Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Happiness may be a choice, but it's not always the right one.

When my husband and I decided to get married I didn't originally picture myself in a big white dress.  I seldom have interest in doing what other people usually do, and I was not one of those people who had her "big day" all mapped out in her mind ahead of time.  The marriage interested me, not the wedding particularly.

As the details of the event came together I learned a lot of valuable lessons.  There are certain rites of passage that remain in the culture for a reason, and how you handle them can tell you a lot about yourself and others.  I assumed from the start I would just buy myself a nice dress I could use again because that kind of sartorial practicality seemed like me.  But it also seemed like friends of mine who had married before me and chosen a big white dress.  One of those friends told me to just try one on, because why not?  When she had, she'd discovered she liked it.

To my utter surprise I liked it too.  Because it's fun and it's a way to set that day apart from any others.  I realized that my wedding day was the only day I could wear such a dress and have it mean something important.  I could certainly wear a wedding dress any other day I wanted, but it would only be an oddity or a costume.  I had one chance to wear such a thing with any meaning to it.  Why would I pass up that chance?

I didn't.  I tried on dresses that I thought were pretty, gave pictures of them to a friend of my mom's who was a seamstress in the wedding department of a local fabric store, and she made a dress just for me in barter for one of my mom's drawings.  It was made of a rich beautiful silk and the bodice was covered in a thick English lace and it fit like a dream.  It was elegant but comfortable, and even had soft little clips in the shoulders to keep my bra straps up so I didn't have to worry about them.  I wore ballet slippers underneath because they were soft on my feet.  Aside from having to concentrate on not spilling anything on it at the reception, it was one of the easiest outfits I've ever worn, and the opposite of what I thought being in a wedding dress would feel like.  I felt beautiful and still like myself, and it was fun.  I'm glad I didn't let that experience pass me by.

It makes sense to be happy on your wedding day and that feeling comes easily.  There are ordinary days where things are certainly open to interpretation and it makes sense to take the effort to choose happiness.

But when we talk about "choosing happiness" as some sort of blanket default that does a disservice to other moments when it is simply inappropriate.  People shouldn't make happiness out to be the only worthy choice.  Sometimes it's outright wrong and people should respect that.

The first time I got the news that I had miscarried I was under no obligation to be happy.  It was a beautiful day out and I had a home with people in it who loved me and there was certainly much to be grateful for, but you can appreciate things in the abstract while choosing grief.  I was devastated.

The only people who seemed to truly understand that were people who had been through it themselves, and the shocking thing when you have a miscarriage is discovering how many of them there are.  Women come out of the woodwork with their own stories, and they recount them with solemn faces and a flat sadness in their tone.  They don't expect you to be happy.

But other well-meaning people who want to help, and want you to be happy again soon, take unsuccessful stabs at guiding you toward that choice.  They point out the children you already have, tell you that you can try again, or remind you that the "baby" wasn't meant to be anyway and it's for the best that something so flawed ended before it could really start.  None of that is helpful.

Because none of it acknowledges that in that moment, at that time, choosing happiness is ludicrous.  It was not wrong to cry all day.  And part of the next day.  And then it all started anew the day of the D&C.  All of that was a rite of passage too, in its own way.  That was loss on a personal level that I had to meet on its own terms and not try to re-frame as something else that was "better."  Happiness is nice, but not necessarily better.  Cake is nice, too, but not as the only thing in your diet.

And feelings don't have to be one thing or the other, either.  One of the most disconcerting parts of the last couple of weeks of my dad's life was how much joy there was tangled up with all that loss and grief.  We laughed and cried at the same time and both were real.  We were together as a family doing the best we could for one another, and facing the unimaginable that a major piece of that family was about to leave us forever.  We all felt a deep appreciation of what we meant to each other and what we were about to lose.  And we laughed and there was silliness.  But that wasn't happiness as a choice, that was life at its fullest.  That was love unsuppressed.

Yes, on an ordinary day, if you have a choice to be happy, and it makes life better than it might otherwise be, choose it.  But never feel like that's the only choice available that means something.  There are times it's not the right one, and that's okay.

For myself, today, I am happy, and it was a natural choice to make.  For the first time in a long time I am not conflicted about events in my life that have caused competing emotions to prevent me from feeling happy in a way that is simple and easy.  I am happy, and that is mine today, and it doesn't matter what came before or comes next.  I will enjoy it for what it is, and it is lovely.


  1. This was beautifully introspective ... and true. Happiness is not the only emotion out there, but it's one society insists on. But out emotions are much more complex; besides, if you have to force something (Be happy! Smile!) then you are missing out on all the complex layers of life. The good, the bad, and the in-between.

  2. I love the story of your wedding dress!

    I completely understand about the miscarriage.

    And I'm glad you are happy today.