There's been a fair bit of discussion on this site recently about the Other Woman. A few OW have posted their side of the story, and many betrayed wives have responded.
But it wasn't until I read this post by the thought-provoking Penelope Trunk that I had something of a eureka moment.
It's about the difference between happy and meaningful.
To some extent, our culture has sold us a bill of goods. There's much talk about happiness. The pursuit of happiness, or at least understanding happiness, has become something of a cottage industry. And if we're not happy, we're left to feel as if we're clearly doing something wrong. Happiness should be our goal, right? And for many of us, it is.
Trunk, however, backed up by considerable research, points out that happiness is empty.
Happiness is getting the job, not doing the job. It's getting the guy, not facing him day-in and day-out. Happiness is fleeting. Which is why, if we're asked, many of us kinda shrug and say, well, we're kinda happy. Or happy-ish. But a lot of us are thinking to ourselves, what is happiness anyway? Is this happiness? What does happiness look like?
What Trunk et al point out is that most of aren't so much interested in happiness...but in meaning. It's meaning that makes our lives worth living more than happiness. It's meaning that gets us up out of a sound sleep to rub our children's backs when they're scared. It's meaning that keeps us working on marriages even after the devastation of betrayal.
And where my eureka came in was when I recognized that the OW who have posted on this site are pursuing happiness. They think that it comes in the form of a man, even a married one. And they think that these men can't possibly be "happy" if they're seeking something outside their marriage.
And perhaps they're right. I think there are plenty of guys who feel a vague unhappiness and wonder if that feeling can be captured in an affair. But happiness isn't the point. Both sides are missing the point, which sets them up for an affair that generally only brings misery, with intermittant bursts of what they think is "happy".
If we're chasing happiness, I think we're doomed to disappointment. If we expect a "happy" marriage, what does that mean? An absence of conflict? Or is what we really seek a meaningful marriage? One in which there's a shared set of goals, a shared belief that the sum is greater than our parts?
Happiness is great. I'm all for it. But to make it a condition of commitment is dangerous. Happiness ebbs and flows. Sometimes life just isn't...happy. There are challenges with kids, with our health, with jobs, with the economy. There are the small things that get in the way, like who gets to decide how often the tile grout gets cleaned...and by whom. Sometimes there are big things that get in the way: addictions, family of origin issues, and plain old stupidity.
But meaningful? That's something that lasts. And that's something that too many OW just don't get.