What do these things mean, anyway?
Tackling memetic attitudes one cliché at a time
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We want what people around us want and have. We recite cliches as gospel and try to live accordingly. For example, women associating with couples without children feel less interested in having children. "There are many ways to live life and enjoy it to the fullest," they say. But if they live in a community with many children, they want to be mothers, too, because "motherhood is sacred, the highest calling in life." Smokers can't quit smoking if all their friends keep smoking. People suddenly feel the urge to get healthy and hit the gym when their friends do. Everything from yoga pants to cars and hairstyles rises in popularity, fades, and makes room for the next trend created by people who want to keep up with others. Hence, advertisers get you to buy products by showing you people just like you using and enjoying them – from designer bags and beauty products to opioids. We all have an inclination to be copycats and need very little convincing to do it. Think of the Ice Bucket Challenge a while back. Suddenly, everyone was dumping ice water over their heads for ALS awareness.
How often do you stop and question what you want and why you want it beyond the superficial and the cliché?
I do it all the time because I am annoying like that. But learning to think for yourself will save you money and reorient you in the direction that suits you and really matters to you. You can always make more money, but you'll never recover the time you waste chasing after the wrong things. You'll also feel happier and less stressed.
Here are a few cliches we can't live without and how to liberate yourself from social indoctrination. You're welcome 😊
"The soulmate who will help you self-actualize."
First, "the soulmate." What is a soulmate? Most people in the world don't live their lives looking for one. They look for a good partner to get stuff done with – raising kids, building security, working the farm, stuff that makes them feel purposeful and valuable because those have much more to do with happiness than anything else, long-term. Researchers show that men and women in arranged and love-based marriages report high levels of satisfaction, commitment, and passionate and companionate love around the 10-year mark, assuming no abusive and otherwise harmful behavior is in play.
Looking for that predetermined cosmic connection limits you. First off, you have to believe that life is predetermined. If so, I'd like to know your views on free will. Do you believe you have agency and can fashion your life according to your efforts? If so, how do you square this with the "predetermined" part?
On a more practical note, I'd like to know if your waiting is an expression of avoiding relationships or just unquestioned romanticism, or if you've watched too many Hollywood movies and come to believe that unless you find "the one," you'll never be happy. Perhaps you've had someone in the past who felt "perfect," but things didn't work out. Well, then, that person was not "perfect" at all. They "didn't work out." Ask around to find out how many people actually married their soulmate or if they became such after a while. Also, ask if life is just peaches and cream for them. If they say "yes," they are either lying or on their honeymoon.
Second, "self-actualizing." What does this mean exactly? To you? According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, self-actualization is the cream of the psychological crop. He described it as realizing your full psychological potential and creative talents AFTER meeting your other needs, or perhaps a little at a time while still working on them. But not BEFORE you meet your basic needs for food, shelter, safety, and security. It sits at the top of the pyramid for a reason not to be mistaken for the large bottom of the pyramid, which basically represents 90% of your life. In other words, you can live an extraordinary life of safety, security, love, intimacy, deep connection, achievements, respect, and uniqueness and never be fully self-actualized… so, what's wrong with that? You still get to sit back in your rocking chair at 90, look back on your life, and think, "Holly smokes, I had an amazing one." As long as you always do the best you really can, I bet you anything, you'll feel pretty awesome about yourself.
But that's not how people do things. They shoot straight for the bullseye at the top, AND they believe it's their soulmate's job to help them get there… Sure. If you can get it. But don't live your life playing that lottery. Billions of people do not win the lottery even though they regularly throw tons of money at it. Find a better strategy for living your best life.
"The Perfect Relationship."
As seen on social media and TV, both of which are make-believe, but who cares? You still strive for the perfect IG shots, so you do what other "perfect couples" do regardless of what you actually enjoy or can afford. So, Paris, it is! On with the matching Christmas sweaters! Pile up the hashtags. Yet, you know your problems and suffer behind closed doors. But have you considered that if you didn't have the unrealistic "perfect relationship" expectation, you'd be perfectly OK with the one you inhabit? It's kind of like happily driving a Lexus until someone you know buys a Mercedes, and suddenly, that Lexus is not nice enough.
Do a reality check and remember what your relationship is about – love, children, mutual support, building a comfortable life, etc. Looking at it from this perspective, how successful do you feel? What can be improved? What's great about it? What real priorities are there? Don't adopt trendy relationship goals and desires unless they actually align with yours.
No relationship is all up and never down, and all relationships evolve in some way. Figure out what matters most to you in a relationship - trust, communication, shared interests, or whatever floats your boat. This becomes your compass, not society's expectations. You can evolve your relationship accordingly. Also, embrace the quirks, flaws, and messiness. Often, imperfect moments forge genuine connections as people learn more about each other and themselves and how to do the partnership bit.
"Loving yourself first."
You can't feed anyone from an empty cup, as the Chinese proverb gets repeated to justify self-gratification, to rationalize self-entitlement, and to promote self-indulgence. Yes, you must love yourself enough to know your boundaries, deal-breakers, values, etc. You have to be self-interested and self-reliant enough to survive and thrive. But sometimes, you love others when they need you to, regardless of your conveniences and despite your needs. Do you think a mom waking up five times to feed a crying baby at night is "loving herself first?" Or someone answering a friend in genuine need and showing up regardless of their schedule? Or someone jumping into a fire to save a dog? Or a soldier fighting a war? Cliches are funny this way. They ring true enough but sometimes justify bad behavior.
Imagine yourself with a partner who always loves themselves first. How long before you label them "selfish" and begin to feel like you're there to support them loving themselves, and your relationship is just one-way, their way? If you're sufficiently co-dependent, you can stick it out, but I don't recommend it.
"Quality over quantity."
If you give a little kid one day of your best quality attention but neglect it the other 999 days, the child will remember being neglected and grow up with that chip on the shoulder. Quality over quantity is something avoidant people like to say to justify their high-stress response to actually being with other people. It's what parents tell themselves to justify prioritizing work over time with the kids and each other. Those same people also preach the importance of consistency and regularity in other areas of life – like learning something new, developing a skill, losing weight, preparing for an exam, etc. If quality over quantity worked, then learning French for a day once per year, all in at 100% quality attention, should make you fluent in exactly… Never.
A consistent quantity of positive interactions and time spent together can contribute significantly to a relationship's strength. Life happens day-to-day, not five hours every other weekend. Just like the day-to-day, small neglects I wrote about in last week's post can ruin your relationship, the seemingly insignificant daily attention-giving moments build and grow a connection. Interpreting "quality over quantity" too strictly runs the risk of inadvertently reducing the frequency of positive interactions, assuming that a few deeply meaningful moments can compensate for infrequent connection. Why would you make this assumption? The very definition of neglect is not giving something/someone your attention and care.
"Patience is a virtue."
Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither are solid relationships. Patience is key when navigating the inevitable bumps on the road, but does it rise to the level of "virtue?" How much patience is enough to be considered virtuous? When does patience become passivity and causes loss of opportunity? Patience shouldn't mean enduring toxic or harmful situations indefinitely or enabling an unhealthy dynamic, either.
If anything, patience needs to be paired with discernment and a proactive mindset for balance and to avoid frustration, resentment, and allowing yourself to be taken advantage of. Also, don't just sit there patiently watching your ice cream melt.
I have more, but this is getting too long. If you're interested and find these helpful, let me know in the comments or shoot me an email, and I'll do another round.
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