Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn: I’m in my early 30s and in a profession that is high on personal rejection and self-doubt (read: the arts). Things have been rough lately, and I’ve taken to surfing the web for engagement rings, wedding dresses and overall wedding-y things to make myself feel better.
My wonderful, amazing, supportive boyfriend and I have been together for over three years and have talked marriage a bunch — we’ll probably get formally engaged in the next year — but I’m worried that I’m starting to place so much emotional fulfillment on the trappings of a wedding that I’ll ignore anything that would get in the way of that perfect picture.
How do I make sure that I’m not heading down the path of we’ll-probably-get-divorced-but-I-want-to-wear-a-pretty-dress-first?
Never miss a local story.
Trying to Focus
Find something else to make you feel better. After the marriage issue is behind you, however it turns out, and if you’re still in your high-pain profession or dealing with other stress, you’re just going to hop over to some other way to self-soothe, right? So make the choice to turn your attention now to finding healthier ways to guide yourself through rough times.
Whatever it is, it has to be more compelling than ring-browsing or else it won’t work. I realize it’s weird to suggest you scratch an itch you’re not currently feeling, but in my experience, at least, a current preoccupation doesn’t erase all past preoccupations; it just pushes them off to the side temporarily. So, look off to the side for things that have captivated you or pleased you or made you feel better in the past.
From those, choose one or two that are actually constructive, like exercise or a hobby or a cause or a just-for-fun project, which brings me to the bigger issue of web-surfing as pain relief: It’s fine every once in a while, for the occasional off day, but if you’re doing it regularly then I think it falls into the category of other, more troublesome forms of pain relief like overeating or substance abuse or overspending, just without such obvious damage. In effect, you’re still putting your best attention into something that takes you off your path.
When that happens, it’s time to take a hard look at the path itself to see if it’s the right one for you. Is this the right line of work, is this the right guy, is this the way you want to live?
These are the kind of gut-wrenching questions that can make shiny distractions that much more appealing, but you have to fight against their pull. Heavy procrastination is often our subconscious mind’s way of saying, “Stop, this isn’t right!” when consciously we don’t want to face such pain or disruption.
If some added scrutiny tells you your career/mate/lifestyle is not a good fit for you, then of course you need to turn your attention to changing course, as wrenching as it will be.
If instead the path survives your challenge, then you turn your attention to better, more mindful ways to live and work — in setting goals, pursuing them, managing stress on the way. It’s about taking care of yourself.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.