I have no title for this one!
Forgive me if I am stating the obvious, or if my new found knowledge is in fact, old news, but I think I’ve figured out why I am the way I am. Unable to capture that ever illusive bubble of happiness. Why, whenever I think I’ve figured out its location, planned a way to cleverly ensnare it and taken it prisoner, that I’m still no more content than when the hunt began. I think that the one thing that makes the lives of our generation so amazing is actually single-handedly responsible for our unshakable feelings of inadequacy and impenetrable misery….. we have too much choice!
We live in a world (thankfully) where lots of us are pretty much free to choose and follow any path that tickles our fancy, which is such a fantastically wonderful position to be in. All that freedom, all those possibilities, the chance to be able to carve any route we desire. It should have us walking around in a permanently blissful state, brimming with self satisfaction, yet for me at least, the opposite is in-fact the case.
The boundaries are just too vague, so I worry that I’m not reaching muster, the opportunities are too varied so my fear of incorrect choices leaves me clammy and anxious. Even when I try to just ‘get on with it’. I set goals and reach my goals and when the gushing rapids of happiness do not wash over me in a mildly baptismal way, I falter. Thoughts of ‘did I choose the right path’ and ‘how am I getting it so wrong’ come crashing into my mind leaving me a helpless mess.
I know it sounds ungrateful, but I look at the generation before me, my parents and even to some extent the generation before them and envy their limited choice and muted horizons. Once they have ticked the job, marriage and children boxes, that’s it! That’s them done. Everything they expected to achieve and everything expected of them, is achieved — probably even before the age of 23. An age where most of us are still floundering at university. Studying courses that have no direct correlation to real life, offer no real life experience and in no way prepare you for the humongous task of figuring your life out. So when the rented cap and gown have been handed in, you are left slightly stunned at the prospect of taking your first tentative steps towards real life.
They didn’t have those choices in years gone by, which makes them lucky and unlucky in equal measures. All they had to do to reach that plateau of contentment was to find gainful employment and go to work. There was little external (or constant internal) pressure to progress rapidly through the ranks, to continually better oneself. You worked to support your family and that was where your responsibility lay and ended.
There wasn’t the high level of unhealthy workplace competition. The constant need to be better than everyone else, to strive so hard and work so long that everything else gets lost or abandoned along the way. All for the sole purpose of making more money than you have enough time to spend, due to the crippling working hours required to reach this level. To put yourself one step higher than your colleagues, always competing, always jostling for that higher rung. When did it become acceptable to be so painfully jealous of other people’s success?
We are so obsessed with comparing ourselves to others that we no longer see a true reflection of ourselves. We want to be them. Just being ourselves in no longer enough.
And then there is marriage. The goal was to find a partner, preferably one from a similar background to you. You didn’t want your family disapproving because he was too rough around the edges or too posh to be able to fit in. After a brief courtship there would be a proposal and marriage. That was it, marriage box ticked, you were two thirds of the way to achieving everything you needed to be deemed a successful adult. The marriage needn’t be fulfilling, it didn’t even need to be particularly happy, and you just needed to have enough sex to produce offspring. As long as you were one half of a heterosexual couple, you were winning at life.
Nowadays we are constantly bombarded by beautiful couples in films and in books, images of love so strong it takes your breath away and we all feel that is achievable. We actually come to believe that this extra person in our life should provide us with this impossible happiness and we feel resentment when they inevitably fall short. We put immense pressure on our relationships, looking to our spouse to make us constantly feel wanted, needed and appreciated, every day, all of the time.
This automatically puts our relationship on the back foot, allowing for disappointment to creep in. Our heads are so easily turned because we are not paying attention to our partner. We are not looking at how we can work together, as a team to make each other happy. It all about a selfish one man quest for perfect joy. We throw relationships away so easily, another casualty in our disposable society. If our spouse does not reach muster, the relationship gets abandoned. This isn’t to say that you walk away, but your attention is no longer focused, your eyes are no longer looking at him, allowing for others to catch your gaze.
I don’t have children myself, so I can only comment as a bystander, an on looker that although doesn’t experience these pressures first hand, can see it in the tired faces of some of my friends. A lot of my friends have children, really amazing, clever, funny, gorgeous children and they have all coped with motherhood and fatherhood beautifully. I am so proud that they have not only produced such amazing offspring, but they have kept them alive, cared for and nourished them whilst dealing with the constant bombardment of images of how a perfect family should look! I imagine having a tiny human relying solely on you is pressure enough, but to then be surrounded by images of mothers with perfectly re-sculpted bodies with no signs of the battering your body takes when you have a child, manicured hands and smiling well rested faces. Not only this, but the emphasis that you must feed your child with organic home made food, and that you feel the need to apologise if you produce a ready made meal option for your child. I haven’t experienced this personally but even I have picked up on this through social media! I would love for women to start posting pictures of what motherhood is really like, pictures of red faced tots screaming at night, shitty nappies, nipples so sore they bleed through your top and the tired crying face of a mum who’s just been thrown up on again! I’d love this, so that at 3am when a new mum is mindlessly scrolling through Instagram whilst she feeds her baby for what feels like the millionth time that night, she won’t feel like she’s alone, and that actually, she is doing an amazing job after all! A new mum with this new responsibility and too much emotion to deal with does not need to be belittled, her traumas do not need to be trivialised and she shouldn’t have to feel the additional pressures in terms of how she chooses to bring up her child!
I think that although social media is such an amazing platform, in the hands of anyone who is susceptible to feelings of self loathing, anxiety, depression and insecurity is a dangerous and toxic tool.
There is too much choice and too much pressure that it’s suffocating. We always feel we are falling short of what is expected, striving to reach impossible targets. We are obsessed with how we are perceived by others. We constantly compare ourselves to everyone else, knowing full well that the images they project on social media, are not a true reflection of themselves, yet we carry on with this damaging habit regardless. We live our lives through Facebook and Instagram as we try to keep up the pretense that we have got it sorted, when really we don’t have a clue… We are lost and we are unsure, and by ‘we’ I obviously mean ‘I’