When a door closes, (sometimes) another opens


The practice of the so-called serial monogamy has become almost the standard way in which young people explore how they are in different relationships and I intend to write about this more extensively in another blog soon. However, for now, I would like to concentrate on a rather problematic aspect of the serial monogamy practice that of tending to find the next partner straight after or sometimes even before a relationship ends. This is psychologically tricky, as it is almost invariably driven by the fear of experiencing unpleasant feelings and/or the fear of the gap that the end of a relationship inevitably entails. Yet, there is something about connecting with one’s desire through pain and loss that is life giving and affirming, it is like the life instinct wins over.

I can think of some key times in my life, when I began a new chapter at the time I could just about discern the rather painful and complicated ending of the chapter I had not quite completed yet, precisely what I would advise my patients against. Was there fear and avoidance of feelings implicated in my rather impulsive move? Yes, sure there were. But in each of the examples I have in mind, there was also a significant turning point for me which took me places in life.

Here is an instance in my life when I opened a new chapter even before the present chapter had ended or, psychologically, as a way of enabling me to close the current one. During the final year of my Ph.D. in Cambridge, I took myself to the university counselling service where I had my first experience of therapy. This was triggered by the demons anthropological fieldwork had let loose out of the bag for me. Within months of starting therapy, an old desire was rekindled. I wanted to train as a therapist myself. The decision was quick and once it was made, there was no time to waste. I was in the lookout for a suitable training in London and within a year of starting therapy, I was registered to begin a psychotherapy course well before I had even submitted my Ph.D. This entailed a number of other decisions and endings, though thankfully, I did not implement all of those at once. I would move to London, which meant moving on from Cambridge, where I had spent a period of my life which I still remember as the ‘golden years’. I would also eventually end the therapy with that first therapist in Cambridge and find a training therapist in London. I would, rather significantly, and this is indicative of the life force that such decisions can sometimes carry, complete the writing up of my Ph.D. before starting training the following October.

In the year I began training, I watched many of my peers in Cambridge struggle with life uncertainty and questioning themselves. I shared many of their conflicts and dilemmas, as nobody is immune to the devastating feelings ending and loss bring with them. Financial uncertainty, beginning yet another long process just after I had ended one without a breather, going back to square one and starting from scratch. Of course, many times I exclaimed, what am I doing to myself, have I gone mad? I also rejected along the way two academic positions which could have been rewarding, as I felt they would distract me from training. But there was one, very significant advantage. I knew what I wanted. I had a life purpose. And I think that sense of a drive counted for so much.

            Life doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes, we have to stay suspended or we think we open a new door and it closes back in our face. Or we keep trying and trying and our efforts do not yield any results. I had plenty of experiences of this kind as well, as I am sure most of us had. But the point about finding the next passage, even if sometimes it leads us to the wrong path and we have to re-orientate ourselves is that it is a prime example of the power of human creativity as a response to the inevitable reality of death and loss. And in the times we live, a reminder of that goes a long way for all of us!

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