INDIVISUAL MEDIA

LIFE SWAPPING
(Then Comes Marriage, Part 4)

 

“The grass ain’t greener,

The wine ain’t sweeter —

On either side of the hill…”

– Grateful Dead, Ramble on Rose

~

Me: Did you notice how encouraging she was?

Wife: Did you notice how helpful he was?

Me: Did you notice how skinny she got?

Wife: *death stare*

Bedroom Blues, we meet again…

~

Confession:

I can’t recall one iota from my obligatory pre-marital prep course.

It‘s all just a blurry haze of hypothetical calendars and fifty shades of burgundy.

Truth be told, the only part I paid any attention to was the long awaited “schmooze,” where good Jewish boys learn everything they pretend they never knew, about the ins-and-outs of intimacy.

My Rabbi at the time was (and, presumably, still is) unconscionably prude. The guy is as straight as they come. So when he emphasized the following word-to-the-wise, I was most certainly taken aback.

“Try not to glorify other girls.”

Um.

Come again?

Other girls?

And this, from a straight-laced saint, who seemed to have the libidinal longings of a geriatric goldfish!

I vividly recall feeling dumbfounded.

I hit the jackpot.

I was marrying up.

And way up, at that.

Why did he give me a look of doom as he imparted this ominous warning?

What was he so concerned about?

~

In the final interview of his prolific career, Carl Jung – a wayward disciple of Sigmund Freud – made a strange comment that sounds more like a senior moment than a sentiment of sagely wisdom.

EXHIBIT A:

“A particularly beautiful woman is a source of great terror.

As a rule, a beautiful woman is a terrible disappointment.”

Now, I have nothing against ugly people.

I’m sure they mean well.

But beauty is, well, a thing of beauty.

Most of humanity seems heavily invested in the art of self-beautification.

From lip injections to liposuction.

From brow-lifts to facelifts.

From Botox to butt-tucks.

The pursuit of pretty is alive and well.

So, it’s difficult to digest the moral of Jung’s story.

What’s so tragic about a “particularly beautiful woman?”

As far as I can tell, good looks lead good lives, and the beautiful people are the universal envy of our collective eye.

Why so down on the babe?

And – while we have Jung in the hot seat – let’s add some insult to injury.

EXHIBIT B:

“He who looks outward, dreams.

He who looks inward, awakens.”

– Carl Jung, Collected Letters Vol. 1

On the surface, his words sound like a hokey Hallmark card.

The problem is that they’re factually inaccurate.

Dreaming is an internal phenomenon, while awakening involves the influx of external stimuli.

We inwardly dream.

And we outwardly awaken.

So why does Jung reverse the facts?

~

“Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife… for there are plenty of others.”

– Otto Rank

Sartre famously taught that “Hell is other people,” but The Ten Commandments seem to imply that Hell is other spouses.

In fact, the “Big Ten” repeatedly address extramarital encounters (commandment #8 on the physical level, and commandment #10 on the psychological level), with a grand total of zero considerations for the internal affairs of an actual marriage, proper.

Why so much emphasis on the lure of other lovers, without the slightest bit of direction for our own?

~

The difference between window shopping and retail shopping is subtle, yet profound.

Window shopping is mental flirtation.

We crush on objects of desire.

It’s a self-imposed tease.

But it’s a tantalizing one.

Retail shopping is transactional.

Swipe card. Take bag.

Wham. Bam. Than you for shopping.

We convert fantasy into reality.

Cashing in on our crush.

For some reason, things always look better in store windows than they do in our cluttered closets.

Diamonds dazzle inside their displays, but those shimmering sparkles quickly fade as they collect dust in a safety deposit box.

Succulent items on an overpriced menu are far tastier to the pallets of our minds than they are to our wallets and our intestines.

Anticipation is always sweeter than realization.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

That’s just how we’re wired.

Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with window shopping.

But when we begin to browse through the dubious displays of other people’s lives, an unhealthy domino effect gradually unfolds, slowly yet surely chipping away at our minds, our hearts, and – yes, our marriages.

Allow me to explain…

~

The Beatles were “The Beatles” for a reason.

It wasn’t their snappy jingles.

Or their weepy ballads.

Or their trippy psychedelics.

Or their gritty blues.

It was all of the above.

And then some.

Folk. Pop. Metal.

Country. Blues. Prog.

They took the best of every genre.

And channelled them all into a uniquely catchy, signature sound.

A kaleidoscopic fusion of eclectic influences.

That’s what made them “The Beatles.”

And that’s what makes us insane.

Because we do the same thing.

We take the best bits of different lives.

And create a subconscious highlight reel.

Selectively slicing what we admire and desire.

Combining the talents of one.

With the charm of another.

A great smile here.

A brilliant mind there.

We window shop, crushing on the illusory display cases of other lives, while inadvertently breaching the fabric of our own.

A massive house.

A luxurious vacation.

A stunning spouse.

A lucrative vocation.

We build an ongoing case against the quality of our lives by collecting scattered scraps of partial evidence, stringing these strands together to secretly confirm that – yes, indeed – the grass grows ever greener on everyone else’s side!

It’s not wife-swapping.

It’s life-swapping.

Mentally swapping their perky parts for our jerky parts.

The problem with life-swapping is twofold.

Firstly, it’s an exercise in futility.

Envy is envy – and so it remains.

Window shopping through the mall of other lives does nothing to enhance the quality of our own.

In fact, it does the very opposite.

But life-swapping isn’t just futile.

It’s a warped distortion of reality.

We glorify an illusory ideal.

But there’s a lot more to the story.

There are unresolved daddy issues.

There’s a nasty case of IBS.

There’s a gross patch of body hair in the strangest of places, if we look at it right.

In short, there’s an actual human being.

A flawed, damaged, work-in-progress.

Just like you.

And just like me.

But we filter out this reality because it spoils the frictionless fiction of fantasy. We’d rather window shop and dream, than face our nuanced reality and awaken.

“Try not to glorify other girls.”

Few things are as harmful to a marriage.

Comparing is corrosive.

Because we pin our fragile insides against their dazzling outsides.

“He who looks outward, dreams.

He who looks inward, awakens.”

The outward dream is, in fact, a nightmare in disguise.

“What’s the use in dreamin’?
We got better things to do.
Dreams never worked out anyway,
Even when they did come true.”

– Bob Dylan, I Feel A Change Comin’

This is the “terrible disappointment of particularly beautiful woman.” She is not the problem. We are. We reduce her into fuel for the fallacy of fantasy. The tragedy is not in her beauty but in the skewed eyes of her beholders. We see her as a one dimensional finished product rather than a multidimensional fluid process.

The Ten Commandments offer an indirect marital directive, by turning our attention away from outward dreaming, and back toward inward awakening. They show us the way home, by closing off the lures of dubious escape routes. The best offense is a good defense.

In an age of public displays of perfection and relentless digital exhibitionism, it’s getting harder and harder to avoid the tempting bait of picture-perfect illusions.

Today’s marriage is perpetually pushed and pulled in the high tide of outward dreaming.

Instagram is a life-swapper’s kryptonite.

Wives see other husbands.

Husbands see other wives.

All in fabulous form.

Highly enhanced.

Showcased for display.

Their vacations are insane.

Their homes are mini palaces.

Their grass, indeed, seems ever greener.

We see the shine.

But not the shadows.

Infatuation takes place in the shine.

Marriage takes place in the shadows.

 

The picture perfect dream,

Is a fiction of the mind.

The more we chase this phantom,

The less we’ll ever find —

What inwardly awakens,

As eyes retreat within —

The life we always dreamed for,

Is the one that’s always been.