Most everyone I know is going through a phase of “happily ever after” isn’t rainbows, but we don’t know if this is normal or not. What do you do when you learn “happily ever after” isn’t what you thought?
Like many little girls, I believed I could have a life like american movies. Prince Charming. A passel of well-dressed, well-behaved children. A meaningful career. Volunteer work. A beautiful home with a white picket fence. Ample time to pursue my hobbies. Giggling with girlfriends.
Yes- rainbows. And maybe unicorns, too.
It sucked when learned that wasn’t the reality.
I knew it but didn’t share it like I should have.
I worked as a counselor in a safe house several years ago. Our teenage clients were assigned a stay for a variety of reasons. All of which were rooted in trouble at home or no home at all. We also offered non-residential counseling support for families struggling with all kinds of conflict.
I had one particular client under the guardianship of a relative she did not like, in a town she did not choose. As we met week after week, I learned about her dream for the future.
While she did not grow up with picket fences, she wanted one for herself. She wanted the husband and kids and money the fence supposedly contained, too.
We talked a lot about her vision for her future. How her choices (which often led to police involvement), would or would not connect her with the future she dreamed of.
That was over 10 years ago. In hindsight, I kick myself for it. Not because that dream was impossible based on her life choices. But because that dream of a problem-free life is a facade served up and sold by our culture. I should have told her so.
Here’s what I wish I would have shared with her-
That those “happy” couples standing behind picket fences holding their 2.5 kids in the driveway near their fancy cars have problems, too. That dream won’t save you from problems. Problems are like breathing and gravity. They belong with us.
But what we can often do is choose the kinds of problems we want.
I had another client in my coaching practice last year. She worked for a CEO she did not like, in a company that had become something she did not choose. As we met week after week, I learned about her dream for the future.
She did not grow up with picket fences, but had one for herself. She had the husband and kids and money the fence contained, too.
We talked a lot about her vision for her future. How her choices (which often led to debilitating stress and insomnia), would or would not connect her with the future she dreamed of.
But rather than talking about building a “problem free” life, we did what I wish I’d done with my precious client a decade ago.
We made a list of the problems inherent in her current situation. But we also stretched and stood on our tippy toes to see into the vision she had for her future. We were in search of problems that would inevitably show up there, too.
Once she had the two lists side by side- she could make a more informed decision about which problems she most wanted most.
I do this every day- decide which problems I want.
Do I not write and stay safe but contend with the pain of not contributing at my fullest? Or write and be totally exposed but feel like I’m doing something meaningful most days?
Do I send my son to a school that runs five days a week and allows me to work more and have more income but fills him with dread and educational apathy? Or send him to a college model school that fits his adventurous spirit but requires I rearrange my work-life to make it happen?
Do I nag my husband and make my point but train him to avoid me and distrust our relationship? Or hold my tongue and fight my controlling nature but enjoy more intimacy and fun because I’m not a giant pain in his ass?
Do I cut myself off from a difficult person and save myself the heartache that person can cause but constantly feel bad about being “unavailable?” Or set appropriate boundaries with that person, knowing I can’t “fix” things but offering what I can, when I can?
These are just a few decisions I have the opportunity to make, none necessarily “right or wrong”- just inherent in the life I lead.
What do you do when you learn “happily ever after ” isn’t what you thought?
I say we celebrate waking up to reality. I say we own our problems and pour some wine and toast being grown up. I say we be as transparent as possible so we help each other feel less alone.
After we’ve celebrated our new found freedom from the tyranny of “happily ever after,” I saw we make some lists and decide which problems we want.
Then I say, we make bedfellows with the problems we choose. Kiss them hard on the lips and say, “Let’s do this!”
Also published on Medium.