An evangelist for happiness
I underwent a magical transformation as I got some perspective on and distance from my feelings, and the trauma of the recent shakeups in my life.
Which is to say I had four or five Miller High Lifes at the 8 Ball and started screaming at my friend Adam for getting in a fight with his boyfriend.
They weren’t even fighting. They were giving each other “the silent treatment.” Jesus, you kids are really exhausting sometimes.
“GO TO YOUR HAPPINESS!” I screamed in Adam’s face. I know it sounds like I’m exaggerating, because that’s the kind of thing you might exaggerate about, but I’m not kidding. I screamed in his face. “GO TO YOUR HAPPINESS.”
Admittedly the 8 Ball is loud, and screaming is sometimes necessary to have any conversation at all. But it was a Tuesday night and the people who put death metal on jukebox hadn’t shown up yet. It was a seedy but quiet-ish bar on a Tuesday, and I was screaming at my friend Adam.
“IS HE WORTH IT? ARE YOU IN LOVE? GO TO YOUR HAPPINESS.”
I swear sometimes, you kids will do anything to take a dump on a good thing.
Why is this bitterness different from all other bitternesses? That’s an excellent question, haggadah of my nightmares! The reason it’s different, I think, is that, while I still wanted to stab my friends in their stupid asshole faces, I was feeling a lot less self-centered about it.
You see, whereas before I wanted people to feel guilty about putting their snowflakes under microscopes right in front of me, now I just wanted to break their lamps and shove them in a freezer. Which seems like a weird thing to say, but I just wanted people to be happy.
I had become an evangelist for happiness.
“Ok, so I was teaching him to drive stick, and it was dark, and I guess I was stressing him out.”
“But I feel like he just owes me an apology for blowing up at me.”
(See how I’m letting them finish their sentences now? I’ve grown.)
“Last night we had some people over to watch TV, and we put on an act like everything was ok.”
It took a little effort on my part not to derail him at that point by strongly identifying with that sentiment.
“But I made him dinner, and he like, didn’t even say anything.”
“You’re not even mad at each other. You’re stressed at each other.”
“But you have to get this worked out. It’s been over a day? Come on, now.”
“So, am I just supposed to put up with him blowing up at me?”
“No! That’s not what I’m saying. But there’s nothing wrong with initiating the conversation about what you need.”
“Because people think that their lovers can read their minds, even though that’s absurd. Are you a mind-reader? No, you’re goddam right you’re not a mind-reader.”
“But he feels like, equally wronged in this situation.”
“Bah! Sometimes people can hurt each other without anyone really doing anything wrong.”
“Do you love him? Is he worth it?”
“It’s not a question of that. I mean, we live together, we have some momentum built up.”
“Careful, buddy. Momentum lags. DON’T YOU DARE TAKE THIS SHIT FOR GRANTED.”
He was wistful, and hurt behind the eyes. I don’t mean to tell you that I wasn’t listening or I didn’t care. But hate and love are, chemically speaking, very similar responses. Or something. I’m not a scientist, people, but I know more about human relationships than most. (Largely because I’ve failed at them with such gusto and enthusiasm.) All of the feelings you have about someone you love are strong, because love imparts an air of seriousness to everything. You can only have a knockdown drag-out soul fight with someone you really love or really hate, because otherwise you would be indifferent to whatever sparked it.
Generally, I live in the gray, as some douchebag who took the history of feminist art in hopes of getting laid might say. But things seem very black and white when they hit a wall. If you’re not sure how you feel about something, hold a (METAPHORICAL) gun to its head and see how you feel about it then. If you start screaming “NO, DON’T SHOOT, I’LL DO ANYTHING!”, then you have your answer. And if you shrug or say “how do you disengage the safety on this thing?”, well, you still have your answer.
I don’t believe that a relationship that fails means that you were wasting time. I don’t even kind of believe that. I don’t believe that if for no other reason than that you’ll spend even more of your finite time in this world beating yourself up for misusing some of it. You can’t wonder ‘what if?’ in retrospect. But you can do it right now.
A mental trick I’ve used to get through depression is trying to remember that eventually I won’t be depressed. I’ve gone in and out of more depressions than Liza has rehabs, and so part of my brain knows now that it won’t always be that way.
So what if you blanked your mind out and thought about what it would be like to not be having this fight/silent treatment/money problem/Nickelback fandom right now? Cast yourself into the future with this person and ask yourself if you like what you see. Is the problem a momentary lapse in joy, or is it emblematic of the direction things are going? Are you being overly charitable in your estimation of a situation while being overly lean in your consideration of your paramour? Or are you, conversely, cutting them too much slack while offering none to yourself?
If your lover and your love are worth the effort, then go to your happiness, young man. But resolve issues; don’t roll over just to stop the the fighting, and don’t confuse a return to the status quo with happiness. Unless happiness is the status quo. And if your partner seems to be letting you off the hook for something you really should have a talk about, don’t slip back into normalcy like a kid who confuses not being punished with absolution. You’re also allowed to initiate a conversation about what you did wrong – it’s called an apology, jerk.
There is no one way to make a relationship last. But there are practically infinite ways to make sure it won’t. You kids have got to talk more. And you have to speak more intentionally. Here’s something I’ve learned the hard way: you don’t have to say the clever mean thing just because you thought it. Sometimes you’ll even lie or “misspeak” just to say that clever mean thing. As you may have gathered from reading this book, I’m kind of hell to be on the other side of an argument with. I can turn a petty hurt into some Brothers Karamazov soap-opera shit in real time. Ask yourself if cutting him down now is worth accumulating a hurt. And ask yourself how much hurt you can accomodate.
And always bear in mind that people can do this mental math differently from each other, no matter how in love they are or how much they seem to have in common. Different people have different tensile strengths, and very few relationships end in a handshake and a mutual acknowledgment that a parting of ways would benefit both parties. Don’t trade your momentum for a slight; holding happiness in your hand is all the reason you need to nurture it.