Different degrees of longing explained
Published: March 28, 2014 12:52PM
Updated: March 28, 2014 01:01AM
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Carolyn Hax

Dear Carolyn • I get you are a strong believer of the be-content-with-yourself theory of singlehood. What I am not getting is when someone is longing for a baby, we “get” this and understand if they skip other people’s baby showers, etc. We can understand their pain. When someone is single and longing for a partner, we assume something is wrong with them for craving something outside themselves. Your advice has really followed these lines and I don’t see the longing as all that different. Please explain.

Anonymous

Dear Anonymous • Thank you for the opportunity to. Before I do, though, I’ll note that I don’t “assume something is wrong with” anyone who has such a fundamental longing; suggesting I do misrepresents my long-standing position on this. Which is indeed to seek contentment with oneself — not because only defective people do otherwise, but instead because doing otherwise is flat-out self-defeating. What else is there but self-contentment? No life goes exactly as planned, and so our happiness with the one we have will depend largely on how productively we respond when it takes an unwanted turn. Infertility is indeed a similar, unwanted turn, but with significant differences. For one thing, you can know you’re infertile; you can’t know you’ll remain single in perpetuity. Plus, infertility is a physical condition for which there are treatments, and, when those fail, alternatives. By contrast, an adult who wants to be someone’s spouse cannot turn to medical intervention, surrogacy, fostering or adoption. Instead, that adult controls only him- or herself. Thus the long-range, make-the-best-of-what-you-have advice to someone single versus the short-range, manage-your-emotions-as-you-make-your-choices advice to someone facing infertility. Both of these situations have the power to derail someone emotionally for a time; in that, they are terribly alike. Eventually, all advice flows here: Do the hard work to be content with yourself. Maybe you’ll like it better as a tenet of Buddhism: Learn to want what you have. It’s not theory; it’s peace.

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