Feeling emotions without expectation
Earlier this week, my husband Orchid mistakenly switched the kids’ packed lunches. It was a simple mistake. It might have been okay to keep the lunches switched except that Sunboy’s school couldn’t heat what I packed for Flowergirl, and Flowergirl isn’t quite ready to eat the food I packed for Sunboy. There was no alternative but to switch the lunches back to the correct child.
I color-code the kids’ lunches to prevent such a mix-up. Sunboy’s food is in blue containers and Flowergirl’s food is in purple or pink containers. On that day, however, I was behind on dishes and attempted an unprecedented blue-Sunboy / black-Flowergirl color combination. The next morning I sensed something was amiss and checked Flowergirl’s lunch for accuracy. If only I had checked earlier! To set things straight, I would need to make a circuitous back-tracking tour through three towns. I would be an hour late for work, if I was lucky.
As I began driving to Sunboy’s school, I felt angry. A moment’s mistake was going to spin my morning out of control. What’s more, I felt justified in my anger. After all, if this scenario had been presented in any film or play, the protagonist would be fuming by now. I dutifully followed my role as the selfless hero that saves the day. As I entered Sunboy’s classroom and quietly made the switch, I realized I was borrowing my emotions from a culturally-engrained dramatic script, like Sally Field in “Places in the Heart” holding her family together while taking cotton to the cotton gin. Doesn’t emotion have hyperbolic tendencies, after all?
You see, my story is a little different. In my story, Orchid has intentionally spun his morning out of control to come home and jump my car battery for me. More than once. I’ve been just as guilty of bumbling our carefully-orchestrated morning dance.
What happened with the lunches was an example of what it means to be married to someone. After being with someone long enough, your bumbling mistakes begin to balance. Honest mistakes remind us that we are all beautifully imperfect beings that – although annoying in the moment – arise from our loved one’s quirky personalities. We need love while we do the best we can.
The more I thought about it, the more artificial my anger felt. My mind was reading a script of “should feel” emotions that I’ve seen acted many times before. The learned anger was like a cloud obscuring my real emotions. I took a breath and tried to let my true emotions shine through.
I wasn’t as angry as I thought I was. Sometimes we need to feel a certain way more than we actually feel that way. It’s a way to express things we have trouble expressing or are afraid to share, even though the emotion doesn’t sit right. Repeated cycles spin their way into the subconscious, blurring an ability to view a moment as part of the whole relationship, through the filter of love.
How often do we go through the motions of emotions? How often is anger and hurt feelings really a call for sympathy and not an expression of genuine anger? We internalize the patterns of older generations and cultural constructs. We invent drama to reassure ourselves that we’re loved and lead interesting lives. We lose the touchstone of ourselves in the fictions and media that holds the turning of heads as its primary goal.
Instead of meeting the expectation of knee-jerk emotions and learned responses, create a new expectation of emotions that bubble up holistically. How are you feeling, in a pure sense, without expectation?