Recently I received a letter from a lady whom I have never met, but who occasionally writes to me. She writes when she is frustrated and, at that time, is unable to talk to those whom she does know. I have a number of such letters from her and, despite different dates and wording, they all have roughly the same sound. Let me, with her permission, open up these letters for you. I synthesize and paraphrase:
Dear Father: (Reader)
I don’t know why I am writing to you. We don’t know each other, but I thought maybe we might understand each other. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Karin, but that is not important, though you need to know some of my background to understand what I’m sharing.
In fact, I don’t quite know what I am sharing, but I am going to give this a try. I’ll start with the feeling and then try to fill in some background. I’m frustrated and on the surface there should be no reason for this since I’m young (just turned 40), healthy, happily married (in that I think don’t have enough reasons in my marriage to be unhappy), have two nearly grown (healthy and good) children, have a job that I basically like and which gives me some creative outlet, have some very supportive friends, and, while not rich, am also not poor. There’s no one big thing that is radically weighing on me.
But that’s the smooth surface. Some other things lurk underneath. They don’t seem all that big or serious but they can at times, like right now, render everything else pretty unsatisfying and make me almost hopelessly restless and frustrated.
The frustration I am talking about is not some big existential angst, like Camus and Bergman talk about; or even midlife crisis, or the types of things they suggest therapy for nowadays (victim of childhood abuse, Adult Child Of an Alcoholic, lack of self-esteem). I even did therapy once for some of those things (and it helped). But this is unconnected to that.
It’s frustrating to talk about because it seems like such a small thing, something of no importance; certainly not something that should outweigh my blessings … but yet, it’s there, and it doesn’t go away. So I’m struggling and frustrated.
I want to share my person (my values and my spirit) in a way that I am not sharing them right now, especially in my marriage (but everywhere else too). Nobody seems interested, at least not most of the time. My husband is a good man, the proverbial “Israelite without guile”, but he isn’t interested in this kind of sharing or self-disclosure. He prefers an emotional and spiritual celibacy, even when he doesn’t like sexual celibacy. With some of my other friends, there’s depth to a point, but almost always, there is a line that we don’t cross. It seems there is always one block or another to this kind of sharing. It’s the wrong time, or the wrong place, or the wrong people are around, or we’re too tired, or the mood isn’t right.
Sometimes I wonder who is interested in anything beyond the simple sweetening of life!
All this probably makes me sound like the typical person who is frustrated by the plainness of a life and a marriage which don’t measure up to the ideals and expectations of romance and self-fulfillment in the culture. Maybe there’s a bit of that here. But that’s not my frustration. I am not naive about romance, nor about salvation laying in self-fulfillment. I’m old enough to have known another time (my parent’s poverty, their making due, their sometimes crushing realism). That’s in my genes. I grew up praying daily the words “to thee we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.” If anything, I am a crushing realist. I am hardly looking for the finished symphony, the perfect consummation in a marriage or elsewhere, though I dream of it. I know enough of life (and romance and marriage) to know that, in some fashion, all of us will always sleep alone. What I’m looking for is not a lover, good sex, an affair with somebody who’s sensitive and who will make everything better.
So what am I looking for? Maybe this letter is just trying to name it. A kindred spirit maybe? Somebody to sleep with in a different way? (But would that be an infidelity to my marriage?) Some ear to simply really hear me? Some other person to know what it’s like? A statement of frustration that would overcome the torture of repressed expression? A saying out loud of a whispered truth that, in this world, we are all celibates whether we marry or not?
You tell me, am I filling in what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ or am I just neurotic as hell? Is my marriage, such as it is, all I should expect or am I selling myself short? Is my life, such as it is, all I should expect or am I being sold short? Am I suffering Christ’s loneliness or am I just a frustrated woman approaching middle age? What’s the difference between being a pilgrim or earth or just being sexually frustrated? What is proper expectation?
Please write to me and venture some opinion. Right now I don’t know.