Today I want to talk about Mo’s struggle to offer a soft landing to one of her more persistent suitors, a nice man who is offering a nice, safe life. And even though I’ve been happily married for almost 20 years, I can relate to Mo’s dilemma. In her case, the particulars include whether to get involved with a surly, psychologically damaged werewolf or the nice guy next door, so to speak, but I think that’s a metaphor for a lot of my life these days, even if the specifics look a bit different.
So, what do sane people do when the world is too much with us and they start making poetry allusions because they’re getting slap-happy? They offload some of the activity, that’s what they do. They let something or even more than one something slide right off their plates and onto someone else’s dishes or into the trash.
And that’s what I need to do. Stat, as Randolph Mantooth would say. But what, that is the question. And if I could answer that question in a satisfactory way, the next question to trip off the tongue is, how?
Breaking up is hard to do, and not just in saccharine Neil Sedaka songs. In order to execute the plate-sliding plan, I have to tell someone that I cannot meet their expectations. I will have to let someone down. And on top of that unhappy activity, I will need to close the door on one or more of my options (as in the opposite of keeping my options open, as I am wont to do and advise). That is scary as shit.
We’ll get back to the unpleasant task of having the actual break up conversation itself, which is enough to churn the coffee in my stomach, and contemplate instead the gut wrenching reality of ceasing to hedge one’s bets and planting both feet on a path to the unknown. Oh, my, I’m having palpitations just thinking about it.
It’s that whole commitment thing. We often think of commitment as tying ourselves to one person or one job or one place to live, or even a specific color for our dishes. The other part of that equation is that when we choose to commit ourselves to one thing, we are, by definition, deciding not to do something else.
So, for example, if I want to have more time to write and promote my blog, then something else has to give. The choices are: my family time, and that’s a no; my sleep; again, negatory; my friends and social time, not so much, as there’s precious little enough of that as it is; then there is the time I devote to volunteer work, exercise and healthy eating; nothing good will come of my forgoing those efforts. So, what’s left? Oh, yeah. Work. Of the money-making variety. That is definitely taking up a large proportion of my perpetually-overflowing plate these days.
I’m a consultant. Which is a fancy way of saying I do a variety of work for a variety of clients who pay me. When I work less, I get paid less. When I work more, I get paid more. Simple stuff. And I could work less. My income (together with my husband’s) more than covers basic needs and an abundance of wants. We save. We have money to spend on travel and hobbies and funding our children’s 529 plans. And then some. So we are among the lucky few who are doing well by doing good.
So why do I feel like I can’t back off? Why do I continue to run on the hamster wheel of ever-more income and subsequent consumption? Why does the thought of having less money so I can follow my passion scare the pants off me?
Oh dear, the billeted list of answers to those questions is way too long to cover here, but I will say this: each bullet point begins with the words, “what if…?” Followed by predictions of doom and gloom.
What if we commit to one person and a better one comes along? What if we take one job and the next day find out we got the job of our dreams? What if, as happened to my mother, you say yes to the nice but totally uncool guy who asked you to the prom and the next day the captain of the football team invited you to be his date (her mother made her go with the guy who asked first, by the way, which was the correct, but heartbreaking thing to do).
What if I get hit by a bus today? The answer is, then it is what it is and we figure out what to do in that moment, and avoid clogging our brains with obsessive contingency planning. In the end, it all works out. If it isn’t working out, it’s not the end, as one of my favorite greeting cards says.
So, the plan is to give up some work. Check–I’ve written the emails explaining that I need to back off from taking on new projects. I haven’t hit send yet, though. I’m experiencing paroxysms of doubt and guilt. The old double whammy of distress. But I can do this. Probably better even than Mo, in fact, whose idea of letting her suitor down easy wasn’t so fabulous in my book. But she meant well, so that counts.
Because, at the end of the day, a door, window or another exit needs to close before something else can open. Or you’ll find yourself in a house of mirrors leading nowhere at all.