I was at the hairdresser the other day.
I was sitting in the chair as the nice young hairdresser Danielle was attending to me, when a colleague of hers walked past.
“Hey,” said Danielle to the other hairdresser. “Take a look at this.”
As the other hairdresser cooed in appreciation, I saw that Danielle was holding what looked like a gorgeous diamond ring.
“Wow,” I said. “Are you engaged?”
“No,” said Danielle. “I ordered it off the internet. I like to pretend I have a rich husband.”
I thought that was odd.
“Are you dating anyone?” I asked her.
“Well, I’m living with my boyfriend. We already have a kid together. So he’s not going anywhere, but he doesn’t want to get married.”
She turned to the mirror and pointed out a snapshot of a cute little baby sitting on a blanket. “That’s our daughter. She’s one.”
“How old are you?” I asked her.
I thought the whole episode was sad. I know that it is terribly presumptuous of me to try to assume what is going on in Danielle’s head, and to extrapolate truths about her character from my assumptions, but since this is a blog, I will do so nonetheless.
I imagine the kind of prohibiting thoughts that her life bestows on her- wanting more for herself, but thinking well, this is what I have, and it's better than nothing, and after all, he is my baby’s father, and we have been together for x number of years, and maybe he will come around and marry me, and even if he doesn’t then, it’s OK. At least I have him. I want him to marry me, but I want to be with somebody more than I want marriage, so I will settle for this. And in the meantime, I can dream, and fantasize about the rich, diamond- buying husband I might have someday who will dote on me.
I remember learning in seminary that constantly indulging in daydreams – i.e creating a shopping list for your lottery win, writing your acceptance speech for Oscar night, thinking that your life would improve significantly if you were better looking, smarter, had a cooler job, a different family etc- is a sign of low self esteem. People who are truly happy with themselves- i.e those individuals with high self-esteem, are generally happy with the hand that God dealt them, no matter what that is. It is not that they don’t make changes if they need to, or they don’t strive to improve their lives and better themselves- they do. But they also know that fantasy, and the heady intoxication it confers, is worth as much as yesterday’s newspaper, or in Danielle’s case, the glass ring that she wears on her finger. It has little to do with getting on in life, and solving the real challenges that face us everyday. Indulging in fantasy too much also makes one more vulnerable to truly destructive behaviors, like alcoholism, drug addiction, bad boyfriends – most of which, at some level, stem from thinking that life isn’t good enough as it is.
If Danielle would ask my advice, I would tell her to dump the guy, completely. And I don’t mean that in the bluff, threat or power-play kind of way. I mean it in that really- difficult- cold-turkey- no -phone -calls, no -‘should we -get -back -together?’ conversations,- no -‘I -will stalk- him- just –a- little- bit –to- find –out- what –he-is- up -to,’- and- no -break-up -sex kind of way
I would also tell her to start behaving in a way that will attract someone who will want to marry her. In order to do that, she will probably have to cut down on compulsive behaviors, no matter how tempting. In other words, not sleeping with guys until they produce that plain gold wedding band and a clergyman or Justice of the Peace pronounces them man and wife.
And as for her daughter--well, Danielle could teach her a little bit about not selling herself short. She could explain to her daughter that she wants to find someone who will act like a Daddy should act, and that means, being married to Mommy.
But more than wanting it, and fantasizing about it, she has to live life like she means it.