As soon as Christmas was over, social media sites were covered with pictures of smiling, happy families. See that one? Don’t they look happy together?
Wait. I know those people. They’re miserable. She hates him and he’s been checked out of this marriage since not long after they married. He calls her “the devil incarnate.”
And those folks over there. I know the truth about them, too. He wants out of the marriage but can’t afford to divorce her, so she controls him and drives him to drink heavily.
And on and on the stories go.
It’s depressing to me. The only thing that seems worse than a bad relationship is watching two (or more) people pretend to be happy long enough to make photos. They’re not fooling each other. They’re not fooling anybody who knows them. So why do they project this lie?
Early in my political consulting career, I had a politician get his family together for photos. It was the couple and three teen-agers. When they got to the studio, they were hissing at each other like angry cats. Nobody wanted to be there. And then the photographer was ready to shoot and he asked them to smile. They looked like a happy, charming family — right out of a magazine.
After the flash fired, they went back to angrily arguing — until time for the next shot. Then they turned on the fake charm. I had a perfect picture of a beautiful family. I wrote quotes for the candidate about how much his wife and children meant to him — how he was eager to change the world for his kids. That sort of thing.
But it was all a lie.
I learned as the campaign went along that this wife hated her wealthy husband but stayed with him for the money. (She told me that as she hit on me one time.) The kids hated their parents and hated each other.
It baffles me that people such as my former client and his wife stay with each other. It baffles me just as much when people who I personally know — people who I hear talk about the reality of their situations — stay with people who are completely wrong for them. And it baffles me that they believe people who know them are fooled by social media posts which look and sound like what happy people would post.
Why do unhappy people live such lies?
I’ve asked people and their explanations vary. Some have pragmatic excuses that are ultimately ridiculous and which suggest confused values. Others have explanations that shift as you point out why this excuse or that one don’t hold water. Often, it seems to boil down to something they don’t want to admit. They don’t want others to see them as failures.
It seems to me that the Christmas season is one of the toughest of the year for these unhappy people. It’s a stressful time for them — because they’re having to go through the motions of doing things together as a happy couple or a happy family, but they have to put a lot of effort into faking something which simply isn’t true.
Maybe this is why January is sometimes informally called Divorce Month. Although more divorces are actually granted in March and August, there’s a spike in divorce filings in January.
Personally, I think it’s because someone who’s going through such a season of faking happiness and pretending for the world finally reaches the point that he or she isn’t willing to fake it any longer. The person reaches a breaking point and has to get out or explode.
I think a lot of people decide to make it through one more holiday season — so they won’t “spoil Christmas” for everyone — and then they finally walk away from what everybody knows should end. (Many of which should never have even started.)
I would have once recommended that these unhappy people find ways to repair their relationships and stay together if possible, especially if they’re already married. But I no longer feel that way.
We only live this life once. It’s not worth it to go through life faking happiness. It’s not worth it to go through life pretending to have something we don’t have. There’s no reason to lie to the world.
Some relationships can be salvaged. Some people actually love each other and can learn to get along and become emotionally healthy together. That’s fantastic when that’s the case.
But there’s no good reason to live in misery — and waste the best years of your life — simply because you’re too busy living a lie to do what everybody knows you really need to do.