Addition by Subtraction

We are all faced with decisions in our lives. At times, those decisions are blindingly obvious. Pizza or pasta? (Pizza). NSYNC or Backstreet? (Is this even a question? I’ve hearted Joey Fatone since elementary school). Should I add avocado even though it’s $2.50? (Obviously).

Some are a little more difficult, and require a bit more thought. Should I reallyyyyy order that third (or fourth, who’s judging?) glass of wine at happy hour pricing? It’s past midnight, should I take an Uber or wait for the train? Heels or flats? Netflix and chill or go out?

Other decisions can leave more of an impact on a person. Where do I go to college? In which country should I study abroad? What is the path that will best lead me back to Italy? Should I try to stay in Italy, or return to the US? What city do I move to if I do in fact decide to repatriate? Do I continue to pursue art history, or try my hand at something I’m more passionate about?

I’ve had to answer some (okay, ALL) of these questions at some point or another in my life. Some were harder than others to make. Some defined who I was and who I am as a person.

By far, the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make was the decision to leave the relationship with the person that I love. I knew that leaving was going to shatter my heart and his, and the life that we were trying to build together. I knew my fragmented hopes and dreams and the potential for what could have been would lay on the ground like broken shards of glass cutting deep into my skin as I stepped over the pieces. I didn’t – I don’t – know what the next steps are, but that’s life. It suddenly became so clear to me, as I was agonizing over the decision and what to do, that there was literally no blueprint in front of me to tell me what was best. Sure, I had the advice of a few friends and family who really care about me, and who may have had the wisdom of experience, but there was no way to foresee or predict the future, no way to weigh one possible outcome against another. And that was the scariest part. I was faced with the vast and all-consuming void of the future, of time stretched out in front of me, of future memories and a life that is yet to be lived – and the course of my future all came down to the choice that I was about to make at that very moment.

Choice, a powerful idea. Do I choose temporary happiness at the risk of my entire future? Do I choose to add to my life, to make it better, to become happy once again, by removing something that is simultaneously a source of joy and yet, also, of pain and sadness?

When something no longer makes you happy, when the bad days start to outweigh the good, that thing no longer serves its purpose. The only way to add to your life, to enrich it, to restore happiness, is by removing it from your life. Addition through subtraction.

Addition through subtraction is not easy. It’s counter-intuitive to everything you want to do in the moment. It requires you to literally step outside of yourself and really look at what you want versus what you need. To take the gamble that what you have is not enough to carry you through the good times and the bad; that some compromises can not and should not be made.

I recently started reading Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, a novel inspired by the existentialism of Sartre and Nietzsche in which the author prefaces the story with a discussion of Nietzsche’s theory of eternal return. Kundera writes, “Putting it negatively, the myth of eternal return states that life which disappears once and for all, which does not return, is like a shadow, without weight, dead in advance, and whether it was horrible, beautiful, or sublime, its horror, sublimity, and beauty mean nothing.” Essentially, in layman’s terms, this means what’s done is done – and has little effect on the course of human history, as events can not be repeated.

And yet…what if they could be repeated? What if they WERE repeated? How would the eternal return of events effect the outcome of history or, at the very least, how we perceive said events?  Kundera continues, “There is an infinite difference between a Robespierre who occurs only once in history and a Robespierre who eternally returns, chopping off French heads. Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict.  For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit? In the sunset of dissolution, everything is illuminated by the aura of nostalgia, even the guillotine.”

While nihilism is not exactly a preferred life outlook, as it raises some serious questions regarding faith and hope and love and the meaning of life, I do believe it is a necessary check on perspective when things start to feel too big. At the end of the day, I am small.  We are small. The decisions I make in my life will not affect the course of human history, even though they will affect my own history. I don’t know if this is depressing or comforting, but it is freeing, in its own way. Because of this I am trying to view things without the rose-colored glasses that nostalgia lends to entities near their death. Death tends to canonize people, relationships, and situations. I’m trying to remove the golden halo I’ve placed post-mortem on my relationship in order view things as they were, as they are, and how they would be if they continued.

I won’t deny that as much as I know the relationship, at least as it is right now, isn’t right for me, I still miss him, every day. I’ve never known a hurt like this. The void is unmistakable and threatens to swallow me up if I think about it too much. A part of me hopes that even though I told him never to contact me again, that he’ll find a way back to me; that he’ll be there one morning outside of my office before work, or I’ll come home one day and find him waiting outside my apartment with a bouquet of tulips (my favorite) because he knew he could never live a life without me. Or that I’ll find a love letter in my mailbox, a final word proving, once and for all, that he really and truly cared for me and my happiness – not just when it was convenient for him.

An even greater part of me holds out the hope that someday, maybe, in the future, be it a few months or a few years after we’ve both worked on ourselves, that things will turn around and we’ll find our way back to one another once more. That someday, he’ll become the man I need him to be for me. That we’ll be right for each other. That instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it’ll be like sliding into your favorite pair of jeans that hug your body in all of the right places.

6 Comments

  1. Mad Hatters NYC

    I so love The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and your post reminds me how much. It somehow always leads you down a path of introspection, no matter where you are in life. Love the “Addition by Subtraction” concept – definitely a Kondo-ism for the soul!
    P.S. I didn’t find any contact info on your site. Could you reach out at letschat@madhattersnyc.com so we can pass some info along?

    Like

    1. girlingothamcity

      Thank you so much! This is my first read through of it, it’s been on my list for a while and I finally picked it up. Loving it so far! I was actually looking for a good “help me through my breakup book” and I didn’t realize how a propos this would be! I’ll definitely shoot you guys an email 🙂

      Like

  2. 11zfan

    I’m just now seeing this post! I know we chatted about it already but the “square peg, round hole” line reminded me of one of my all time favorite movies. . .The Holiday! I agree with Angela, your favorite pair of jeans is out there! 😉
    -Holly

    Like

    1. girlingothamcity

      I didn’t actually advertise this post, so I think most people missed it! 😉 Thank you for your kind words (and for being such a supporter of my blog!). Ultimately I have faith that I will find my favorite pair of blue jeans, but it really helps to hear it from someone else once in awhile haha ❤
      P.S. I LOVE The Holiday!! I would move immediately if someone offered me that English cottage.

      Like

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