There is a subtle, ever-present equation being solved in my brain by the minute. To be happy in this moment, do I need a little more rest or a little more activity? To be happy in this lifetime, do I need a little more savings or a little more spending? To be happy in this relationship, do I need a little more stability or a little more spontaneity?
This weighing and measuring circulates incessantly that old GPS tagline beneath all my thoughts: “Recalculating.”
I’m listening to the audiobook of Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before, a book about the formation of and adherence to habits. Of the 4 tendencies she describes, I most clearly identify with “The Obliger,” with some elements of Questioner, Upholder, and Rebel. As an obliger, I am most apt to complete something I’ve set out to do if I have accountability. In fact, all the positive habits I’ve formed over the last dozen years, I realize, have been as the result of making an explicit or implicit pact with someone (or something, like a daily vitamin pill dispenser):
- Stay Sober & Solvent? Accountable to a group of people doing the same.
- Run a 10K? Accountable to a running group doing the same.
- Write Morning Pages? Accountable to my Artist’s Way group from 2008.
- Make fresh coffee in the morning (instead of nuking one pot all week)? Accountable to my boyfriend’s insistence that I have nice things!
What harangues me is the more insidious obliging that I engage in, where the motivation is much less clean:
- Return the guilt-inducing phone call from my father? Accountable to: A) “Good daughter”ing or B) Genuine desire.
- Remain a mentor to someone who is clearly not a fit? Accountable to: A) “Good mentor”ing or B) Saving them from themselves.
- Stay in a relationship peppered with my doubts from the start? Accountable to: A) My partner’s wishes; B) Saving my partner from himself; C) My mom(!); D) My genuine desire for and love of him.
Where does my obliger nature veer into codependence rather than self-support? And with every new piece of information — with every glance, hug, laugh, anger, sorrow — I calculate again, an always-running app in the background, doomed to refresh infinitely.