn't trash talk him (although I did confide in my absolute closest girlfriends), I worked hard at presenting a unified front.  The whole time I was dying inside (possibly literally, given my breast cancer) and I felt like a total fraud, very unhappy, lonely, and confused.

But on the outside, it looked like I was a happy hausfrau.

In the past few weeks at my daughter's gymnastics class, I've been on the other side of that equation, feeling surprised at someone else's struggles.

Gymnastics Mom #1 (GM1) has been divorced for a few years.  She's got a hotshot career.  She's also got a hot boyfriend, and a year or so ago they bought a house together and moved in with one another and their kids.  The kids are all besties, the new boyfriend is loving and attractive, and life looked really, really good from the outside.   I've asked her how she got her life to this place, and she has glowed and looked happy and said things like "It'll find you when you least expect it!"  (True or not, this has to be one of the most annoying phrases ever, but I digress.)

This week, GM1 approached me while our daughters vaulted and balanced and cartwheeled.  "I've been wanting to call you," she said.  "I need some support."  She started to cry.  "(Hot boyfriend) told me that it's over, and he's moving out.  I didn't see it coming, and I'm devastated, and I can't do this...."

Their children don't know yet.  She has to move, because she can't afford to stay in the house they purchased together using their combined income, designed to fit four children.  I hugged her and said, "You survived your divorce.  You will survive this..." and she said, "No, it's different, this is worse..."

Yikes.  From any angle, that looks impossibly painful.  :-(

Gymnastics Mom #2 (GM2) has a similar story.  Divorced several years, she's in a two year relationship, and they live together with his daughter and her daughter.  They go to hot, sunny, Latin American beaches with regularity; they appear to have a discretionary income a zillion times my own.  She paints a picture of a perfect life.  But I'm listening, and after I got over my burst of jealousy (hey, who wouldn't want what she describes?) I started to hear something more.  She wants to get married, he doesn't.  It's hard for them to find any time together, and whenever time opens in the schedule he's prone to booking it with something else that doesn't include her.  Their lease was due to renew, and he said he only wanted to go month to month because he wasn't sure where there relationship was going.  Then she told me that he has tried to break up with her two years in a row because, in her words, "He doesn't know what he wants.  He wants me, he's just confused."

Her relationship has all the signs of RUNNNNNNN!  I know that it's not mine to judge, but to me it sounds desperately unhappy, and the more that I learn about it the less happy it sounds.  Yet, when I first met her, I was convinced that she is the one who had it figured out, and I had much to learn.

I like to stay on the move, changing my life daily for the better.  I like to see what I can improve, and improve it.  I have lots of goals in my life, and every day I think about how I can reach them: career, financial, romantic, health, travel, writing.  It's so easy to see how far I have to go.

Today, I'm stopping and thinking about how my life might look from the outside.

Perhaps people look at me and think "Oh that poor woman!  Cancer, divorce, single mom....I don't know how she does it!" and they feel sad or sorry or something.

Or maybe they look at me and feel envious, because I have a meaningful career, a great relationship with my daughter, a comfortable home, health, friends.

My life isn't perfect.  I'd really like to drop the muffin top and get back into marathon shape.  I REALLY REALLY REALLY want to switch to this new job opportunity, in my field but so much more than my current job.  I'd like to fall in love.  (Interesting, hmmm?  I "REALLY REALLY REALLY" want the new job, but I'd "like" to fall in love.  That's a switch!  But it's honest.)

Who knows what people see when they look at me.  There are elements of truth in both viewpoints, of course, but neither pity nor envy feels like an appropriate response to my life.  I love where I am, but the journey here has been difficult, and my path certainly isn't for everyone.

I am going to try to remember that when I look at other people's lives.  I'm going to try to remember that most of us are just struggling to make the most of our lives, to do the best we can.  I'm going to try to remember that things are not always as they appear, and that unless someone invites me in to their inner circle, I have no way of knowing how things really are.

Today, I'm working on letting go of envy.  My life is beautiful, even with all of its imperfections, and I am grateful to be where I am.  I'm working at seeing people, with their beauty and imperfections, as people "just like me" and not entirely "other."

I can't help but be astounded that I am so happy, so content, even when I am outside of a romantic relationship.  The less I focus on romance, the more content I am, actually.  It's not time to buy a dozen cats yet, but I do see the appeal: I am living my life on my terms, and there is joy in that.

Today, I'm sending out good wishes to GM1 and GM2.  Whatever my perceptions of their lives, true or false, I hope that they find peace with their paths, that they feel joy in their choices, that they feel loved and accepted.  I think that's what we all want, whether in a romantic relationship or not.

What a jolting sensation, to realize that I have put their lives on pedestals, so certain that they had what I'm seeking, only to find out that I am in the more enviable position of being content with where I am, free of heartbreak, at peace in my life.  I certainly have a great deal to learn (wouldn't it be nice to feel those things AND have romantic love?), but I have wouldn't trade places with them for anything.

Lessons learned, every day.

No comments:

Post a Comment