A Subtle Treachery
One of the most seductive fantasies out there is “if I just”: the idea that there is a singular, significant action that I can take that will make everything better. This is modeled for us in narratives from the very first time we encounter them. If I just marry the princess, I’ll live happily ever after. If I just kill the witch, all of our problems will be solved. If I just cast the ring into the fiery pit, the war will be over. If I just tell him I love him, he’ll realise that he loves me. If only, if only…
Grand climax followed by dénouement is a perfectly fine, satisfying structure for a story, but the thing to remember about important decisions is that they’re really the start of a new story, not a neatly wrapped up ending. My actions change things, but even in the best case it’s not a single step and then unending bliss. After I move out to get away from my parents, I don’t have to follow their rules but I do have to learn how to relight the pilot light on my water heater (or get used to cold showers). After I get the boyfriend, I have the boyfriend but I have to deal with the boyfriend (and the drama.) Happily ever after turns out to involve a lot of aggravation and struggle.
Then the expectation of a neat ending betrays me in other ways. Once I’ve made a hard choice and the universe has failed to reward me with the happiness I was seeking, I feel powerless. I’ve done everything I was supposed to, but narrative inevitability proved more evitable than I hoped. And, well, if I can’t have a happy ending, I can at least have an ending, right? There’s still that one thing within my control.
Life is pain, and pain makes me feel alive, and I rejoice in it even while the sweet allure of closure calls to me. There are no easy answers, so in the end all I say is: not today. After all, who knows what tomorrow will bring?
Not I. Not today.