I’ve been thinking about overprotection a lot while reading Julie Garwood’s The Bride. Jamie and Alec, the main characters, lie to each other all the time. They lie for reasons which could arguably be deemed good: to avoid hurting each other’s feelings or to surprise each other, but mostly they lie to protect each other from bad news. Alec hides from Jamie that her life is in danger. Jamie rushes to prevent war without letting him know. Rather than use their marriage for the support and help it can give, they each treat the other as inadequate and weak. I see their overprotection of each other as a sort of power struggle, an attempt to discover whether there can be trust between them, whether each can safely cede some control.
Surprisingly, though Alec and Jamie lie and their lies are discovered, the only consequence for the lie is greater love and intimacy between them. I don’t particularly like their way of building a life together, and yet somehow, despite the lies and power struggles, Garwood manages to convince me of the truth of Jamie’s and Alec’s love.
I like this quote from Elena Gorokhova: “The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.” After a while, Alec knows Jamie is up to something and she knows he knows, and they both, in the end, come to depend on the lies as a form of upside-down truth. I guess it makes for an exciting marriage, at least within this book.
In many families I know, it is customary to protect each other from bad news. My parents have hid from my siblings and me a variety of misfortunes, from job loss or illness to smaller matters like the scandal behind the Bible teacher’s marriage or my second grade’s teacher’s disappearance a few months after the beginning of school. I know the secrecy originates from a desire to shield us, to keep us happy or innocent for a little longer, but invariably the news has to be revealed, and, as is the nature of bad news, time rarely lessens its impact.
When I find myself overprotected like that, whether by my parents, my children, friends or Dar, I begin to doubt my own resilience, my ability to recover from difficulties. Did they think I’d be incapable of dealing with this news? “Suffering is,” the Buddha said, and suffering exists everywhere in our world, even for someone like me who attempts to live in a bubble. Perhaps rather than sticking to the impossible task of guarding each other (children, parents, or any other member of our family, really) from pain, the better solution is to nurture resilience. And while I have no idea how to go about doing that, still the first step, I think, would be to stop overprotecting each other from all this imagined harm.