If you had to express the essence of delayed life syndrome in one sentence, it would sound like this: “Don’t touch it, it’s for New Year’s.” I know what I’m talking about: I practiced deferred living before it became fashionable to talk about it. Six months after we met, my future husband and I started saving for our own house. Every hundred dollars reserved was written down in a special notebook and all bonuses and bonuses went “home.” The mantra of that time was the phrase: “Now we have to make an effort, we will live later!”
When we buy a house, we start saving money to pay off our debts. Then a son was born: “You have to be patient…”. Then the pandemic began: “We have to wait…”. Then a daughter was born… Do you remember the joke about the six months that “many times fly by here”? Ten years flew by for us, during which we were at sea only once: on our honeymoon after the wedding. Every other year we resolutely overcame something, endured it heroically, and hoped everything would be easier.
But it wasn’t “easier”: it seemed like we had just reached a plateau, but no, it was a roller coaster again. Fasten your seat belts and have paper bags ready. I looked at my husband, green with exhaustion, I looked at myself the same way and thought: well, great, this is exactly how I imagined adult life.
In the deferred life syndrome, the latter is not experienced, but endured as an unpleasant procedure: bravely clenching one’s teeth, frowning. “Real” life looms somewhere on the horizon: at first glance it doesn’t seem very far away, but in general there are still twenty years until the children grow up and the mortgage is paid.
“Real” life is often marked by some event, once reached which, we finally allow ourselves to rejoice and relax. In the meantime, until this blessed moment arrives, we will be content with little: not buying nice things until we lose weight, using pretty dishes only when invited, and going to the salon to comb our hair only before a big celebration.
At the same time, buying a desired thing or service is not a question of money, but a situation from the category “this is too good for the life I have now.” Or even too good “for me today.” In other words, we have the opportunity to please ourselves, but we don’t use it. We make the excuse that the glass slippers are for the dance, and we also have to clean the cauldrons, sweep the ashes from the fireplace, and separate the scattered cereal from the bags that the mice have chewed.
Similarly, we put life on pause when we observe the suffering of others: someone around us becomes terminally ill, becomes disabled, experiences the death of a loved one, or loses their home in a fire. We freeze because it is ethically impossible to continue eating delicious food, relaxing, traveling, dressing fashionably, and making love when others are in trouble.
During these periods, it is as if the right to joy is lost. Dreams and plans are thrown onto the mezzanine: then, everything afterwards. Now they feel inappropriate, uncomfortable to express, even embarrassing to have. In this situation, I am in favor of listening to ourselves: where is our soul really leaning?
Do you really want or need to cry for a while? Or is it a public gesture of decency to not stand out?
Empathizing with another person’s pain does not mean making that pain your own. Many may not agree with me here, but I insist: empathy and condolences do not imply identification with the person who is grieving. Immersion in someone else’s pain will not alleviate the latter. We will only have two grieving people who may need a third person to get out of this state.
Under normal circumstances, the person who suffers does not need us to suffer too. If he specifically wants our torment, then most likely this will be dictated by the thirst for retribution and the pain of the wound of “injustice”: “Why is it bad only for me? It’s not fair! I want you to feel bad too! Unfortunately, a friendly shoulder cannot heal that wound. Because in this case the person who suffers wants to see in us, and he sees! – not a support, but a goal.
When we find ourselves next to a person who is feeling unwell at the moment, the best thing we can do is recognize their pain as appropriate to the moment. That is, refrain from phrases like “stop killing yourself for nonsense” and ask what help you need, provide it if possible and move on with your life.