“My life is in a rut,” complained a friend of mine the other day. “Every day is the same old, same old. I feel bored and unmotivated.”
“We just fell out of love,” another friend’s parents told her when they split up. “We love each other but we’re no longer in love” (whatever that means).
“I don’t know how it happened but we grew apart,” an older acquaintance confided. “We used to be so close but we just drifted in opposite directions.”
What do all these scenarios share? What do all these phrases – “a rut”, “just fell out of love”, “I don’t know how it happened”, “drifted” – have in common?
They are all descriptions of passivity. These unfortunate occurrences just happened to me while I was minding my own business. I bear no responsibility for the situation.
If that is true, we can certainly understand why the three women cited above have given up. They feel that since they did absolutely nothing to cause the situation, since it was something that was imposed on them when they were looking the other way, there is obviously nothing they can do to change or improve things.
This is not the Jewish perspective. We are responsible for the direction and emotional state of our lives. While the idea of greater responsibility may make us shudder, it also implies greater opportunities, greater possibilities, and greater hope.
If a couple has drifted apart, it’s usually because they weren’t paying attention. The word ‘drifted’ couldn’t be more apropos. They weren’t making an effort; they weren’t focused on each other. Of course they didn’t ‘just’ grown apart. It was the result of years of indifference or preoccupation or focus on career-building or the children, to name a few possibilities. Fortunately, in most cases, and even after many years, this can be remedied with sincere effort, interest, hard work – and acceptance of responsibility. It still won’t be easy. It may require professional assistance. But, if both spouses share the goal of reviving the marriage, it can be done.
Likewise with the couple that ‘fell out of love’. Even the word ‘fell’ implies an accident. It may not have been intentional but it was the logical and inevitable consequence of inattention to the marriage and each other. Marriages don’t stay exciting without effort. Life gets busy and complicated and we can’t be bothered or we just don’t have the energy to work at it. But that’s a real shame because it doesn’t take that much – a shared activity, a special dinner out, a day trip to somewhere new, a walk around an unexplored local neighborhood – to put the zip back in. We just have to make the time.
And the same principles apply to friend #1. If every day is the same, only she has the power to shake things up. She needs some meaningful goals to strive for. She needs a plan. She needs to make sure that every day is filled with learning and growing. It’s easy to check out, to allow the days to slip by, to fade from one into the next. But that leads to depression. We feel invigorated when we are accomplishing, when we are giving, when we are developing our spiritual sides.
The three women here chose the easy way out – with tragic results for some of them. The Jewish path requires harder work and difficult choices. But it is the only way to take charge of our lives. The results may not be in our hands but our choices certainly are. We need to reclaim control over our choices and our lives and not just be passive bystanders.