I was having brunch in the Market with my friend, Lady B, whom I’ve known for over 10 years. We were talking about “life changes” (we both being close to 40). We got onto the topic of how her and I sometimes are conditioned to expect the worst.
“With the house, didn’t you feel that, somehow, everything would inevitably go wrong and you wouldn’t get it after all?” she asked.
It was as if she had read my mind. We were eating palacsinta at a small Hungarian bistro.
We talked about this, because she’d felt the exact same way when she and her partner bought their house. She speculated, correctly in my estimation, that this mode of thinking – let’s call it auto-tragic thinking – was the result of her and I coming from divorced families (the divorces or circumstances surrounding them being particularly destructive). The end-result, if not in all cases then certainly in ours, was that we were conditioned to expect gift horses to have mouth cancer and every silver lining to have a cloud moving in its way. Happiness was a pulled rug away from tragedy.
I thought about moments in my life – moments that everyone experiences – like applying for a job, asking someone out for a date. Moments where, realistically, we hope/aim for the best. The difference between the average person and people like myself and Lady B is that, in the event we don’t get the job we hope for, in the event that special someone isn’t interested in us, we tend to see it as a fateful inevitability; a symptom of a curse. Of course, we say to ourselves. Why should this be any different than any other time?
The subject clearly struck a chord for both of us.
“You expect it to be like in Carrie.” she said in a follow-up email, discussing how we became conditioned to expect the worst. “You’re at the prom, thinking that everything’s turning around in your life and then suddenly you’re covered in pig blood.”
The best male equivalent I could think of was Laurence Harvey’s character in (the original) The Manchurian Candidate; a tragic puppet whose fleeting tastes of freedom coincide with horrific end results.
So, no, neither Lady B nor I are cursed. Our houses have not fallen down or been taken away from us by a nightmarish bureaucracy. If anything we are only beginning to sense just how much re-wiring is necessary for us to see things clearly, without the faulty psychological infrastructure that led to us to believe that, indeed, the odds were stacked against us.
The mind is a frightening thing. This is why I read books and watch films which challenge my preconceptions. This is why I am lucky to have friends such as Lady B.