I’ve lived most of my life with my options open, sampling from the tasting menu instead of picking a venue, sitting down, and completing a meal. I tried the whole carpe diem thing, richoceted between reckless impulses on the supposed road to happiness. Live for yourself, consequences be damned.
All of that experience left me with this unshakable testimony: living for yourself is way overrated.
Since I turned 20 I’ve made a series of of impactful life decisions that have consistently diminished the scope of my life. This narrowing is somewhat inevitable with age and increasing responsibilities; we pick a career path, a home, a circle of friends. I’ve just settled a little more vigorously than the average person in getting married, having children, becoming a stay-at-home mom, and getting baptized.
On face I’ve severely restricted my potential experiences. I can’t date, can’t meaningfully enter the workforce, can’t drink alcohol (or coffee or tea). Heck, I can barely hold an uninterrupted conversation between the hours of 7AM and 8PM and I only have one child so far. Occasionally I feel constrained by these restrictions. My incomplete physics degree can burn a hole in my mind when I ruminate on that starved-but-not-quite-dead dream of becoming a professor. I miss having a body not battered by two pregnancies and I miss the pungent smell and taste of my mom’s chai tea.
But my life is so, so much better than the chaotic mess of indecision that was the tasting menu.
I’ve chosen a set of principles to guide my life, a religion, settled on a five-star restaurant. Sure, it means I can’t eat anywhere else, but why would I want to? I’ve given up wearing sleeveless tops and spending my Sunday’s outside of a church building. I dedicate hours a week to reading scripture, volunteering, and trying to become a better person. Selfishness is another thing you can add to the Overrated list. In trying to be loving I have lost the momentary satisfaction that comes from being a jerk, but I have also lost the bile and acid that comes with it. This is the happiest way I know to be, the only place I want to eat — even on the days when I crave sushi or Thai.
I have chosen the man I will love. Now I like a good dim sum or tapas as much as the next girl, but this is like sitting down 40 oz steak, a fork, an appetite for the ages and all the time in the world. No more will I take a bite of something that later turns out to be chicken feet and leave cursing my inadequate knowledge of Mandarin and the laughing Chinese waitresses. I’ve picked my main course and I’m not getting tired of it anytime soon.
I have chosen to be a mom in perhaps the most limiting choice of all, the Prix Fixe menu. Turns out many people love gazpacho, and I am just not one of those people. I hate being pregnant and I struggle with babies. That is just the cost of fulfilling my highest and most sacred role of motherhood. I’ll happily take it. I love watching morph from a pink blob to a fearless, tender young woman and I love who I’ve become through motherhood. I relish dessert. I enjoy the satisfaction of dabbing at my mouth with a napkin and rolling a mint around on my tongue.
True freedom is not merely being able to pick any choice you want at random; it consists of being able to accurately identify what you want, what will lead to your prolonged happiness, and being able to make those choices without an emotional crisis every time.
My life may sound like a narrow cage to you, but I know I’m happier inside it.