The life of others and why you can’t have it

Photo credit (c) Jeremy Pushkin

Photo credit (c) Jeremy Pushkin

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the expression “life of others” in the context of grass always greener on the other side. You know when everybody else’s lives seem to be blooming wonderful except your own?

Everyone around you seems to have a lover they gallingly call “my other half”, probably amazing sex lives worthy of being directed by Lars Von Trier, popping babies out like rabbits; they are successful in their careers, getting pay rises and promotions, buying fancy cars, getting mortgages to buy a house, planning their post-retirement years cruising the Mediterranean.

And you..well…you come home to your bachelor or spinster home, eat your frozen ready-made meal from Tesco standing in the kitchen while you check your emails on your mobile phone. Maybe you have a cat to feed, who scuttles off as soon as it’s had its meal. You turn on the TV to watch a mind-numbing programme you are not even interested in, open a can of beer… Maybe you masturbate, maybe not, maybe you fall asleep on the sofa, maybe not, maybe you call a friend, maybe not. You have no plans for tomorrow nor the weekend, let alone next year. Your answering machine says “zero calls”, but then who calls landlines these days anyway? The last three missed calls on your mobile are from your mother, but you can’t be bothered to call back, knowing she will want to revisit the same discussion you had last time on why you are still single.

Okay, okay, my life is not that bad. I cook myself healthy meals every evening, I may watch a film or the news on my iPad (I don’t own a TV), read articles I’ve bookmarked during the day, I may even blog. I seldom feel lonely, as I enjoy my own company and have plenty of great friends. I hate talking on the phone so I never call, instead I email, or text, or tweet. But lately I’ve been getting lax even about replying to emails, not because I don’t want to but because I’ve been too mentally drained to put a coherent sentence together. I tend to shun company and retreat into my solitude for comfort.

These days all I want to do is sleep. And sleep and sleep and sleep. Sometimes I wish I’d never wake up from my sleep, that tomorrow may never come. And when I do wake up, I can’t get out of bed and am late for work everyday. It’s become a standing joke in the office though no one dares criticise me as I work long hours and am also the last one to leave the building. When I told a colleague I had no motivation in my job any more, his answer was, “Yes, I can tell.”

The pursuit of happiness
In reality I can’t find the motivation to live, full stop. The hardest thing about being single and not having a family is that when you are down and feeling defeated, there is nothing else to keep your fight going. When you at least have a child who depends on you, you think twice before slitting your wrists in the bathtub, don’t you?

I am not seriously contemplating any variation of harakiri in the bath, but in the past few months, in my attempt to find self-love while practising selfless love, that is, giving without a desire to possess or control, my emotions have become so torn and muddled I often do not know whether I want to laugh or cry, commit suicide or just stuff my face with chocolate until I’m sick.

They say the more you love yourself, the more you can love others without depending on being reciprocated to achieve happiness. But every time I catch myself smiling and saying “How lovely,” when my heart is breaking inside, I am convinced such valiant actions should belong to the realm of the superhuman alone. They are too ridiculous and impracticable for us self-serving mortals.

After all, isn’t it “normal” for us to desire happiness for ourselves? Why do I congratulate happy events in other people’s lives more often than I rejoice in my own? Or is it just a case of greener grass on the other side…?

The other day, when I had to be tested in hospital for signs of ovarian cancer, I was surprised to find myself perfectly calm at the prospect of a possible early death. So many bad things had happened to me already; one more or one less didn’t seem to make a difference. And if my fate is to die now, I will die happily, embrace death as I embraced life, with total acceptance.

This may sound morbid, but it isn’t meant as such; it is simply a survival tactic. Life has taught me the best way to survive it is to accept each moment as it comes, whether it is good or bad. The lives of others, however enviable they may seem from the outside, are their own script, and have no bearing on yours. Their timeline is not your timeline.

Last week a friend of mine had her first baby, one which was conceived two years after her divorce and soon after the start of a new relationship. At the time she announced her pregnancy to me, I was recently separated from my husband, at the peak of my fragility. As I read her email late at night in a hotel room in Tokyo – I was away on yet another business trip – I felt hot tears streaming down my face (I blogged about it here). Why did everyone else’s love stories have a happy ending whereas mine…I didn’t even have one any more.

Yet, when the news of her baby’s birth came through, I caught myself quivering with emotion. I could hardly sit still; my impulse was to drop everything to be by her side, give her a hug, hold her newborn without any of the resentment I had harboured nine months earlier.

This was her happy moment, and I had no reason to be jealous of it. Two or three years ago, she might have been where I am now, wondering why the lives of others look so much rosier than her own.

Life changes at every moment, as point number 10 of this blog post has reminded me. Have you seen Sliding Doors? One split second is all that’s needed for your life path to shift direction.

“A seemingly innocuous decision rattles our whole world like a meteorite striking Earth. Entire lives have been swivelled and flipped upside down, for better or worse, on the strength of an unpredictable event. And these events are always happening to someone else right this second.”

Knowing this doesn’t make me feel better about my current predicaments, nor does it fill me with schadenfreude in anticipation of a possible reversal of fortune for all those who seem happy today.  But it helps me re-focus on my own story, my own life.

What you have today may not be yours tomorrow; this applies to everything – money, job, property, loved ones, pets, your health. Conversely, what is not yours today could suddenly fall onto your lap tomorrow. Life’s a bit like a lottery game.

An author I once met on a flight back from Bologna to London told me that the sinuous streets in Italy reminded him of how unpredictable life was from one moment to another. “You never now what new world awaits you when you turn the next corner,” he said. The thought made me smile.

I may be a fool. At the next corner there may be a mugger who’ll rob me, a car that will run me over, a banana skin on which I’ll skid and break my back. Yet I have no choice: it is my life, my corner, my turn.


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