Esther Perel yesterday popped back up into my consciousness. She’s recently featured on Jada Pinkett Smith’s Red Table Talk. I watched the episode last night too late and I’m processing it perhaps too early, but man. Watching her yesterday helped to clarify for me why she is so good. That woman’s can listen. I mean, no surprise right, since she is a psychotherapist, and yet this is such an undervalued human skill. It’s awesome to experience.
In all her talks, Esther revisits key terms and ideas within the model of relationships. Central to the question of why people stray is the idea of their ‘role’. Esther argues, well not really argues since she is way too evolved for that, but rather points out the feeling of being trapped is a main thing that makes us want to press the Fuck It button.
Ah, the Fuck It button. Jack and I have both hovered by this button. In recent years, he’s had his eye on the button more than me. In the beginning it was the other way round. Going back to roles and the idea that relationships are a bit like acting – you often act yourself into a role you can’t leave. This part is not you. It’s often what the other person wants you to be or what you think the other person wants you to be.
It gets even more ingrained when you have children. You’re no longer acting for a personal audience now but for a number of people – a theatre so to speak. Because I no longer have a professional career or much of an identity outside of my family life, I can feel really stuck in this role. And the dynamic of my family life right now is I’m the carer and the teacher. I made the decision to homeschool Delphine having weighed up school provision versus what I thought I could give her academically. The latter won. Also, I wasn’t too keen about the idea of her hanging out in the school’s ‘crayon room’. That’s changed now thankfully – since going down to London for Delphine’s inclusive dance class has taught me disabled people are generally much nicer than able-bodied people anyway. Stigma is so old-school.
In order to go to Quest in September, I’d have to keep embracing my role. For the last week I’ve been weighing up or trying to; the possible curriculums for Lulu. I know at this point if she stays in mainstream school, she’ll by default get a lot more teaching support. If she returns to InterHigh, the emphasis will be on independent learning. It’s not a bad model either and InterHigh provides the resources to work this model. I have no gripe with them at all. But it means I will likely again have to become the supportive backbone of Lulu’s schooling. And Delphine’s.
It’s a lot of work. More work than if I actually went to work. If I went to work, I wouldn’t have the children’s ‘academic future on my shoulders’ feeling. And because they’re getting older, the stakes are rising.
So, what’s the payoff? Well, paradise . The Caribbean Sea, living independently, being as close to nature as I’ve experienced, seeing turtles pop up at sunrise. All the little things accumulating into a life’s experience. An experience of a lifetime.
That Esther Perel exists on this planet to remind us listening is one of its most powerful skills – I am grateful. And I’d like to think if she were with me right now in the bog walk, she’d ask me, ‘Hannah, are you comfortable with your role?’
I’d say to her, ‘Esther, I could be and I want to be, but the only way I can be is if I don’t feel like I’m on my own. My husband is beautiful in many ways ways, but essentially he thinks of himself first. He’s not helped me with the girls’ education before. He would say that being the captain of our boat and constantly fixing things combined with remotely running his business back in the UK is the reason why. In many ways he’s not wrong. But the inflexibility of my role versus his role now makes me feel super ambivalent about being stuck on my own. And the pressure in some ways feels doubled.’
I take in Esther’s Gallic-shaped eyebrows. ‘Only you can decide,’ she says, flashing me that astute, insightful and yes, very sexy smile. ‘You need to consider whether you can play that role and If you are not comfortable with its lack of flexibility, then you are not crushing the family and the dreams of your husband by refusing. After all, it takes two to tango.’
She would totally say that last part. She loves a little bit of 1970s cliche. I hope we can have this imaginary conversation again soon.