A wise soul once said that the definition of suffering is wanting things to be different than they are. I kinda thought that was the definition of life. Or my life, anyway.
It's an easy enough trap to fall in to. And it's a common enough trap that we often don't even recognize it as such. We're surrounded by people who are equally committed to wanting their lives to be different – to lose weight, get a promotion, buy a bigger house, win the lottery. And, at a certain point, many of us recognize that it isn't going to magically happen. We have to make it happen or we have to accept our reality as it is right now.
But not all of us get there.
Many of us meet someone who makes it feel as if all these wonderful things have already happened to us. We may not have lost weight but this person makes us feel sexy. We may not have been promoted but this person makes us feel successful. We suddenly don't need the bigger house. And we think we've already won the lottery.
So often we wonder why our spouses had affairs. "How could he do this to me?" we ask ourselves over and over.
This is how. Or at least one of the hows. By falling into the trap of wanting things to be different than they are. Even the best marriages can get stale. Even the happiest people can start to wonder if life shouldn't offer a bit...more.
Enter someone who offers a reflection of us that makes us look damn good. Sexy, smart, fun, interesting. In other words, different than how we've been feeling.
And the difference between those who have affairs and those who don't isn't necessarily a matter of good and bad. Good people – honest, decent people – have affairs.
When they're caught and the bright light of reality shines on what they're doing, they're as surprised as anyone. They're the ones who confess that they're even relieved to be caught. For them, the affair was likely already losing its lustre. They were discovering that, even with this new shiny person, their life wasn't magically different.
For others though, that fantasy is hard to give up. A friend of mine told me her husband, who had an emotional affair with a co-worker, still misses the woman. Misses her? He knew her for three months. How do you miss someone you barely knew? You don't. But you do miss the illusion she represented. The fantasy that your life could be different. That you could be more successful. That your kids could like you more. That life could be more easier. More exciting.
Consider the 2016 US election, which was won by someone peddling fantasy, a halcyon past that doesn't square with reality, at least for a large portion of the population.
Fantasy is a powerful drug.
The antidote, to paraphrase the Serenity Prayer, is to fix what we can and accept what we can't.
We may never win the lottery but we can make our home warm and welcoming. We may never lose that weight but we can take a daily walk and eat better to remind ourselves that our bodies hold value and deserve to be treated well. Our marriage might feel stale so we can tend to it.
Or we can take steps to walk away from someone who can't see our value, no matter that he's been given a second (or a third) chance. We can choose the reality of ourselves over the fantasy of a marriage that only we are invested in.
Suffering can keep us stuck. Or it can be the fire beneath us that prompts us to create changes that reduce our suffering. The choice is ours.