Wednesday, October 16, 2019

She Can't Go Back in Time

She’s a writer. Five years ago she moved with her husband, from New York to Los Angeles. She wanted to be in the center of the entertainment industry, for all the job opportunities and what not. She is begrudgingly admitting to being 37. She tells us nothing about her husband, what he does for a living… and the rest. One suspects that the two of them do not get along very well.

Being a product of the Los Angeles branch of the therapy culture she is lost and adrift. She has few friends in LA and has lost touch with her NY friends. But she is in therapy, and this entitles her to the usual quantity of psychobabble and utter nonsense.

If you are sentient you will quickly start thinking about the dog that does not bark. Not just the description of her husband but the most obvious question: does she want children, yes or no? While much of her complaining about the intellectual vapidity of Angelenos rings true—all you need do is listen to the idiocies that the average celebrity expels on a daily basis—it is also true that for people with small children many social interactions involve children. Couples that do not have children are often excluded from the group of parents who spend most of their time talking about school lunch, tutoring, homework and violin lessons.

Again, we do not know where she stands on the question of children, but certainly, for a 37 year old married woman, that is a salient issue. Naturally, we do not know what her husband thinks of it all… but her hint that he might just pick up and leave her does suggest that they are not in accord on the subject.

The symptom here is that she says nothing about the children issue. And Polly, bless her, is equally blind to reality.

Here is the letter, boldface added by yours truly.

I’ve always been under the impression that each decade of life gets easier. Blame women’s magazines in dentists’ offices, but are there not always features about how your 20s are total trash, your 30s are full of newfound self-compassion and peace, and by your 40s, well, you’re so happy and angst-free it’s basically like you’re floating around on molly for an entire decade? All of this increasing contentment seems to be pinned on knowing yourself more and becoming more comfortable with who you are as a person as you grow older, which totally makes sense, though it’s been the opposite of my experience. I’m now 37 (and FYI, I totally wrote 35 at first, and then thought, “If I can’t be honest about my age in an anonymous letter, that’s actually too sad”), and I feel like every year of my life I become more and more uncertain of who I am and what makes me happy. Which in effect means every year of my life I become more miserable.

I moved to Los Angeles five years ago, and I guess I haven’t really adjusted. It’s hard to make friends here — or at least friends who want to hang out more than once every three months. I’m in a marriage that makes me feel anxious and bad probably 60 percent of the time, but I’ve felt like this for two years now and I’ve done nothing about it. I have a job in a TV writers’ room, which had always been my dream and is why I moved out here. But while there’s a ton of stuff that’s great about it (okay, well, mostly the money), it’s not as fulfilling as my old job. Not to sound like a snob, but people are dumber and shallower here? The old network hacks pretty much control the room, and we end up spending large parts of the day looking at all the $5 million houses they want to buy on Zillow, or listening to them complain about how their wives spend all their money on purses (barf). I come home at night feeling numb and dumber and wondering if tonight’s one of the nights my husband’s going to start crying and say he’s not happy in our marriage and then take it all back the next day. I pretty much live in dread and fear of the next day, but keep waking up and living it anyway because I don’t know what else to do.

Actually, I know what I want to do, but unfortunately it’s impossible. I want to wake up and be 28 again and do the last decade all over again. I want to be with my best friends in New York and feel confident and happy and funny and like I have a distinct personality again. I want to be the person I used to be, the one who didn’t put up with bullshit from men, or who, at least, had an inner voice telling her, “This person is not right for you. LEAVE.” Maybe I’m looking back at my halcyon youth with rose-colored glasses, but it really feels like I was a whole person then. I stood up for myself. I knew who I was. I knew what I wanted and had the energy and ambition to at least try to go for it. It was the last time I felt like there was actually a core me.

I try to tell my therapist about this and she, wisely, always advises, “Channel your 20-year-old self. Do what she would do.” But I just don’t know how to. Because all the circumstances of my 20s have changed. My beloved group of friends have all gotten married and had families of their own. Half of them left the city. They’re still my best friends, but our contact is way more sporadic. The place I used to work has all but shut down. And I can’t find the little voice inside me anymore. The one that would tell me what to do. I think I’ve just lived in sadness and anxiety for so long she felt ignored and up and left.

