A Maronite Mass
Laudamus anyway

A turrible thing in this life

In one of Flannery O'Connor's stories, if my memory is correct, a stolid and far from young woman, the kind she often portrayed, offers this observation: 

A unsatisfied woman is a turrible thing in this life.

I thought of that when I read this remark in an article called The Lie I Tell My Husband Every Day To Keep Him Happy:

I know I have a great life and so much to be thankful for, but I can’t truthfully say I am 100 percent happy yet. I simply haven’t achieved everything I need in order to be absolutely happy.

If you read the whole story, it's clear that the woman is more sensible than those remarks suggest. But still, it strikes me as extremely strange that she even thinks it possible, maybe even reasonable, to expect to be "100 percent happy" and "absolutely happy." It looks like a recipe for future trouble.  I wonder if she really needs to hide from her husband that she is not 100 percent happy. I'm sure he could say the same. Adults ought to understand that such is the human condition.

Aside from its unreasonableness, I wonder if an attitude of that sort is behind a rather bitter and depressing meme I saw the other day:

How many stepdads does it take to raise a child?
As many as it takes for Mom to find the happiness she deserves. 

I remember being told, many years ago (back in the '70s) that I "deserved to be happy." I remember it because I thought it was such a strange idea. I suppose it's a widely accepted one now.



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Every time I hear the phrase "you deserve" in an ad, I nearly throw up.

I just cringe.


That's one reason why I never liked U2's song "I Still Haven't Found I'm Looking For." Everyone thought it was so profound -- I just thought it was dumb. Like the kids say these days, "As if!"

That's funny, I actually took it in the opposite way: as implying that one shouldn't expect to find it. Maybe I was just reading my own view into it.

That meme is horrible.
When did we abandon the idea that parents have a duty to the well-being of their children even at the cost of their own?

A fair number of people act contrary to that idea, through weakness and other more or less everyday human faults, but I have heard people explicitly deny it. I found that chilling. I read an article at Slate or The Atlantic or some similar place a while back (years) where women (I think it was all or mostly women) discussed the pros and cons of having an extramarital affair. What I recall now, possibly unfairly, is that it tended to be reduced to the question "Will this make me happy or not?"

The meme is chilling, and it made me wonder what embittered child or husband came up with it.

This may seem a little odd...but I am just so grateful that God saved a wretch like me that it really fires my joy. If -in my clearer moments- I do think in terms of what I deserve -it makes me even happier with what I do have.

For at least 50 years the culture has been screaming "Have it your way!" and "It's all about you!" This radical self-centeredness is now in the air we breathe, just as the Young Lady from Georgia once said about nihilism (which pretty much amounts to the same thing).

It's one reason that social conservative ideas always seem to be in retreat. They always involve some aspect of duty, restraint, and so forth, and the whole psychological climate is opposed to those. I've finally started reading The Triumph of the Therapeutic, and boy does he nail it.

One aspect of it is both funny and very exasperating: advertising that tells you that buying the product will mark you as a bold, independent, rebellious spirit.

John, even if the "wretch like me" feeling goes too far (not saying that it does with you, but it can), it's a whole lot better than "I deserve to be happy." "Come on, God, do your job and make me happy."

Mac @8:57 I once read an advice column in which a woman sought help because her husband wanted a divorce and she didn't. The columnist's response was, "You wouldn't want him to stay with you just out of duty, would you?"
Even my teenage daughter said, "Of course I would! Isn't that what duty is for? To make you do the right thing when you don't feel like it?" Of course, that presupposes that the right thing to do can in principle be distinguished from the thing you want to do.

The idea of "authenticity" is all mixed up in that--you wouldn't be true to your authentic self if you did something out of duty. Bravo to your daughter.

Doing my duty is my authentic self.

John, when my kids complained, "It's not fair!" I would cheerfully agree that it isn't, and ask weren't they grateful to be on the fortunate side of unfairness.

The question of life's unfairness can lead to some pretty dark places.

Robert, that was my thought, too. It seem that what the proponents of being authentic are referring to is the id.

I honestly think that's plain dumb.

"It's one reason that social conservative ideas always seem to be in retreat. They always involve some aspect of duty, restraint, and so forth, and the whole psychological climate is opposed to those."

Lasch nailed it, as you say, and so does Berry when he talks about how in modernity the decks are always stacked against the virtues because they're not measurable by modernity's standards.

