Monday, October 14, 2013

Does It Get Any Easier, Part 2

When I was 29, John, my 19-year-old student was struggling with difficult personal decisions.

Problem 1
He realized that he was no longer in love with his high school girlfriend who was still living in his home town.

Problem 2
He had fallen in love with his best friend's girlfriend who was also in love with him.

I didn't know any of this when he preceded me up the stairs one day after class.  On the landing before opening the door to the fifth floor, he turned towards me and, near tears, said, "Does it get any easier?"

At the time I was struggling with my own dilemmas.  A few years earlier, I had put 3000 miles between myself and an ex, but relationships seemed to get worse and worse.  Now, my boyfriend of two years was becoming jealous and controlling.

I gave my student an off-hand reply.  We became friends though, and over the years, we did what we could to help one another with our problems.  Now we are both much older, so I thought I'd revisit the question.

So John, let me ask you, "Does it get any easier?"

Here's his reply:

I was talking about this with my teenage daughter yesterday, because she is going through a stressful week.
She said:  "I imagine that when I'm an adult I won't have all this worry and stress about school, but then I'll have bills to pay and I'll have to find a place to live so maybe it won't be easier."

 I said:  "You're right, things don't really get easier.  But, that being said, it seems to me that certain times of life in retrospect are very difficult.  In my experience, most people find teenage years very difficult, even if they have fond memories of that time.  Also, the first couple of years after the birth of a child are very difficult."
I wanted to be honest, but affirm her truth:  that she was going through a hard time and that she had a father that understood that.  I would add that moving or finding a new job are also difficult.  Moving, finding a job, and ducking rockets from Hezbollah all at the same time is even more difficult.  So you were right when you told my 19-year-old self that it gets weirder.  However, when we're young we're not so aware of the rhythm of life so everything seems like it will last forever and that makes those intense years difficult.  I'll quote from a magazine article I read:  "I can't say I know more than I did back then, but I have more experience not knowing it."
As a scientist, not as a father, the question makes less sense to me now than it did at 19.  To paraphrase Jaron Lanier (author of You Are Not a Gadget), there is either something weird about time or there is something weird about consciousness.  "Does it get" implies a linear passage of time that might not be scientifically correct, and "easier" implies a consciousness that is having qualitative experience and as scientists we know that we know almost nothing about self-aware consciousness.  Again, your original answer suffices.

 I'm sorry for answering so seriously, without a drop of humour.  As we know, gravity is the weakest force in the universe.
 There's probably a cosmic balance to the easier/harder question:
  1. Having patience gets easier.  Having energy gets harder.
  2. Cooking gets easier.  Matching calories to metabolism gets harder.
  3. Getting money gets easier.  Getting free time gets harder.  Or the reverse.  That's the deal.
  4. Getting laid gets easier.  Getting hard gets harder.
  5. Apologizing gets easier.  Screwing up gets easier, too.
------end of John's reply.

I imagine it's different for everyone.  Experience with difficulty usually helps.  The second time is still hard, but you know you can survive it.

What do you think?  Does it get any easier?

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