I don’t even really know what my question is — this whole letter is a meandering mess, pretty much a verbal representation of the nonentity that is my personality right now. I guess I’m asking: When does it get better? How does it get better? How do you rediscover yourself? Or is this just life? Am I being an optimistic idiot to believe that there’s some means by which I can become “happy”?

Not Really a Person

Tell me now, which is more pathetic, the therapist’s advice or NRAP’s belief that it’s wise advice?

A 37-year-old woman is facing some important life decisions. She tells us nothing about them in her letter. She does not tell us what her husband thinks. Her licensed and credentialed therapist tells her that she should pretend that she is 20. At which point she would not have to make any decisions about child bearing. A licensed credentialed professional tells her patient to pretend that she is not who she is.

As for the absurd notion that the letter writer is “not really a person,” what is wrong with being an adult woman? What is wrong with being a wife? Apparently, she yearns for singlehood and despises her wifely role. 

As for why she cannot go back to the old hood and hang out with the old friends, they have all grown up and have families of their own. By not having children she has marginalized herself. Unfortunately, neither her therapist of Polly sees the point.

Why else aspire to become a persona, that is, a character in a play. Except that characters in plays do not live in the real world, surrounded by real people who have made real decisions.

As it happened,  NRAP did make some adult decisions, to get married and to move to Los Angeles. And those are the decisions that she is regretting. Perhaps she learned it from therapy, but wherever she learned it, she should unlearn it.

As it happens, Polly gets it backwards and launches a typically mindless rant about how NRAP should be herself, should feel her feelings, should lie on the floor crying… as though she were taking a method acting class. Very Hollywood that....

The hard part is feeling where you are and where you’ve been. The hard part is tracing your path back to when you resolved to stop feeling your feelings, to rise above them permanently. The hard part is recognizing that you’ve lost yourself because you’re never genuine with anyone. You’re playing a part — to make new friends, to get along with those mutants at work, to keep your husband from crying, to avoid your insecurities and your longing and your rage, to avoid standing up for yourself in any real way. You’ve lost yourself because you’re sure that if you show your true self, whoever she is, no one will like her….

You need to be the miserable freak that you are right now. That’s not possible at work, but it is possible everywhere else. It’s what your husband is already doing. You need to lie down on the ground and cry right along with him. You need to admit to him that you’re also lost and unsure of what comes next. If there’s any hope for your marriage, it lies in that dark place where two people who’ve been pretending for years finally tell each other the whole truth. You are two bewildered animals who feel all kinds of crazy things. There shouldn’t be any contempt in the air when you describe your emotional reality to another human being. It’s not personal. Surviving in a marriage requires accepting that both partners have wild, unexpected feelings that are not some moral verdict on who they are. Being brutally honest without feeling ashamed will set you both free and make you closer.

This kind of thinking might have a special appeal to a high school girl. An adult deserves better.

Anyway, Polly notes in passing that Los Angeles, a place where people are not especially smart or engaging, is awash in therapy. We all think that therapy solves problems. What if it produces problems?

The hardest thing to be in L.A. is not a freak, but a conflicted, sad person who doesn’t realize how conflicted and sad she is. This whole town is either in therapy or talks like they’re therapists themselves. It’s grating, but if you lean way the fuck into it, you’ll figure out that a lot of the people around you are more interesting than they seem.

Not one to deprive us of a cliché, Polly manages to mangle her insight by trotting out a discredited meme: she advises NRAP to lean in.

In truth, NRAP should make up her mind, in consultation with her husband, about the childbearing issue. Personhood can wait.

1 comment:

UbuMaccabee said...

I understood that the best choice in such a circumstance is to quit your career, get a job at a Jack in the Box drive through, and hook up with a high school kid. Isn't that what Hollywood teaches?