I talked with a friend tonight who’s been miserable for years. If she ever loved the man she married, the love died quickly. He’s abusive and dysfunctional. He’s cut her off from her friends and made her life into a nightmare.
I no longer even ask her why she doesn’t leave him. For a long time, I thought she was ready to escape. I sometimes fear for her safety and I always fear for her sanity. But for reasons she can’t explain, this strong and decisive woman hasn’t been able to walk away.
I have no idea why she refuses to fix what she could easily fix.
Earlier this week, a woman moved into a house that she just rented from me. She is extremely happy and satisfied with her new home, even though she’s worked hard all week moving out of the house where she had lived for the last seven years.
I visited the house from which she just moved and I was stunned that she had been paying almost as much to rent that rundown house as she was now paying to rent a nice house that I manage. We talked about how terrible the old house was and how she had been overcharged for the place.
“I’ve realized this week that I’m angry with myself,” she told me. “I knew I was unhappy, but I hate change, so I just ignored how bad everything was. I just don’t understand why I put up with it.”
Why do we put up with what makes us miserable? I don’t really know.
I used to think that only weak or stupid people would do such a thing, but I know better now. My friend who hasn’t left her abusive husband is bright and she’s always been very strong and decisive. Nobody would have predicted this behavior from her. The woman who just moved into one of our rental houses is a mature and responsible professional. She manages other people. Nobody would suspect her of being anything but fully in charge of her own life.
It’s easy for me to look at others and wonder why they’re doing such things — and it’s easy for me to judge them, of course — but the truth is that I can see the same behavior at times in my own life. And I have no idea why I’ve done it, either.
I’ve stayed in relationships that needed to end. I’ve stayed in jobs that made me miserable, even when I knew I was talented enough and experienced enough to go where I would be happier. I’ve gotten stuck in bad situations and done nothing to lift myself out of my misery.
I hide my unhappiness well. I have a lot of experience at it, so I fake a happy persona very nicely. I don’t think about it. That’s just my social face.
Earlier this week, I talked with a local Walmart employee who’s been friendly with me ever since I moved to this suburb nearly six years ago. She was telling me that so many people she saw in the store were unhappy and she related some unhappiness that’s gone on recently in the lives of people she’s known. And then she shifted the subject.
“But you’re always happy,” she said. “You have so much joy every time I see you that it makes me feel better myself. How do you stay so happy all the time?”
I didn’t want to burst her bubble, so I didn’t correct her assumption. I was briefly surprised, but then I remembered that I learned at an early age to hide my unhappiness — so people rarely know when I’m unhappy. I can’t decide whether that’s a good thing or not.
I don’t know why I hide my unhappiness. And I don’t know why I don’t change certain things in my life when I need to do so. I really don’t.
I don’t know why my friend won’t escape her abuser. (There are no pragmatic reasons to stay, unlike those in some such cases.) I don’t know why my new tenant stayed in a situation in which she was unhappy with her home and she was paying way too much for what she was getting. (She didn’t move until the house was being sold and she was forced to move.)
I just know that this seems to be a pattern with human beings. I see almost everybody do it, even those who are normally quite good at hiding their feelings and those who are outwardly seen as quite forcefully in charge of their own lives.
I sometimes think that my life could be better if certain people knew I was unhappy. I have this silly fantasy that if this person or that person knew just how miserable I was at times, well, maybe he or she would do something to help.
And then I realize I’m being ridiculous.
Yes, it would be nice for someone to “rescue” me. At least sometimes. It would be fantastic to find the things in someone else that I need. But ultimately, there are some things that only I can change. And that’s true for you, too.
If you know you’re unhappy, hasn’t the time come to do something about it? Isn’t it time to stop making excuses — for yourself and for other people — and take decisive action to change what’s making you so unhappy?
My experience is that change in my life is always sudden. I might know for months or years that I need to change something — and then I suddenly make a change one day.
Maybe that’s true for you, too — and maybe today is the day for you to take the action you’ve been putting off for ages. Until you take that first step, nothing will ever get better.