And so it’s hard to get people to understand why a woman would ever choose to live a life alone. We no longer have to choose between being a brain and a body, but I can’t help but think that we lose something when we couple up, and maybe that thing is worth preserving. I pointed out to a different friend that it was the nuns who were the most socially engaged, working with the world’s most vulnerable. My friend, married, asked “as devil’s advocate” whether they were simply compensating for the lack of romantic love and children with their social concern. Yes, I said, maybe. “But we all have needs that aren’t met, and we’re all looking for substitutes.”
Every morning in Ávila, I walk from my tiny hotel room into the walled part of the city, where another St. Teresa statue stands on her pedestal, overlooking the gates. The town is small, so there is not much to do that isn’t spiritual contemplation or sitting in the sun with a cup of coffee and pastry. There are nuns about during the day, walking in twos, eating gelato and chattering away.
I’ve traveled with romantic partners before. I had a companion at dinner, so I talked to strangers less. I had someone reading the map, so I wandered down unmarked streets less. It felt cozy, both comfortable and confining. [Emphasis added.]
For those who conceive of freedom as unfettered liberty, the confines of any sort of relationship can seem as intolerable slavery. The paradox of freedom, though, is that the truest form of freedom requires a very specific set of constraints.
To be more precise, the confines of a relationship enable provide focus and order, which frees one from having to constantly think and decide. To state it another way, operating within a specified framework eliminates the need for difficult first-order thinking.
By way of analogy, free verse is often less creative than the typical sonnet because free verse is unfocused. A sonnet follows a very specific set of rules, which actually fosters creativity precisely because it focuses effort into a small number of marginal (but crucial) areas. Free verse, on the other hand, requires massive amounts of thinking yet still remains largely unrefined simply because it takes a tone of effort to write anything meaningful.
In like manner, the confines of, say, a marital relationship are rather liberating because they systemize a lot of processes. The historical religious designation of the man as the head (and children as subjects to parents) establishes a hierarchical template. This relational heuristic streamlines the decision-making process and eliminates a large chunk of need for consensus-seeking. Consequently, this template improves secondary and tertiary decision-making simply because one no longer has to negotiate primary decision-making functions.
In time, the confines of marriage ultimately become liberating simply because they provide focus and streamline tertiary decisions. Deciding where to go is more difficult than deciding how to get there. Spiritual restlessness, as cataloged above, is thus the result of having the freedom of direction. While this sort of optionality is addicting in its own right, it is ultimately unsatisfying precisely because it is unfocused. The comfort of confines exists because it indicates direction and purpose, and purpose is ultimately the truest form of freedom because it frees the mind of anxiety.
The ennui that you feel is ultimately the result of a lack of purpose. The desire to maintain optionality traps you in a state of anxiety. Commitment and its confines is the only thing that can set you free.