My mom told me recently about how she was changing lanes on the highway, but a car was in her blindspot. The car beeped, and she swerved back into her lane. As the car came past her, she went to wave to the man. But he was yelling (fruitlessly, one supposes, through two panes of glass at 65 miles per hour) and gesticulating at her. He zoomed past, veered in front of her, and pressed on the gas (fortunately—I imagined him pressing on the brakes at the telling of the story).
I think most men are angry. We are angry about feeling disregarded at work, about the impingements on our free time at home. Middle-aged men are trapped mid-career: without the authority they crave, locked in a track without the ability to switch vocations unless they start over. Which seems impossible with a family. But this is not about how you can start over and be your best self. It is about what everyone faces, the trap of living.
The British psychoanalyst Adam Phillips notes that “We can’t imagine our lives without the unlived lives they contain.”
This is the tyranny of Facebook and status updates. Everyone is happy and smiling (and also why, after spending time on Facebook, most people are more depressed), although it often isn’t real. I spoke with a friend a year ago and he confided to me how his marriage was falling apart. “How can that be?” Brooke asked. “I just saw a picture of their family at the park yesterday.”
We imagine the lives others are leading, or at least what they say they’re leading. But they don’t include the fight last night, the children arguing that morning, how they had to scoop dog poop and repair the leaky faucet before the park. And the faucet is still dripping. We only see the park.
And we imagine, too, what our lives ought to be if everyone else lives this way—going to parks and restaurants, surrounded by happiness. Because our lives are not this way. We have a limited number of choices, despite what society says, and all of them have downsides. The idea that, “If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life,” is laughable. Even in the good jobs. So we imagine our life as something it isn’t, and it makes us angry.
It simmers beneath the surface on highways. It thunders out at our wives and our children, when they are not the culprits at all: but if tooth-brushing at bedtime takes too long, we are exasperated. Our children and our wives—these are the areas where we ought to have control, right?
But people, and life itself, will not bend to our will, despite what we thought when we were 20. So we get angry. We look for ways forward. Dreaming of other jobs. Pouring ourselves into our work—perhaps that can bend to our will. Or, we drink.