If John Donne was right and "no man is an island, entire of itself"**, then we can't - or, at least, shouldn't - deal with the meaning of life in a vacuum. Although our previous discussion on happiness and the Meaning of Life was simplified by narrowing in on the expectations of the individual - on what makes me happy - we know that real life is a little more complicated.
Most of us choose to live in the company of others - understanding that to maintain a relationship will involve compromise. Only the most unreasonable people expect to maintain good relations with those around them and still be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want to. It is generally accepted, as part of the unspoken contract of a friendship, that each party cares about the happiness of the other - and is willing (if not always eager) to facilitate that happiness. In our closest relationships, we may even put the needs and desires of the other person(s) ahead of our own - as some do with their children, or their spouse, their immediate family or very close friends.
Where I come from, it's called love - when you put the good of someone else before your own desires.
But love or not - having other people around does complicate the equation. And it's amazing to me how it can impact even the simplest things. For example: Where to eat dinner? How difficult can that be, right? Oh, sure - if it was a larger group, ten people, maybe even two couples having dinner together, you might understand a little haggling, it might take some discussion. But if you have two people. And both of them are hungry. And one of them is willing to eat anywhere (except Arbys***). Then it should be pretty easy to settle on a location.
Unless My Son is involved. In which case, he will not be able to make a decision on where to eat until the top of my head pops off. The conversation begins with my son sprawled on his bed at 7:30 pm. I had to stay late at the office and I'm starving.
"Jim, do you want to get something to eat? If you do, get up right now."
"Uuuuuhh, yeah. I'm coming." I wait while he drags himself out of bed. I'd like him to pick up the pace - but I'm holding my tongue because I know that riding him will only slow down the process.
"Where do you want to eat, Jim?"
"Uuuuuhh, I'm not sure." He only likes to eat at about 3.5 different places (since he knows I won't go with him to Arbys - and he knows I don't want to bother bringing fast food back to the house) - so this really shouldn't take long.
"Well, you need to get sure pretty quickly - or I'll pick." He's pretty sure I will pick a place he'd rather not go (since I like more than 3.5 restaurants) - and he's right. This is called "motivation".
Soon we're in the car. He's had plenty of time to eliminate 2.5 places from consideration and give me the name of the one where he wants to eat but...
"Jim, where do you want to eat? Tell me or I will start driving to a place I'd like to eat."
"Well, I thought of a place...but...I'm not sure...you'd think it's OK"
"Jim - just tell me."
"How about Arbys?"
"No." I keep my voice flat - but I'm starting to get frustrated. I'm starting to sense where this headed.
"Well...couldn't we just get a pizza and take it home?"
"No - but I'll give you some money and you can take your car and go buy a pizza if you want."
"No..." That would require effort on his part. Now I'm getting pretty p*ssed off.
"Jim, I'm heading for KFC." I have picked a place I know he would rather not go. This is called "Forcing the issue".
"Can we go to Taco Bell?"
"That's fine." But why the hell do we have to do this dance EVERY SINGLE TIME!!!!!
Clearly, every decision doesn't have to be this agonizing (since The Boy will not be involved) - but, in the overall scheme of things, where to have dinner should be an easy question. When you get to more important stuff like:
- Should I move in with you?
- Do you want to get married?
- When will we start a family?
- I just got a great job offer in another city - should I take it?
- Boxers or briefs?
Most of us choose to live in the company of others. And while this doesn't necessarily make life easier - and can sometimes complicate the quest for happiness (for all parties concerned) - it also has the potential to make life immeasurably richer.
To paraphrase those Mastercard commercials:
A late dinner at KFC by yourself - $9
A late dinner at Taco Bell with your 17-year-old Son, who's still not embarassed to be seen with you in public, even if he can't make up his mind to save his life - Priceless
* Sorry Mr. Steinbeck. The latin motto in the title is taken from Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. There's an explanation here.
** In fact, there is probably no wisdom from previous centuries that the march of time has proven more true than this one. As technology shrinks the world, I believe we become ever more interconnected and dependent on one another. And though there is clearly a dichotomy in the impact of technology on relationships (as we develop new ways for our electronic personas to interact, do our physical selves become more isolated?) - it would seem that the general inclination of humankind is still to reach out to one another. Crap! I could probably milk a whole 'nother post out of this...
*** Their food is OK - but it is too d*mn expensive for a fast food joint