What is a Well-Lived Life? Lose Your Fear of Love

The Academy Award-Nominated Sci-fi film Arrival Explores a Deeply Human Dilemma

Spoiler alert! This review gives some of the movie’s more intricate plot twists away, thus I recommend holding off on reading this until you have seen the film. 

If I had a penny for every time I have talked a client out of running from a relationship out of fear of getting hurt, I could cover a wishing well all by myself. The need for control looms large in our psyche, in particular when it comes to matters of the heart. And so does the urge to minimize risk and pain. But to live a rich and happy life, we must render control by letting ourselves love and be loved which opens the door to the real possibility of disappointment and loss. Thus remaining distant and detached from others can hold allure and feel like the safer choice because it minimizes the possibility of pain. According to the mind-bending Sci-Fi film Arrival that kind of safety is overrated.

Linguist Louise is hired by the military to communicate and assess the intentions of alien creatures who have landed in oval-shaped spaceships in 12 different locations on earth. But learning the aliens’ language has an unexpected side-effect on Louise: she begins to see key parts of her future: a happy marriage that ends bitterly and the magical childhood and then tragic death of a daughter who hasn’t even been born yet.

But because none of these soul-crushing events have happened yet, Louise has the choice to not fall in love, not get married and not have a child. She has the choice to avoid all this pain. Here is the question she has to answer for herself: If you could see your whole life laid out in front of you, all the happy moments but also all the devastating losses, should you choose differently to protect yourself from the pain? Louise chooses to move forward with it all, fully aware of the magical moments and soul crushing events that lie ahead of her.

Many people seeing this film might argue that Louise’s choice borders on masochistic and maybe even stupid. Who would want to go through life knowing they will lose those closest to them and end up heartbroken and still go ahead with everything? Except that if we had the stomach to really think about it, we would realize that heartbreak and loss is pretty much a part of any well-lived life. In fact, it’s an indicator of a well-lived life. Because what does it say about your life if people leave you or die before you and you feel nothing or little?

close family takes a group photo on vacationNothing good I’m afraid.

Here is why. It’s a fact of life that everything will end eventually and when something ends for us, there are only a couple of emotional responses possible: indifference, relief or sadness and grief (and yes, anger is part of the latter). All good things will end eventually, even with a 45-year happy marriage, someone has to go first and thus someone will be left behind. Only if we are in tears over that ending, do we know that what we had was precious and good. 

So in a way, one of the biggest choices we have to make in our lives is how much happiness and therefore loss and heartbreak we are willing to tolerate. Fall in love and get the reward of dizzying happiness but also soul-crushing heartbreak, mentor children or raise your own only to watch them leave you to start their own lives. Forge deep friendships and get rewarded with 10, 20 or 30 years of shared laughter but also risk loss, betrayal or disappointment.

Or, do none of those things, and the peppermint bark sale at Trader Joe’s in Beverly Hills becomes the most exciting thing in your week. But also, no heartbreak!

So make friends, have dates, raise kids, yours or others. Allow yourself to care deeply about all of them and push yourself beyond your comfort zone.

Accept that there will be nights spent on the couch in the fetal position drooling double-chocolate ice-cream when something or someone has gone wrong. Accept that people will surprise you in good ways and bad. Embrace it it all.

In other words, get out there and live.

To learn how self-care makes you a better partner, click here.