Fitting the Mold


CookieCutterMold

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.

 

Making Choices

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”.

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20 thoughts on “Fitting the Mold

  1. I so agree. Life (you mention discontent) has everything to do with our choices and our beliefs. I have spent a significant portion of my life exploring my choices and reasons for those choices…ultimately our choices and behaviors are fueled by our beliefs. If we are sad, angry, unhappy or resentful we can find a whole inner landscape of beliefs, personal judgements on ourselves and lack of boundaries to be the culprits. But we have to LOOK in ourselves. When we own our behavior and our choices we are fully in charge of our feelings and the path we are choosing to take. Once we allow ourselves to be back in the drivers seat of how we are feeling, we are then able to see we are also in charge of our own happiness and life as a whole. 😌💙

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll try to comment on this whole chain here…

        Cheating definitely shows up in a lot of troubled relationships, and I’ll agree that it is often the “final straw” in a relationship that causes it fail.

        That said, I see cheating as a symptom of the other issues more than I see it as an initial problem.

        To be clear, I am 100% against cheating. I don’t think it’s ever acceptable, and believe it to be a deal breaker on relationships. I also think it’s one of the most selfish acts that a person in a relationship can make.

        That said, I kind of understand it (at least I think I do). When some of the other problems I’ve talked about creep up – taking each other for granted, not making time for each other, stopping seeing the positives and instead focusing on the negatives, a breakdown of empathy etc; I think relationships start to become very lonely. People start to feel completely disconnected from the person they are with. And when that happens, well, no good can come of it.

        Some people decide they need to work on the relationship and make it better, others resign themselves to a life of loneliness while “in” a marriage. And some start looking elsewhere for the fulfillment that they are no longer getting.

        Bad idea, and to me is a cowardly way out, but I can see how it happens.

        I’ve actually written a few posts on cheating (check the Quick Links section at the top). The quickest read is https://thezombieshuffle.com/2015/06/27/what-is-an-affair/.

        Thanks for the comments.

        Like

      • I’ll check the site out. Thank you. You may be right about prerequisites for cheating….or it could be the result of a selfish narcissist who (1) thought he was entitled (2) thought I’d never find out (3) got so drunk all the time he used that as an excuse (4) was raised by a mama who told him that SHE was the only woman in his life that mattered…or (5) raised by a daddy who told him to just “hold his breath and hope I’d never find out.”

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Laurel, you’re right. There are also entitled assholes who believe they can do what they want and rules don’t apply to them. And sadly, your ex sounds like one of those.

        I’m kind of a glass half-full kind of guy though, and I would like to think that people like that are in the minority (at least compared to the number of affairs out there). And that often there are underlying relationship issues that contribute to affairs. Not that it’s ever an excuse, but I like to think that most people are actually pretty good.

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      • I used to think that way…now….I expect the worst in people…that way, I’m not devastated when I find out who they really are. On the other hand, I am pleasantly surprised sometimes, by who they really are. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • I can understand that, and I do think that people are inherently selfish – focused first and foremost on their own needs and wants.

        But I still don’t think *most* people are willing to step on others, and completely ignore them in order to get what THEY want.

        I would like to think we are all interested in furthering our own agendas, but are happy to work together with others to accomplish them.

        Like

    • Well, I’m not sure how much clarity I really have, but it all comes down to the desire to answer the question of why so many relationships fail, or aren’t as successful as they should be.

      Read enough and listen enough, and a lot of common patterns begin to emerge.

      All though we are all different, and all come from different backgrounds it seems that over time we all make the same mistakes.

      Hopefully if we start to understand them we can learn from them, and try not to make them in the future.

      I’m not sure how well I’m doing at it, but that’s my goal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I can say from personal experience that a mid-life crisis is not fun nor as glamorous as Hollywood portrays it. For me, it was caused by going with the flow and never choosing my own path. Eventually, that suppression of who I am lead me to take stock of my life and I realized that I needed to change. It was a painful process, but worth it in the end.

    You can only suppress who you really are for so long before you break. I found that out the hard way.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Drew

    You said: “I can understand that, and I do think that people are inherently selfish – focused first and foremost on their own needs and wants.

    But I still don’t think *most* people are willing to step on others, and completely ignore them in order to get what THEY want.

    I would like to think we are all interested in furthering our own agendas, but are happy to work together with others to accomplish them.”

    I am fascinated by your half full point of view.

    Where do you think that comes from? Were you born that way? Was it a life philosophy you actually chose? Do you think it is possible to change your half full or half empty defaults? If so how? I need me some of that, share your secrets with us (other than Cool Ranch Doritios) 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Lisa, honestly I’m not sure. I believe that who we are today is based on the sum of our experiences, so I’m sure there are a number of things that have contributed to my outlook. Part choice, but also partly based on observation.

      I do think we are all selfish, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. It actually makes sense to me, because we only experience things based on how they impact us, and how they make us feel. So yeah, it follows that our own need and wants should be the primary things driving us.

      Although we are selfish, I think we also have an innate need for acceptance, and belonging. I suspect it is this side of us that allows us to have emotional intelligence and empathy. This also allows us to make that shift between caring only about ourselves and our needs, and being able to enjoy and appreciate something not because it directly benefits us, but because it benefits someone we care about. In these cases this appreciation and enjoyment of seeing someone else happy is an indirect benefit to us, but I don’t think that’s WHY we do it – we do it because we genuinely want others to be happy.

      I’ve talked before about intimacy, and my thoughts on it. I really think that the happiest relationships are ones where people have similar notions of what they want for intimacy, and they value the notion of “we” as much as they do “me”. When there is a big gap in desired levels of intimacy I think relationships get in a lot of trouble, because one person is more focused on we while the other is more focused on themself.

      Getting off topic I guess, so let me reel my brain back in…

      I look at something like commissioned sales, where I see two main approaches. Some people are slick sales people, and they can convince people to buy anything. They probably do really well, and make a fair bit of money in a short period of time. Other sales people really try to listen to you, and they will steer you towards what they believe is best for you even if it’s not what makes them the higher commission. Slick salesperson probably makes more money short term, but likely also has more customers who suffer buyers remorse. Sales person two probably builds loyal customers who will come back and ask specifically for them.

      I’ve been on projects with vendors, and I see this same philosophy. One vendor I worked with was clear that we were a client, and we had a really strict document written up on project requirements. Sometimes though, you don’t fully understand a problem until you are working on it, and things need to change. This one vendor made us jump through all sorts of hoops for changes, as any variation from the initial agreement was not in scope.

      I compare that to a different project with a different vendor. This other project the vendor was more like a partner. They understood our actual outcome, and didn’t get caught up in the specifics of how we believed we were going to get there. When issues arose, they worked WITH us to solve them. They felt like part of our team, while the other vendor it was clearly just a contract.

      I look at job satisfaction. Personally, I enjoy my work more if I believe in it, and if I feel like I am able to make positive contributions towards our goals. And I find that MUCH better then just going in and punching a clock.

      When you are part of something, I think you are willing to give more. You still care about your own needs/wants, but they aren’t your overriding concern because you get enjoyment out of simply belonging.

      I think the same happens in relationships. When the relationship is bigger than you, it tends to be stronger. But if you approach it with a mindset (consciously or subconsciously) that you are there primarily because of “what it does for you”, then you are more likely to find yourself unhappy and unappreciative of the things you have.

      Like

  4. Pingback: Is It Better To Be Single? | thezombieshuffle

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