Unhappy Days in Happy Valley

Nostalgia is a bitter but useful drug. The best part of my memories keeps me going, reminds me that if things were that wonderful, they could potentially return to that state in the near-future (or to a state which is near that state). Of course, indulge too much and your end up denying the present, and as the Zen masters say, to pin down the gift of happiness is to live firmly in the moment…

Still, it’s to my surprise that I find the present much more endurable than it was in the recent past, chiefly because I did a little skimming and purging when it comes to old and hitherto-treasured friends, and gained some new acquaintances who, with careful nurturing, might turn into actual friends. The skimming and purging has caused me both relief and grief – to a certain extent I am running away from commitment and intimacy, as usual, but I also know that on a practical level some people are better off as acquaintances. Perhaps this is immaturity, or perhaps this is growing up and growing older. For even the best of friends grow incompatible and drift apart, and suddenly you find yourself behaving abnormally brutally – truly, there is no graceful way to break up a friendship, and things always gets a little dirty.  And whoever says you can wipe the slate clean is clearly lying; everything comes with prior baggage, especially when you’re past 30.

These days it’s inevitable that one starts to take stock of one’s own life (to one’s dismay), and survey the landscape around you. I see a lot of displays of happiness, but I also sense a lot of anxiety disguised as smugness. We love the idea of the bohemian, the free spirit who never settles down, but underneath the romanticism and adulation there is still the sense of judgement that such a person is immature at best (if she is beautiful and charismatic), troubled at worst (if she is plain or even moderately unsuccessful). Moreover, the line between being unique and being an outcast is occasionally paper-thin: if your’e too resolutely single you’re seen as an undesirable old maid, and therefore beyond the pale socially; if you’re just crazy enough/rather single but given to occasional bouts of inconsequential sluttery, you could still be somebody’s kooky best friend, perhaps an accessory to a cool couple reveling in that first rush of marital bliss.

As we grow older, it seems that everyone/everything turns into a cliche: the smug marrieds, the aging playboy, the spinster, the divorcee, the cougar…….once upon a time we were merely good girls and bad girls (or boys), separated by hobbies and social graces on the school playground, now everyone’s just hunting for that biggest cliche of all: the Happily Ever After.  May we each find what we are looking for, at long last.


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