Shall I be a doctor's trophy wife?

I've been offered a life of privilege. But I yearn for struggle and pain. Am I crazy?

Published September 6, 2010 11:01PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I have a question that may be common to those reaching a quarter-life crisis: What do you do when life disappoints you ... yet there is nothing inherently wrong with it? In fact, what do you do when you have a life others can only dream of, but which you take for granted? How can you learn to appreciate it?

I was raised in a Bible-thumping Southern town and made it to a large city in the same state for college. I stayed here after graduating. I always imagined I would be a D.C. career woman, or an accomplished academic. Yet here I am, four months from age 26, an elementary-school teacher.

I definitely respect teachers; this is not a teacher-bashing e-mail. I personally know how difficult it is! I also have a wonderful fiancé, only a few years my senior, who is a doctor and promises the world to me. He wants nothing more than to keep me on my pedestal and give me everything I ever wanted. And did I mention my friends? They are fabulous! We have only grown closer since meeting at age 18, the same age I met my fiancé.

So why do I feel so dissatisfied and so unsettled? Why do I want to see what else is out there if I have achieved the personal life that so many desire? After graduating, I was offered that great D.C. job, and I was accepted into those great graduate schools, but I passed them up to stay with my wonderful partner in my home state. I figured if it was difficult to find a man who was so willing to commit to marriage these days (as that is what older women told me) that I'd be crazy to pass it up. However, sometimes I feel as if I have nothing to live for. I feel that at nearly 26, I already know how this will play out: I will be the pampered housewife/elementary teacher of a successful doctor who will be given anything she wants at the snap of her fingers. I should be happy/ecstatic ... right?

So why am I not? Why do I have this need to struggle and feel pain? Why can't I feel blessed with the easy way out when so many others don't even have the choice? I have already set and canceled a wedding date due to this inner dialogue. A part of me wants to break free and run away somewhere new and conquer my world on my own and totally alone, but then my rational side kicks in. What if I'm lonely? What if I don't succeed? What if I end up alone? What if karma bites me for breaking my fiancé's heart?

I don't want to look back when I'm older and think of "the one who got away" or "the dreams that were never fulfilled." Is it more devastating to lose dreams or people? Please help a young reader who feels like she is being suffocated with good fortune. I really want to be ecstatic with what I have as it would make this simple life much easier to accept.

Future Trophy Wife

Dear Future Trophy Wife,

Why do you feel "so dissatisfied and so unsettled"?

Because bourgeoise life is soul death? That could be why.

"Why do I have this need to struggle and feel pain?" you ask.

Because knowledge is acquired at a cost. Sometimes that cost is disruption of the settled life. Sometimes that cost is the disappointment of a loved one.

Silence about the true self, over a lifetime, accrues a crushing soul-debt that one day comes due in madness.

So tell the good doctor that he must be prepared: You may suddenly want to live in a hut in the woods and carve statues out of walnuts and eat berries and smear them over your face and make raucous vocal noises. You might want to travel to the South Pole to see the glaciers calving, or live in a New York loft learning wood sculpture, or adopt 12 kids from war-torn Afghanistan who otherwise would be raised by totalitarian Taliban freaks, or take up Expressionism, or become a motorcycle mechanic and have an old Indian disassembled on the kitchen floor, or take a sudden passion for kayaking and ride off for weeks to travel the rapids.

He might have other ideas. He might think you're the perfect ornament. He might not know he thinks this. So you'd better tell him now.

Privileged people don't always know what they think. In fact, not having to figure out and say what you really think is itself a privilege; having things just work out is a privilege.

It is hard to give up privilege. Duh.

So try to read the invisible ink of his cultural expectations. He may not even know what they are. Social progress beats its head against this immortal fact: Our most invidious and regressive beliefs are the ones we do not know we have.

We must discover, painfully, how backward we are. Then, painfully, we must work to change. Who would do this if not forced to? Men in the 1970s at the onset of the feminist revolution changed their ways not so much because they deeply understood what it was like to be oppressed but because they deeply craved the acceptance of the women they loved. Over time, certain habits of egalitarian regard took up residence in our hearts. But there was little heroism in this.

Or do I speak only for myself? Perhaps.

Anyway, what do you do now?

You make a decision to live your life with seriousness. You make your life as you want to make it. You pursue whatever it is with seriousness and passion. You find satisfaction in things that matter to you. You make peace with your decisions. You don't blame other people nor lament the life unlived.

And when the occasional doubt creeps up, you entertain the notion that perhaps, just perhaps, you are doing exactly what you are supposed to be doing -- fulfilling a destiny that is good and true, whatever that destiny is. And if years later, having chosen to go your own way, you are living in a dingy apartment and things have not worked out quite the way you had hoped -- not yet, anyway -- and you see the doctor dancing at a glittering ball with a glittering wife on his arm and she is wearing the jewels he bought for her which he could just as easily have bought for you if you had only said yes ... well, what will your answer be to that future you who looms large in your fears? Will your answer be that you are glad you saved your own soul?

Or will your answer be that a life of quiet comfort and conformity was really the life you wanted all along?

How can you answer this question?

You answer the question based on what you know now. That's all you can do.

Write Your Truth.

Want more?

By Cary Tennis

MORE FROM Cary Tennis

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Since You Asked