Well, my least favorite time of the year is here yet again, and it’s come faster than ever it feels like! It’s time to say goodbye to Babe as he gets back to work, this year in France. Whenever Babe is home, I find it so hard to balance our time together, because my heart cannot ever seem to make a decision on whether I want to fill our time up with dates and adventure or simply cuddling and being close to one another and talking and laughing. I find we are able to get into a good routine of mixing the two, and the better we get at doing a little bit of everything, the less difficult it is for me to think about him leaving. I don’t mean that in the sense of not missing him when he’s gone, I simply find that the more memories, and more diverse memories especially, that we create, the longer they last before the real homesickness kicks in.
This week, Babe and I went to visit his brother, who just moved two hours away to a beautiful town surrounded by lakes. The weather was beautiful, so we enjoyed dinner on the deck overlooking the marina, exploring the charismatic downtown shops, and boating as the sun set behind the trees. While his brother was at work, Babe and I grabbed coffee at a local coffee shop while running errands. When we went inside, we both offered to treat one another (he won), we split a macaron like in a cheesy rom-com movie, and we laughed and chatted with his arm around my shoulders as we waited for our coffee.
The next day back in the city, I was cleaning out my SUV from our little getaway, when I noticed the sleeve of my cup was stuck in the cup holder. I pulled it out and before I threw it away, noticed something that had me perplexed:
As I sat in the driver’s seat, I thought to myself, “am I stuck?” What does that even mean? I thought back to Babe and I in the coffee shop and how we interacted. I am so genuinely happy with him, that I’m sure it shows through the dimples from my smile and the twinkle in my eye and in the sound of my laughter when I’m near him. I thought back to our conversation, wondering if I had voiced a complaint about work, although I’m also so in love with what I do, and am so new in my career, that I really have minimal issues with any aspect of it. I also thought about how the barista would not be aware that Babe and I were tourists, so in literal terms of the word ‘stuck’, I was the farthest thing from it.
This unusual message the barista left for me was the only thing that became ‘stuck’; I showed Babe, I showed my mom, and I told some of our friends about it while out on a double date, trying to decipher what it could mean. My initial thought was that the barista misread a situation: did she view me as unhappy in my relationship? But the more kisses I remember getting on my forehead and cheeks as we waited for our coffee to brew, the more frustrated I became at this girl for sending me advice based on a first impression. It seemed to me that she must feel awfully entitled to pen cryptic messages on customers’ cup sleeves, perhaps thinking she was saving them from some sort problem that she really doesn’t even know exists. Even with a bachelor of science in psychiatry, I do not form first impressions that quickly, nor do I offer up advice based on such a short observation, due to the risk of misinterpretation.
What if I was stuck at a point in my life where I felt like ending it? Would this girl be proud that she encouraged me to see that I am not in fact stuck on this earth? (Dramatic example, I know, but it’s simply for the purpose of making a point so stay with me). Or who is she to think I am stuck in the happiest relationship I’ve ever been in? Babe took offense to the message, assuming she must have meant it about us, as most people who heard the phrase had suggested. My mom wondered if the two of us had been arguing. I wondered if we gave off some sort of negative nonverbal communication, or what others thought about us when they saw us in public.
Basically, we all got stuck obsessing over the fact that I am not stuck. I think the reason we all became preoccupied with this concept is because humans seem to fear being idle. We change the color of our walls and bedspread. We color our hair and nails. We seek travel and adventure. We leave jobs we’re comfortable with and replace them with a new job, often something similar, but “new”. Some humans even avoid commitment, for fear of being trapped or ‘stuck’ in a relationship. For some reason, as soon as we begin to feel stuck in something, we stop enjoying it. If we get comfortable in a relationship, we start to question if we’re in a rut, if we’re not ready to settle down, if as a couple we should be doing more. If we have the same hairstyle for too long we feel drab or plain and we mix it up only to go back to our original comfortable style. When we see others traveling and exploring, we feel like we need to travel and explore too, so we book a trip and occasionally end up feeling homesick because we did more than we needed just to feel free.
With these examples in mind, I start to realize that ‘stuck’ is not an emotion. It’s an action, or lack of action for that matter. When we’re desperate to change our appearance, it’s because of insecurity. When brides and grooms rethink their relationship the day before their wedding, it’s not because they feel stuck, it’s because they’re overwhelmed at the concept of forever, which to be fair is pretty reasonable!
The thought of being stuck is very overwhelming because it gives us a feeling of being trapped and makes us overcompensate, like booking that backpacking trip to Asia when we know we’re more the hotel type and it’s not really in the budget. Instead of letting the feeling of panic consume us into believing we aren’t moving forward, we need to break down what we have going on to find the source of the stickiness.
Are we meeting our basic needs, like affordable housing and enough nutrition to keep us fueled? Often, people commit to rent that’s too expensive that causes stress, or get into unhealthy eating patterns that cause lethargy, bad skin, weight gain, etc., which start to create those feelings of insecurity and unhappiness.
Do we surround ourself with people who are good for our soul? No, we can’t pick our family or coworkers perhaps, but we can choose who we spend our free time with, and we should do so carefully. We should spend time with people who like to try the similar things, that have an open mind to explore if that’s something of interest, and who encourage us to be our best selves in order to feel a constant forward motion in our social lives.
Does the job we’re currently doing help us grow in some way? No, we won’t reach our careers without some stepping stones, but are we doing a job that is leading us toward a more successful future, or are we doing a job we hate because we’re not motivated to find something better? Everyone has to start somewhere. My first job was at Domino’s Pizza even though I’m allergic to gluten, because that’s the only place that would hire me. From there I evolved into being a server and on some days, I’d go home with the same amount of money I make now as a psychiatric nurse. It made getting through university a lot less stressful when I had the potential to quadruple my daily wage each shift, plus it was something I enjoyed.
Does the relationship we’re in make us feel safe, and is it with someone who wants to grow both individually and together? There is a difference between safe because it’s comfortable, and safe because of trust. Being safe in a relationship should still include taking risks, because the safety comes not from staying in our comfort zone, but from having someone to pick us up if we fall while we’re trying. If the person we date doesn’t encourage us to try, we eventually will start to feel stuck.
Finally, are we doing enough to prepare for the future? Taking care of our health, putting away even $10 per pay cheque, and setting small goals to consistently improve are important things to do so that one day in the future, we won’t feel it’s too late to get fit or that our goals are too far to reach or that we can’t afford to do something we enjoy because we didn’t prepare a little bit in advance. If we save $1 per day, eventually we will afford a vacation, rather than having to come up with several hundred dollars all at once. $1 is not overwhelming, but $500 can be. It’s a lot easier trying to run a marathon if we go for short runs everyday, rather than saving our energy to try to make it through one big race. Do you see the point I’m trying to make? I hope so.
After wasting a lot of time wondering how I might be stuck, what I came to realize is that it was a helpful reminder to evaluate my life and make sure that I am doing things that make me happy, with people who make me happy, to continue to feel happy throughout my life. For that, I am thankful for the overconfident barista who felt it appropriate to share her thoughts on my coffee cup, because I think it’s important to stay in touch with our goals. It also caused me to write my thoughts down, and hopefully cause others to think more about why they feel stuck, and how to get out of that.
So let me stick my nose where it doesn’t belong and remind you….
You are not stuck.