Monday, August 15, 2011

Just a spectator

Back in high school, I took a general education class in Psychology. When reading the textbook, I found a lot of things I disagreed with... mostly because I was a depressed, lazy loser looking for any reason to absolve myself of responsibility for my own happiness. I read up on and understood the concept of self-fulfilling prophecies, but never admitted that I engaged in them. I studied the chapter on depression, and seethed that these egghead scientists had no idea what it really felt like. The section on suicide, and why people choose to kill themselves, especially made me rage. How dare they claim to understand what I was going through?

I was a fool. A lazy, entitled fool.

But there was one thing that that book discussed that stays with me to this day. It was something that my depressed self, unmarried man abroad self, and current self could all agree was (politely) absolute horseflop: the book said that choosing between two positives was much more stressful than choosing between two negatives. That is, choosing between becoming a doctor or a teacher would cause more overall stress than choosing whether to lose your cancer-ridden arms, or lose your life.

I have changed immensely from the boy I used to be, but even my dumb older self could see how full of crap that "fact" was.

I had positive-positive troubles before I got married. Which of these fine girls should I date? Which of these well-paying jobs should I take? Which friend should I hang out with today, and where should we go? Aside from feelings of confusion, or maybe even feeling unsettled at knowing that a decision would impact the next year or so of my life, none of the stress I felt from those decisions compares to what goes on in my life now. Every decision in my married life is a negative-negative decision. But more importantly, all the decisions in my life result in the exact same three outcomes:

If I want to do it, but I'm not allowed to, "You Can't."
If I don't want to do it, but I have no choice, "You Must."
If I want to do it, and I can, "Hurry Up."

Let me provide some examples.

- Wow, the Gabriel Knight games were awesome. I've always loved jazz, but who would have thought New Orleans had such a rich history to it? Germany and France looked amazing too; I can't wait to go see those places for myself, to see how the real deal surpasses the games' portrayal of them.

Marriage says: You Can't. If you leave, your family will not have any means of emotional or physical support from you. And if you take them with you, everyone in your family, in-laws included, will whine at you every day about the selfish choice you're making. This isn't even getting into the fact that you don't have the freedom to do anything you want in the country you're in now; why do you think another country will be any different?

- That girl is really cute. She's a sweetheart, and she's got all the physical attributes I'm into. I'd love to take her out sometime, or at least get to know her.

Marriage says: You Can't. You took an oath to be with your wife for the rest of your life, and even if you didn't, you can't betray your honor to do what you want. But more importantly, how would an affair affect your family? And what time of the day could you possibly platonically hang out with this girl? Your wife and son always need you around. Your wife doesn't sleep with you, and you can't seek sex elsewhere. Deal with it.

- God, I'm bored. I've been sitting in this house for three hours just watching TV and staring at the wall. I can't play video games because my wife and son are awake, I can't sightsee alone without getting called to come back within a few hours... hmmm. I think I'll take my son out for a while.

Marriage says: You Can't. The weather isn't perfect, and you'll never get your son out the door before your wife or mother-in-law jumps down your throat about how he'll get sick. Lecture them all you want about how viruses, not weather, make you ill, they'll never listen.

Marriage says: Hurry Up. Stay out for more than a few hours, and you're going to get called and asked to come home. Refuse at your own peril.

- I'm hungry. I think I'll get some food at the convenience store before I go home.

Marriage says: You Can't. You're running low on money because of all your wife and her family's financial debts that you've taken care of, and you must save every dollar.

Marriage says: Hurry Up. Your mother-in-law can't take care of your son forever.

- I want to play a video game, and pretend I'm someone important for a while.

Marriage says: You Can't. Your family's up, and both your wife and son get upset if you ignore them for too long.

Marriage says: Hurry Up. Your family will be up/home any moment.

- I need to use the bathroom.

Marriage says: Hurry Up. If you stay in there too long, your son will start pounding on the door, and your wife has things for you to do around the house.

- Are you kidding me? I've done the laundry every day for the past ten days, and there's another load in there? I barely did the laundry once a week when I wasn't married, now I do it every day. Why do people keep changing their clothes three times a day around here? I don't want to do this again.

Marriage says: You Must. Laundry is your job, and if you skimp out on it, your wife will just find it fair to have you do something else to make up for the laundry you didn't do.

- Dishes again? I didn't even use any of these. I don't want to do them.

Marriage says: You Must. Dishes are your job, and if you skimp out on them, your wife will just find it fair to have you do something else to make up for the dishes you didn't do.

- The floor is covered in toys, and the table is covered with my wife's junk. Again. This is the thirtieth time in a row I've cleaned them up, and I don't want to do it again, considering that my family will probably just mess everything up tomorrow.

Marriage says: You Must. Cleaning the floor and table is your job, and if you skimp out on it, your wife will just find it fair to have you do something else to make up for the floor you didn't clean up.

- I've been working every day for the past four weeks. I want to take a quick break for a day or two.

Marriage says: You Can't. Remember all the money you lost cleaning up your wife and in-laws' financial messes? You need to make more.

All in all, I suppose I do have a choice in these matters. I could divorce my wife and run off to live a life of fun. I could make my wife do all the housework, and tell her to stuff it if she ever complained, thus provoking a possible divorce. I could take significantly more than the $100 I get a month for gas to go to work, cigarettes and a snack here or there.

But I won't. Because the "choice" is negative-negative: sacrifice, or hurt my family. And yet, I would hardly call that a choice. "Do this, or the kid gets it?" Is that a choice?

Am I even alive? I don't feel any different than an electric fan: someone pushes the power button, and it turns on. Someone tells me to take out the trash or go to work, and I do it. This is my life, and I'm not even a part of it. Literal years have gone by with no input from me. I'm a spectator on my own life.

Negative-negative decisions are the worst kind of decision, and they are the only ones that I make. Do what I hate, don't do what I like, and hurry the hell up if I manage to escape my cage for more than a few minutes. Every moment of my unengaging, monotonous married life is planned and set in stone from the moment I wake up, and I can't describe how much it depresses me.

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