(Thoughts on a thread of comments from social media earlier this year.)
Joy like breathing
He said, “Committing to joy is like breathing. You don’t have to think about it. Joy is easy. Commitment is hard. Commit to hard things.”
This viewpoint seems incredibly detached from a life lived in reality and truth. It comes across as untried and devoid of any emotional awareness.
After reading this comment, I spent most of the day thinking about the people and activities that have brought me joy and how difficult or illusive maintaining connection or a routine has been.
On a very basic level, nothing makes me as euphoric as a long bike ride with amazing scenery and long breaks to take it all in. Yet I haven’t been on my bike in nearly two years.
I call a nice hot sauna the joy of my life. Yet I’ve only been able to enjoy three sauna visits in the last five years.
These two relatively simple things are easily within my power, resources and ability to enjoy daily or at least as often as the thought crosses my mind, yet it’s been years since I’ve committed to making them part of my regular self-care routine. Why? Because commitment requires time. Commitment requires focus. It requires attention and intention. There is always something more urgent or important to do with my limited time and energy than cater to myself. Or so I keep telling myself.
I responded to a comment on a thread about a woman choosing to love herself over remaining in an unhappy marriage. Many of the commenters called the woman selfish. Nearly all of them scoffed at her happiness. Quite a few seemed to scream: Marriage is duty! Not happiness!
Quite frankly, I’m flabbergasted.
While it’s true I don’t know anyone who is happily married, I have always thought that carefully choosing a compatible partner could lead to a happy union. With this in mind, I commented, “Commitment should be rooted in things that bring joy. If you’re committing to a painful, distressing situation, that’s your prerogative, [but not] the purpose of marriage.”
Comments from the from the original Facebook post:
Marriage is not about self love. Marriage is a duty. It’s commitment. This is more that just about how you feel after reading, self-help books and doing yoga. Marriage requires obedience to your vowels [sic].
Found self love and destroyed her family.
Sorry I have to disagree, marriage is work and is a covenant and to simple say it’s about me and my happiness shows me she didn’t seek God first.
Unpopular opinion: Screaw [sic] your happiness when it breaks up your family. I didn’t’ hear anything about her husband cheating, beating, or talking down to her. It was all “my happiness” “self love” me” and “I”. this is a very selfish outlook. It’s an outlook that’s going to cause a lot of woman to grow old and die alone. Marriage is not about your happiness it’s about commitment. This annoying.
Bullshit. You decided to commit to someone and bring in life… then decide you needed to be happy? I hope she realizes how ridiculous she sounds.
thejuicypeach: those comments aren’t wrong through. Marriage is all those selfless things…. Which is why I’ll NEVER do it again. You’re literally supposed to put your commitment above everything including your happiness. Damn that.
HarvestPhoto [me]: Commitment should be rooted in things that bring joy. If you’re committing to a painful, distressing situation, that’s your prerogative,
that [but not] the purpose of marriage.
thejuicypeach: The issue lies in the fact that you can only choose what YOU’RE rooted in. You can still fall victim to your partner choosing something or someone else. Then you’re stuck bc of some stupid vow you took. No thank you.
Harvest Photo: How are you stuck? Every day consists of choices. Choose different. Especially if your spouse isn’t choosing you or your relationship.
NothingToSeeHere2023: By definition, you don’t need commitment if the only thing you are committed to is your own happiness.
[….]You don’t need commitment if what you are committed to 1st and 2nd is your own happiness. Vows are made for difficult circumstance, not shit that’s already easy to do. Committing with the caveat of happiness being paramount at all time would be like me vowing to breathe.
HarvestPhoto: Read for understanding. You’re inserting a lot of things that weren’t said or implied. Joy is not easy to maintain, yet it can be a natural occurrence. If you want to commit to a difficult thing that bring you no joy, by all means do so., it’s your prerogative (as originally stated).
What remains shocking about these comments is the idea that a woman’s joy or happiness in her marriage is a selfish nonstarter. How dare a woman seek to not be at war with her humanity and her choices? The fact that so many women commented with deep vitriolic disgust tells me that many are as deeply unhappy with their choices and partners than they want to admit. So unhappy, in fact, that they insist that those seeking to self-correct their course, forget about their own self-care and continue to suffer in silence for the sake of the “union” and children.
What union is their in discord. If two people are not content with one another, there is no way they are living in harmony. If there’s no harmony, how are they living as one? Do people still believe children don’t sense discord? That children aren’t affected by their parents’ unhappiness?
My parents never divorced but my dad was out of the house for the last eight years of my mother’s life (my pre-teen/teen years). He was abusive and I did not want a relationship with him. More importantly to me, I wanted my mother to have a man who was worthy of her goodness. I was her divorce advocate and her cheerleader when she expressed interest in suitors. My mother has been gone for nearly thirty years. I usually write a poem or journal to her on her birthday. This year’s piece wistfully wondered if she had ever found joy in life.
If you are unhappy, don’t allow your legacy to be overshadowed by your child’s sadness for your unlived life. No parent wants their child to be unhappy. Yet most fail to show happiness to their cHildreth.
Self-care is a beautiful practice that infiltrates the hearts and minds of children and improves their outlook and expectations.
One action changed my worldview
After years of witnessing my mom and an aunt get beat by their husbands; and of me being a victim of sexual violence by these same men, it took only one instance of witnessing another aunt call the police on her husband the first and only time he put his hands on her. She was in the wrong that day. She was yelling at him about something. She followed him from room to room twice over in the apartment. He kept saying OK, OK. He didn’t want to argue. Finally, he grabbed her by the shoulders, perhaps he shook her, and he said, “OK! Leave me alone!” That’s it. She called the police. They came. He was taken away, not charged, but he slept someplace else that night.
I was fourteen. That was the first time I saw a woman fully protect herself. No matter my opinion on the circumstances, my aunt became a superstar in my eyes. Their marriage didn’t last long. Because discord and she had no respect for him. Yet his gentleness and earnestness showed through in everything he did. Of all the uncles I have, he is the only one I called uncle.
This aunt is indeed very selfish. She thrives on conflict. And she pursues her pleasures above everything and everybody. She’s on her fifth marriage. She loves carnal love and wants nothing more than to be adored, but she’s not a good partner or supporter. Everyone she has ever loved has been scorched in some way, myself included. However, she is the most wonderful counterbalance to staying in a situation for the sake of someone else. Or staying for the idea of duty and marriage. I needed to see her in action. I needed to understand that the options in front of me are never everything I have access to.
In me, both sides of my family see this aunt and my mom. My mom was the caring strength of the family. She was the nurturer, the feeder, the gentle lover, and forgiver of everybody and everything. My aunt’s focus is solely to enjoy life on her terms. Now that she’s in her latter years, she may be hurt that her children and exes have grown and moved outside of her will, but that doesn’t stop her from looking for her next great adventure.
It may seem incongruous to have such disparate women as my life models. I admit it took years for me to accept their warring personalities within me. Fortunately, over time, I settled into my personalities as I learned more about my needs, wants, and goals. I’m okay with the way I share my gentler side and the way I erect and maintain my boundaries. I’m fine working to exhaustion then resting and pampering myself beyond any period of time folks deem reasonable.
We are so much more than what others would limit us to.
My aunt is content with who she is and has shared no regrets with me.
Even though I wonder if my mother experienced joy in her short hard life, she was clear about her priorities and what she wanted. She was intentional about doing what she had to do to get to her next level. And she knew I was rooting for her to enjoy all that she could.