Love the One You’re With (That Would Be You)

Can you even imagine anything worse than your annoying job? You know the one I mean. That job you go to every single, stupid day with the insensitive boss and the inept subordinates. The job that requires you to bring work home to finish at night and on the weekends, the job that made you miss your daughter’s soccer game when her team made the playoffs. The job that pays you less than you were making five years ago, the job with the lousy benefits and insulting retirement plan. The only thing worse than your unbearable job would be not having a job. Can you imagine anything worse than waking up at oh dark hundred to go sweating through a fetid swamp with a swarmy pack of middle aged, paunchy, balding men? Running with a group of guys who think “Don’t tell those religious zealots any ‘knock, knock’ jokes” is the funniest thing since the Marx Brothers? Tromping through the humidity, dodging bat-sized mosquitoes, grunting with each aching step. What could be worse than trying to stave off inevitable mortality one tedious step after another? The only thing worse than lacing up those sneakers in the dark would be the higher risk for heart disease resulting from not plodding through the bog those early mornings. Sleeping in and inhaling doughnuts would be, in the long term, worse. Here’s the most important one: the only thing worse than your sober life-a life filled with doubt and angst, a life replete with unresolved anxieties and concerns about the future, concerns about the children-would be a life of addiction. Sneaking drinks, blacking out, losing days of your life to blurry memories of shameful behavior. Acquiring risk of kidney failure or sudden, violent death. That was worse. “Life is much to be endured, little to be enjoyed” said Dr. Johnson. The movies teach us that “if only” then everything would be okay. If only Susie would go out with me. If only Susie would fall in love with me. If only Susie would marry me. If only Susie would do things the way I say. If only Susie weren’t so completely unreasonable and impossible to live with. If only Susie would divorce me. If only Susie would accept this perfectly reasonable dissolution of assets agreement. If only Susie would stop suing me for child support. As the therapists say, “No matter where you go, there you are.” “Sideways” is a pleasant enough film, but the idea that the alcoholic protagonist will live happily ever after thanks to the love of a good woman is naïve. The would-be author learns that his book has been rejected for publication so he guzzles from a bucket of spat out wine. His life will not be better as a result of his book being published. His life would be better if he got over his issue with alcohol which is exacerbated by stress. His book was rejected so he drank. If his book had been accepted, he would have gotten drunk to celebrate. He would have gotten drunk if the moon was in Aquarius. Or not. Our issues will not leave us from external sources because our issues are not themselves external. But what if I had a million dollars? With a million dollars I could resolve my debt once and for all; I could make charitable contributions to those causes in which I believe so strongly. I wouldn’t have to worry about where that sixty thousand dollars is going to come from for that tuition payment this year. Wouldn’t I be happier if I won the lottery? Maybe. Briefly. But I’d still be who I am. Eighty-five percent of people who receive big payouts-from personal injury settlements, from inheritance, from lottery wins-are right back where they started within 18 months. Every last dollar is gone. So if having a better job, marrying the girl of your dreams, staying healthy, staying sober aren’t what ultimately make a difference, what hope is there for having a good relationship with your children? Again, the only thing worse than your current relationship with your kids would be some other relationship with your kids. Those people down the street who seem content? They may not be. We never saw what Ward and June Cleaver did when the doors were closed and the cameras turned off. Maybe it’s just as well. If you can’t model contentment for your kids, at least avoid suggesting that “everything would be better if only.” You would get along with your daughter better if she would clean her room? You would be more accepting of your son if he would do his homework? These are bad plans. Loving your kids for who they are rather than what they do is healthier for everyone involved. Which is not to suggest that loving parents accept anything less than the best effort from their children. But exertion is a more meaningful measure than result. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp." But there's no point in being a damn fool about it because your arms don't extend to heaven. I’m not arguing that you be content with mediocrity. Only that you accept that you, and the people you love, are very likely doing the best that they possibly can. And that surface change would be--almost by definition--only skin deep.

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