I’m an earnest optimist.
I feel like I should say that in a ’12 Step Program,’ formal admission kind of way.
“Hi. I’m Jen, and I’m an earnest optimist.”
I like to talk about things that bring me joy, and things that bring other people joy. I like making people laugh or just feel generally good/better/hopeful. I like helping other people find success and happiness, and hearing about other people finding success and happiness. I like giving compliments and focusing on the bright side of things and looking at problems as opportunities and brainstorming solutions.
I see that glass as half full. ^^^^^
And this has been a major social hindrance for me for my entire existence.
I know that sounds absurd, but it’s true. Being an optimist, at least in my experience, isn’t socially beneficial. Not at all.
See, when you’re generally skewed positive, people think you’re either stupid and deluded or smarmy and insincere. If you’re honest and have any brains in your head at all, at least in my experience, you’re supposed to be cynical. I can be cynical. I’m actually pretty good at it, and if I’m around a person or group of people that expect cynicism and are uncomfortable around organic positive sincerity, I can mold my square peg to fit right into that round hole. I can be sarcastic and even mean and combative. It’s easy to be cynical about a lot of things in life. I’m not deluded or stupid. I can see all the bad shit. I know that glass is ALSO half empty. But I don’t LIKE being cynical. It feels off and unnatural in an uncomfortable…sometimes painful way. And because I’m pretty good at it, those people who would certainly mock and ridicule me for my sincerity and positive thinking actually think I AM a gigantic cynic because I hide it so well. But focusing on bad shit just isn’t good for me, and for me, it’s not productive or healthy to stay in a cynical, ‘half empty’ place for very long. It works for some people. And that’s fine. For them. Just not for me. Except that my lack of or refusal to participate in cynicism sometimes (often?) socially isolates me.
I’ve heard many claims that people want more good stories on the news and don’t like being around people who are constantly pointing out problems and offenses and negative opinions about things, but…I’ve honestly found a lot more truth in the old adage ‘Misery loves company.’ In my case, it seems like most of my company loves misery. At least they never want to hear about anyone’s sincere happiness. Or maybe just mine. I know that it’s inappropriate to cheerfully talk about how amazing your life is when someone else is truly experiencing trauma and upheaval in their lives, like abuse or serious health issues or lawsuits or property damage or divorce or death or constant not getting along with the people they live with or whatever. Because it sounds like bragging or rubbing it in or like you are passive-aggressively trying to make them feel bad (I hate passive aggression…believe me…I get it). But I honestly feel like I can’t ever talk to most people in my life about the things that matter most to me, because I can’t be happy around them. And the place my lack of cynicism hurts me the most, socially, (oddly in my opinion), is inside and about my relationship with J.
Maybe it’s because of my crisp memory (which is a curse as much as a blessing…see?…I’m not CONSTANTLY wearing the rose colored glasses), because I clearly remember what my life was like before I met J (lonely and boring and containing a lot more anxiety and less love).
When I worked outside home and saw other adult humans on a regular basis, one of their favorite pastimes was this verbal party game everyone else but me seemed to be an expert at playing. They played at every lunch table gathering. It’s called Complaining About Your Spouse. The men and the women did this. Friendships were formed over it, almost exactly like Dungeons and Dragons. No shit. I never participated, though. Sure, I could come up with things to complain about regarding J. Who can’t come up with things to complain about regarding ANY other person, place or thing? We can all choose to focus on the flaws and little inconveniences and blemishes and mistakes and bad habits, but…why? Perfection can’t be reached. To quote the great John Bender from John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, ‘Screws fall out all the time. The world’s an imperfect place.’ Instead, I talk J up a lot. I know I do. I focus on the things he is and does that make me feel good and safe and loved and appreciated and LUCKY. So I’m a big loser at the Complaining About Your Spouse game every time. And people find this strange and in this weird way…offensive. It seems to grate on them…they almost seem to take it as a personal affront…that I’ll talk about J in a positive manner and rarely if ever criticize him. ?????
I remember having dinner with a girlfriend of mine once and I was openly praising J outside of his presence, which everyone seems to find weird once your first year of marriage is over, if it even lasts THAT long. My friend shook her head at me in this dismissive, but mostly benign, even kind of entertained way, like she enjoyed my precious naivete, and said, ‘You love that man STUPID, Jen.’ I’m not stupid. I just love him. Shouldn’t I love my husband? Is it stupid that I say good things about the person I pledged to live my life with? I dunno. Maybe I really am an old fashioned simpleton.
I used to post about J on non-anonymous social media fairly often. In only clearly positive ways. I’d post a picture with, ‘Look how handsome he is.’ And then one of my family members (A FAMILY MEMBER!) commented on his gray hair or his glasses (things I find attractive…nay…SEXY about him…) and how those things apparently precluded him from being handsome and from me finding him handsome.
Or even just a few weeks ago, after a long status update hiatus (not a huge fan of the non-anonymous social media, to be honest…again…I’m not always Little Mary Sunlight), I posted what a great husband and father J is (because that’s TRUE). The catalyst for that post was that he’d come home from work two nights in a row and spent every second of his time helping our Boy with an important and difficult school project. Something my parents didn’t do for me, by the way. And this same family member commented on it, ‘Hear that, <my dad’s name…my dad who isn’t even ON social media)? Guess you’re not the best father.’ Like…was that necessary? To dump on my happiness and gratitude and general excitement about J and try to make me feel like a shitty daughter for not praising my dad over my husband? (I love my dad…but he really never did anything CLOSE to what J does with and for our Boy and me with or for me or my mom. Ever.)
There are memes I’ve seen displaying this philosophy, and I’ve seen them multiple times from multiple sources, so I know the people I know aren’t the only folks who are bothered by sincere optimism, particularly in romantic relationships. The basic belief system as I understand it goes something like, ‘Happy people/couples don’t talk about being happy, so if you’re talking being happy, you must really be REALLY unhappy, but you want people to THINK you’re happy…’
It’s really confusing to me, honestly. Maybe I’m too lazy to put that kind of effort into curating a false image of my life. Because it seems like a lot of work for no gain to me…creating this positive facade to hang over your unhappy life, when you could be working to make your life happier instead.
And there’s this meme that goes something like, ‘I hope someday your life is as great as you say it is on Facebook.’
Like…every person who talks about happiness and hope must be lying or too stupid to know they aren’t (or can’t be…or shouldn’t be…or aren’t *allowed* to be) happy.
It’s kind of why I started blogging. I can openly talk about my marriage in positive terms and not get called fake or posturing or deluded or naive or stupid. I can even talk about how J’s inspired me to write sappy, positive fictional love stories and let other people read them here. I don’t have to be cynical.
‘We’re all cynical now…Cynicism is our shared common language, the Esperanto that actually caught on, and though I’m not fluent in it–I like too many things, and I am not envious of enough people–I know enough to get by.’
–Nick Hornby from How To Be Good
It’s strange and powerful every time I read a sentence in a novel that almost exactly captures my own feelings, but there one is. Mr. Hornby nailed it. I actually AM fluent in cynicism, but I don’t like being cynical. It’s not my first language, and I don’t really like the heavy labor it takes me to speak it. I prefer to stick with the language that’s naturally a part of me, that I don’t have to try hard to speak. And that’s organic sincerity…and keeping my sunny outlook on things. Especially love and my life with J. Thanks for letting me do that here.