Letting go of "Why?"
Like Evita said: "Don't ask anymore."
I’m Jillian Anthony, and this is Cruel Summer Book Club, a newsletter about change, heartbreak and healing. Thanks for being here.
Recently I was on the phone with a man I went on one date with in Seattle back in September. (Side note: September was six months ago?!) We keep in touch—I tell him my stories about dating around the country while he gives me a great education on he and his wife’s adventures in first-time polyamory.
We discussed how tough it is to find the basics of emotional intelligence, someone who knows how to communicate clearly and vulnerably, plus regulate their own emotions (and not make their emotional labor your responsibility). His wife has been on an emotional rollercoaster with her new boyfriend, a journey I know well. Here, take a ticket to ride: Someone you care about says they care about you too; things are amazing for awhile; they pull away or act out; they apologize and promise they’ll change their behavior; you forgive them, abandoning yourself in the process; rinse and repeat.
Breaking that cycle and learning to trust yourself is hard enough. But what makes it even harder is continually asking “Why?” Why did they act this way? Why did they say things they didn’t mean? Why is this happening to me? Why can’t I have what other people seem to find easily? Why aren’t I enough? WHY?!
Human beings are rational creatures. We’re drawn to order and familiarity as a survival skill—our lizard brains shun anything that looks a little different, within milliseconds, because it may pose a threat to us. We don’t like when something can’t be neatly categorized. We’re highly intelligent, but struggle with the mind-body connection. Many experiences of the body and heart cannot be understood or “solved” by our minds, no matter how hard we try.
Our world is so unknowable, but human beings have a very hard time accepting this. We scramble through life with science and logic as shields. We turn to religion or tarot or crystals to form order and meaning in our lives. We hope that rituals like marriage will finally provide us with the elusive stability we seek. But none of this can protect us from life’s certain uncertainty.
Humans will never stop asking why? and there’s a lot of beauty in that stubbornness. We are so curious, we delight in the unknown, we never stop learning and growing, and we do solve astounding mysteries all the time. Like, we sent a robot to another planet and it sends us back selfies of Mars. That’s insane!
But why? cannot help us through our hardest, darkest times. I don’t subscribe to “everything happens for a reason” (and grieving people despise being told that). The truth is, you will never know why. We can’t know why that person ghosted us, why a stranger said something cruel, why we didn’t get the job. We don’t know why kids get sick, why tragic accidents happen, why the people we love die. We just can’t know.
I’ve struggled with the disconnect between my mind and heart a lot when I’ve experienced heartbreak. I thought I could shout my emotions into submission, force them to succumb to logic under threat and insult. I wanted to be done feeling sadness a week after it started, days after I cleaved someone I loved from my life. I’m incredibly hard on myself in this way—and all my rigidness did was prolong my own suffering.
Of course, the advice of people much wiser than myself is to let yourself feel it all. In When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön writes:
Rather than letting our negativity get the better of us, we could acknowledge that right now we feel like a piece of shit and not be squeamish about taking a good look. That’s the compassionate thing to do. That’s the brave thing to do. We could smell that piece of shit. We could feel it; what is its texture, color and shape?
Emotions are not problems to be solved. Be brave enough to fully see and accept every ugly, shitty part of yourself. Dig deep for self-compassion. Soothe yourself as you would a baby bird. Speak directly to your inner child. Your feelings demand to be felt. Feel them, just as they are. That’s all you need to know.
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