When I started this blog, I was trying to come up with possible answers to the following:
Everyone who gets married wants and expects it to last. So why do so many fail? And for those that don’t fail, why do so many people end up unhappy or in a marriage that isn’t satisfying? What are we doing wrong?
As I’ve explored these ideas, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no “magic reason” that causes them to fail; however there ARE a lot of common contributors.
One or more of the following show up in most struggling relationships:
- Not making time for the relationship
- Taking each other for granted (hedonic adaptation)
- Focusing on the negative instead of appreciating the positives
- Confusion over the relationship when “feelings” fade
- A lack of empathy
But another, less talked about area that I feel is a significant contributor to relationships problems is “fitting the mold” (yeah the term sucks, but bear with me and hopefully it will make sense).
The Process of “Growing Up”
If you are married or in a long term relationship and living with someone, why did you do it? If you have kids, why did you do it?
Did you ever even think about it? Of it is just something you “knew you always wanted”? And if you knew you always wanted it, how did you know?
Often, it’s something we always knew we wanted because it’s what we saw modeled to us growing up. Through parents, friends parents, grandparent, media etc; we see this template of what it looks like to “be an adult”.
We’re supposed to finish high school, and probably get a post-secondary education. After that it’s off to a career. While we’re doing this we date a few people (with the intent of finding the person we can see building a life with). Marriage, maybe a couple of kids (not necessarily in that order), we probably buy a house, and hope we have enough money to go on vacation every once in a while. We raise the kids, see them move out on their own, retire, and shift from parent mode to grandparent.
Oh yeah, then we get old and die.
Overall, it’s not a bad story.
There is one fairly important thing that gets lost in this story though.
Who exactly am I?
In media, we are constantly bombarded with messaging telling us we need to be different, be unique, and be who you want to be. And the underlying message here is that “normal” is bad.
So if we’re all more or less following the template, what makes us “us”?
Losing (and Finding) Yourself
When I was a kid I thought midlife crisis was a bit of a joke. I would see it in movies, and it was usually portrayed as a man (usually a fairly pathetic one) trying to recapture his youth. He would divorce his wife, get the red sports car and a girlfriend half his age.
As I’ve aged, and hit these supposed midlife years my perception has changed somewhat. Now I think midlife crisis is a real thing, but it’s not the way Hollywood portrays it. Yeah, sometimes there’s the sports car and the girlfriend. But those are the extreme cases. More commonly I see that at anywhere from 35-45 years of age men and women seem to hit a point where they take stock of their lives.
Some find themselves generally content, and continue on happily.
Others find that marriage, parenting and simply being an adult isn’t quite what they were expecting; and they find themselves asking is this all there is?
Lastly I see a group of people who seem to come to the conclusion that they have been living the life they thought they were supposed to live. They’ve been following the template, and fitting the mold. And suddenly they aren’t sure if the life they have is actually the one they want.
To outside appearances, they may have a pretty good life, and find that the people around them are unable to understand why they aren’t happy with it. Hell, THEY may not even be able to understand why they aren’t happy with their life.
When this happens it often has very little to do with the actual conditions of their life. Rather, this discontent with their life is about choice, and belief.
In life some people actively make choices. They get a job because they wanted that job. They pursue that guy/girl because they were interested in that person. They get married because the want to build a life with that other person.
Other people are more passive. They aren’t sure of what they want, so life just kind of happens around them. They get a job because the job was available. They are in a relationship because they don’t want to be alone, and the other person seems like a pretty good option.
I believe your enjoyment and satisfaction level in life is directly related to whether or not you have actively made choices. People who actively make choices tend to be happier overall then people who are just along for the ride.
If someone hasn’t actively chosen their path, it’s understandable they would experience discontent, and question whether the life they have is actually the one they want.
Sometimes people take a look at their life and decide it’s not what they actually want. So they go in search of something different. Sometimes people find it and are happier. Other times people spend many years in search of something they can’t even define, thinking they may not know what they want but they will know it when they find it.
Another approach is to try and make some changes and grow as an individual. When someone either isn’t sure what they want or has been living the life they thought they were supposed to live, this can be a time to try and find what they actually want.
And this doesn’t have to mean throwing away the life they currently have, as personal growth can often bring back a sense of fulfillment that has been missing. By making a few changes and growing, some people are ultimately able to re-embrace the life they had.
A degree of caution should be taken though, as life doesn’t stop while someone tries to find themselves. And there’s a risk that during their search the life they had is now gone.
Making Your Own Road
In life, there is no one right path. Getting an education doesn’t guarantee a job. Getting a job doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy it. Some people are happier staying single, and being a parent is much, much harder than anyone ever tells you.
So instead of fitting the mold, it’s best to find what works for you.
That’s not always easy though.
Personally, I think the mold exists because it does have a number of strengths and advantages, and for many people it provides a good path for finding happiness in life.
Even if you embrace it though, you shouldn’t go through life just checking off the boxes in a soulless way (got the job, yup. Got the girl, yup…).
Maybe it’s best to think of it as a guide instead of a map. You still need to put your own mark on things, and do the little things to make your life “yours”.