“You should be careful what you wish for!”
Hmmm. That’s what my ex-husband said to me (my first ex, not my second, let’s get it right) when I had a heart-to-heart with him shortly after Hubby No 2 and I split up, back in the inconsolable autumn days of 2017. “Weren’t you wanting more space from him?” he blithely asked, apparently oblivious to my tears.
Those were not the words I wanted to hear. Usually Hubby No 1 got it right when imparting words of advice or consolation, but this time he most definitely got it wrong.
Or did he?
Be careful what you wish for. Maybe it’s true that you should think carefully about what you actually wish for in the first place. Just in case you get it. Like I did. And then realise it wasn’t what you really wanted.
I wonder how many of us who are in long-term relationships, marriages, traditional family setups, etc., secretly yearn – at least occasionally – to have more freedom. More independence. More time to yourself. More space. (It’s not only men that need it, you know.) Or perhaps the multitudinous longings that overfill your guilt-ridden wish list are not purely limited to relationships. Maybe your longing is to be free of ageing parents and all the burdens they unwittingly bring along with them. Maybe it’s to be free of your over-possessive mother. Or mother-in-law. (In my case, the former. I wrote an entire novel about it.) One way or another, the longing usually boils down to one word: freedom.
Sadly, the old maxim, the grass is always greener on the other side is so, so true. Very often it’s only when you’ve lost something you thought you didn’t want, that you realise what a treasure-in-disguise it truly was. Children who consumed and hijacked your life, and one day they’re gone. Husbands who you grew irritated with and longed to have space from, and next thing you know, they’re gone, too. First one, then the other. Dogs that drove you mad when constantly snapping at other dogs … and then one day they, too, are gone. And you weep in remorse and guilt, and actually find yourself missing the snappy, snarly beast. Both dog and husband. So you get another dog. Not so easy with another husband.
Longing. Wishing for things. Wishing for what you haven’t got. Then feeling guilty about your furtive longing, but still wishing for it nonetheless.
In my first marriage, when I was still in the sweet throes of my twenties, I used to steal the occasional get-away weekend break for myself at an idyllic Benedictine monastery deep in the wilds of northern England. I needed space, and I got plenty of it out there amid the rolling hills and sweeping valleys and forests of the Yorkshire Dales, not far from Wuthering Heights country. The fact that an old Benedictine flame of mine – a certain monk with twinkly blue eyes, clear-cut profile and drop-dead gorgeous smile – still happened to dwell there, together with his holy brethren, certainly helped prod my longing. Bliss! Space! Freedom!
Then in my second marriage, the practicalities of work allowed me regular pockets of space every time I travelled away from home. I used to love those solitary evenings I spent on my own, several hundred kilometres away from the family hearth: watching whatever I liked on TV, not having to worry about feeding fussy children or dealing with anyone’s irritable moods or walking the snap-happy dog, or whatever other mundane chores assailed my over-crowded life. Bliss! Space! Freedom!
And now …? Well, now that hubby and children have all departed (to other earthly abodes, not to heaven) I should be happy, shouldn’t I? I mean, I’ve got what I wished for, right? I at last have masses of space and freedom and independence, right? But without the bliss. In fact, upon waking up every morning and turning my head to the empty space beside me, I still find it hard, even after two years, to readjust to the matrimonial King-size double bed that now enfolds just one person in its billowy warmth, instead of two. Too much space.
So now my longing has evolved into the very opposite of what it once was. Now I crave all the things I used to either take for granted or long to have sneaky breaks from. Noise. Voices. Communication. Other bodies. Arguments. Laughter. Tears. Laughter again. More noise. Chaos. Activity practically all the time.
It was all so chaotic and exhausting, but at the same time it was life. It’s what we’re made for. We’re made for noise, not silence. To be part of a community, partnership, family, not to be alone. Even if we think that ‘aloneness’ is what we want. I’m no anthropologist, but I should imagine that being part of a tribe is ingrained in our DNA. All you need to do is go on your own to a café and have a look around. Everywhere there are people in twos and threes and fours or more. Groups. Tribal instincts to huddle together. The solitary life must surely be a modern invention. Or enforcement.
We long for what we haven’t got, and when we get it we long for what we used to have but didn’t want. I’m not the only one. There are loads like me around. Here in Poland, there are even people who long for the bad old days of Communism. There was a real spirit of camaraderie back then, a taxi driver recently said to me, shaking his head wistfully, as in Ah, those were the days, my friend …
Honestly! What are we like? I mean the entire sum of the human race. If you believe in God, then don’t you have to admit that He could have done a better job of programming us when playing around with all that DNA?