This is one reason why I like Mark Helprin so much. I just finished a re-reading of A Soldier of the Great War, and it's clear that Helprin is on the side of the "old" virtues, and that in regards to modernity's impatience with them he is having none of it. This is probably why his books are not as popular among "liberal" critics as they should be. A novel that does the things that A Soldier... does would likely be considered a modern classic, but I think its problem is that its moral universe is simply too "old fashioned" in the view of the contemporary literati.

Not having read it (eventually!) I can't say much, but if that's the case it's a good thing he had a reputation before the craziness of the last decade or so really flowered. I doubt his work deals much with current obsessions.

Louise: it is. :-)

It occurred to me that as many times as I've seen the word "id" and gotten a rough sense of what it seems to mean, I've never actually read a definition of it, much less Freud himself. This is interesting:


Everything I know about the id i learned from Forbidden Planet.

This whole discussion about the "id" makes me think of that incident a few years ago when Mel Gibson got plastered and was videorecorded spewing a hateful, antisemitic rant. People kept commenting, "That's the real Mel Gibson," even though his reason (ego and superego?) had been suppressed by the alcohol. He later claimed (whether rightly or not) that he was NOT antisemitic and that the "comments" he made on the video didn't represent his true beliefs. Given his upbringing, it is not surprising that such sentiments were lurking in the dark places of his unconscious, but if he had as a rational being sought to overcome the influence of his upbringing and had decided that he wanted to affirm something different and contrary, why is that not the "authentic" Mel Gibson?

I think the definition of a mature human being is one who seeks to overcome (with divine assistance) the influence of the negative aspects of nature and nurture on one's thinking and actions and replace them with virtuous habits of thought and action. I think the more free you are (the less a slave to the passions), the more authentically "you" you are.

One of the reasons I don't drink is because I don't want the garbage that I know is lurking in there to come vomiting out. Pun intended.

I'm not suggesting one just suppress such negative forces in one's psyche. They, of course, need to be identified, acknowledged, and healed (through natural and supernatural means).

Well said. I would say more but I’m not at home and am doing this on my phone.

Don: :-) I could have said the same before reading that Wikipedia bit.

This makes me think of Jules Feiffer's Hostileman cartoons. Hostileman is the superhero alter ego of meek nerd Bernard. Somebody like him definitely lurks in me, although he has no superpowers. Headlines like this make me want to unleash him:

"ESPN Broadcasters Hold Moment of Silence to Protest Florida’s Parental-Rights Bill on LGBT Ed"

This would be irritating enough from any network. But ESPN?!?

Last night I watched an episode of the new (3rd) season of the British crime drama The Bay. The title refers to Morecombe Bay, on the west coast of England. Seasons 1 and 2 were enjoyable, not great. The main character from those is gone now and replaced by a less sympathetic one. The new lead has just left (and I guess divorced) her husband in Manchester and moved with her two teenaged (or almost) children to Morecombe, where they live with her boyfriend and his teenaged daughter. Her son who seems to be 14 or 15, is miserable, unable to make friends at school, etc. At one point he runs away to his father back in Manchester, is duly returned, and is told by his father that it was necessary for his now-ex to make this move to fix various problems of her own. "And don't you think she deserves that?" I was a little surprised that those words were put in the father's mouth. So suck it up, kid, your youth is not as important as her Issues.

The show can be compared roughly to Broadchurch, but not as good. The first two seasons are good if you like that sort of thing. I don't recommend the third. I was thinking that there probably won't be a fourth season, but I see from Wikipedia that there will be.


What happens when these kids--the ones whose lives were upended explicitly in favour of adults deserving happiness--grow up? Maybe they think, "At last I'm old enough to deserve happiness!" and make their own children suffer in turn. Maybe they don't have kids, because clearly kids are an obstacle to happiness. Maybe they refuse to inflict the pain they endured on a new generation.

All of the above, probably. I'm not sure whether your last sentence means "I'm not going to have children" or "I'm going to have children and not do the same things my parents did." I've heard people say the second.

It's probably not often as conscious and direct as "I (or she or he) deserve to be happy even if it's at your expense." It's the kind of recognition one would naturally suppress. Also usually more complex than that. But still, the frequency with which it's described that way, as in the tv show and the meme, suggests that a significant number of people see it that way. Which doesn't make it true, but I think there really is some truth in it.

I'm so glad you mentioned Broadchurch, because I was trying to remember its name. It's next on my list to watch.

It's really good but a very painful story.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)