Knowing what you want.

I haven't seen Eat Pray Love yet and I've been reluctant to. It was such an important book for me (one that I continue to come back to every so often) and though I have nothing against Julia Roberts, I'm skeptical of any film adaptation. This morning I read the review of this film in this week's New Yorker and one particular section hit me like a ton of bricks.

The reviewer, Richard Brody, is describing Billy Crudup and James Franco's performances, as Liz's husband and the man she leaves him for. Brody suggests that these two actors aren't given anything to play. They are to play vague, attractive men (in all senses of the word)… men who are to be left by a woman. 

"When Liz walks out on him, she becomes depressed and guilty, but we can't imagine what she has lost by leaving either of these two men."

Here's the funny thing. One of the things I'm struggling with the most right now is writing the character of the man who is left behind. Who is he? What type of man is left? I've been positive that, as soon as I can figure that out, I can write a compelling Jeff. But after reading this review, I think I know what my problem has been.

Any man can be left. There's no template, though we want it to be so. We want to say "see him? He got left. Don't be like that." or any other number of templates we look at in our lives. "See her? She got fired. Don't be like that." etc, ad nauseum.

The truth is that the male character is background noise in these instances. All they need to be is believable as men. The "left" adjective is only relevant because of the female character -- and SHE'S the one you have to watch out for. SHE'S the one who has a template.

Liz Gilbert in EPL and Margaret in my story (and innumerable other women I know and have known who have suddenly decided to up and leave their lives) have one thing in common: they don't know what they want. It's not a critique, but it's the truth. I myself was in this position four years ago when I struggled through a really difficult break-up. France or US? Teaching or not? Brie or cheddar? I didn't know what I wanted, and the person who was joined to me at the time suffered for it.

So how can we avoid that happening? How do we avoid some portion of mid-life crises, people who rushed into marriage and kids and who now wake up 20 years in, realizing there was so much to explore before they settled down? I think you have to make the hard decisions, prepare yourself to know what you want. And if you don't know, then no one else is going to figure it out for you.

The worst people to date are the aimless, because sooner or later they're going to wander away. Liz Gilbert was a great example of that... and she wandered until she stopped. And then she had it figured out.

I wandered for a while, a long time, before I figured out what I want. And now I have it. That's not to say that I have the most perfect life ever (because I don't), but there is a really deep sense of peace that I feel in my current relationship that I haven't felt in others. Is part of that because Chris is who he is? Absolutely. But is another (big) part of that because I got myself in a good place first?

You betcha.


Kelley said...

I love love love this post--so true.

Anonymous said...

"I think you have to make the hard decisions, prepare yourself to know what you want. And if you don't know, then no one else is going to figure it out for you."

wow I read your blog and this is one of the best posts! but what do you mean by hard decisions? career, job, city? and do you have to be alone in order to figure out what you want? any advice on how to do this?


Jen Epting said...

Hi Linda :)

I think my answer is going to sting (as it surely would have stung me a few years ago).

I think it's really hard to figure out what you want when you are juggling someone else's wants. And by really hard, I mean impossible. At least, that's how it was for me.

I remember having an overwhelming feeling of ELATION when I went through break-ups before... so much so that, the day after, I would suddenly take up running or some other hobby I had never been inclined to do when I was in a relationship. For whatever reason, I wasn't ready to be wholly honest with someone about my needs (probably because I didn't know what they were) and so it was impossible for them to fulfill them. It was as if my relationships bound me tighter and tighter, and the break-up gave me back my limbs.

I spent a couple of years by myself (but always WISHING I was with someone, obviously!) and it really helped. It helped to do match.com and meet other random people for drinks for a while... because I needed that time to grow and feel at home in New York and get better at my job.

Once Chris and I talked about what would happen if we ever broke up and I said, without hesitating, that I'd take off for France or somewhere else. I think that I process via experience and when I get itchy for travel, it might mean that I have some solitary reflecting to do.

I don't think there's a formula (sadly), and lots of this feels pretty personal to my own situation. But I think that the world is very open to helping you figure out what you want... if you throw some time at it and truly let yourself wander.

Avi said...

Profound truths here!