Take This Waltz

I knew this movie was going to fillet me and it did. First, it’s set in Toronto’s Little Portugal/Annex neighbo(u)rhoods where I lived/worked/shopped/wandered aimlessly between 2006-2009; and also it’s about what happens to a young woman who doesn’t know how to take responsibility for her own happiness. No spoilers — go see it if you can — but at the end, you realize: The problem was her. IT WAS HER THE WHOLE TIME.

 I wish I’d understood this in my 20s and the first half of my 30s: No matter how big and true a love is, it cannot serve as a whole life. You can’t spend all day at a job you hate and then come home expecting your partner to make up for it between 5 p.m. and bedtime via the healing light of her embrace. You can’t neglect personal interests and passions and still greet the day with joy; you can’t hand responsibility for your own happiness over to another person and say, “Here, take care of this,” no matter how happy she makes you. No one gets away with failure to develop and invest in a whole life, no matter how much you love/are loved, because it will catch up with you and you will experience the panicked emptiness that comes from phoning yourself in to the world.

Not one of us gets a pass.

I think this is scary for  women, conditioned as we are to think of a partner (and children) as the destination; to look to family for ultimate fulfillment. To be other-centered; to be part of something bigger than ourselves even if (especially if) it requires big sacrifices. This narrative is encouraged from Day 1 and continually reinforced in ways both subtle and obvious, from Disney to the ersatz “opt-out revolution.” Because  it’s scary to admit that nothing can serve as a whole life except a whole life, because what if we can’t manage it? What if we fuck it up? Sometimes we try to get around it by making ourselves into amazing partners; devoted mothers; attentive adult children — we hope these roles mean a whole life.  We want to have paid our rent for living; to have been authentic citizens of humanity — and we try to do it through relationships.  Men don’t (though they prefer women do) which is partly why men own most of the wealth but aren’t as emotionally fraught. They know that a whole life is an inside job, but we, in tipping-point terms, are just beginning to understand.