The Unbearable Ennui of Being
Updated: Aug 4
I’m not sure about this, but my friend Ally says that I do well when faced with the crushing and unending ennui of life. Frankly, I don’t know why they think that. I have a deeply melancholy soul and have spent most of my life dreading waking up in the mornings. The crushing and unending ennui of life is one of my favorite topics to go on and on about because it is all-encompassing, and I just don’t have anything else to talk about, really.
Nevertheless, it appears that my melancholic soul refracts as it beams out of me, and people see a rainbow instead of the pale pinpoint light I feel like I emit. So that’s neat, I suppose.
Maybe you feel like me and it’s hard to pull your eyes away from the relentless waves of life’s disappointments lapping on your shores. In that case, here are some of Queer Martha’s tips on keeping the unbearable ennui of life at bay.
1. Go to Happy Hour
One way to shield yourself against the tedium of being alive is cultivating frequent change. Weariness is momentarily suspended when you wake up to a new adventure. Making substantial changes like moving cities, changing jobs, or disappearing into the anonymity of a distant desert can be infeasible or undesirable, so many of us must settle for the lesser pleasure of small changes.
Happy hour is one of the most convenient and socially-acceptable ways to make small daily changes. Every Monday through Friday you can choose a new bar to patron, and, if this is your thing, a new friend to join your patronage. You can drink wine on Day 1! Beer on Day 2! A mocktail on Day 3 because you have to wake up early on Day 4 – but then you’ll pound back the cocktails! There are so many variables to tweak and so many combinations to try.
The added benefit of happy hour is that, as an activity one does between work hours and sleeping, it helps fill in the time you might otherwise be spiraling into a comfortable nihilism. This is similar to our next tip:
2. Join some extracurriculars
Extracurriculars are great for two reasons. First, they fill your time with something active, so you have a brief opportunity to replace your forlorn thoughts with the joy of ballet or ceramics or hockey or whatever is floating your boat. Again, filling the free hours between work hours and sleeping with pleasant distractions is highly effective. That said, be wary of the transition time between the end of the extracurricular and your arrival in bed. Do you have a 30-minute walk between your ballet studio and your house? During that period, all your newly acquired endorphins will drain from your system and you will be left alone with the monochrome, so to speak. That’s just a heads up.
Secondly, your extracurriculars will arm you with conversation fodder to bolster your current playlist of variations on, “What’s the point?” Let me tell you something – talking about the book you are reading in your French literature class is pretentious and not interesting to anyone, but it can work wonders to dissimulate your underlying melancholy while in the presence of company.
After happy hour and extracurriculars are over, you still have one of the most powerful tools in the kit at your disposal: the magic solution that is sleep. The thing about sleeping is that the longer you do it, the less time you have to think about everything you are not doing. Unlike extracurriculars, sleeping is free and relatively low-effort. Unlike happy hour, it will only make you feel better in the morning. Here’s an anecdote about this antidote: I used to go to the gym in the morning, and it was making me sad. Now I sleep through the gym and I feel much better about how I’m living my life.
Sleep! It’s a great alternative to being awake!
4. Become a regular
Ok, when I was going to the gym in the morning, the only way that I could convince myself it wasn’t an all-together terrible idea was to tell myself that I would get to go to the coffee shop afterward. Since that time, I go to the same coffee shop almost every day. It’s the best coffee shop – I wrote about it briefly here. The baristas and I have that weird type of relationship in which we know each other’s names and we get news about each other’s lives, but none of the baristas is sure who behind the counter is actually my friend, and neither am I, but we’re always happy to see each other and I went to their holiday party.
Being a regular at a place is the opposite of my number 1 ennui-crushing strategy on this list. Sometimes we need variety to quell the melancholy, and other times we need to feel like there are things in life we can count on to be there for us. Being a regular somewhere helps you remember that no one knows what the hell is going on and maybe that’s ok.
5. Walk slower
So – slow walkers are my greatest pet peeve in the world. Very few things enrage me as quickly as getting stuck behind a couple strolling on the sidewalk with no regard for my fuming behind them. Our sidewalks are narrow in Philly! Move to the side, dammit!
However, I’ve had a slight change of heart. I was complaining to a friend recently that my phone was dead, and I wouldn’t be able to listen to music on my walk home from her house. She said to me, “Walk slowly and look around you. See what you notice. It will be more interesting than Spotify.”
On my walk home, I noticed how beautiful the bare tree branches looked overexposed in a baseball diamond’s stadium lights. I saw a rainbow-dyed rose crushed on the sidewalk with its petals splayed out like a comet tail. I spotted an overly-intricate gilded ceiling inside a narrow rowhome which 100% is what I want in my narrow rowhome. I was much more aware of the misting rain settling on my collarbone. All this mindfulness made for a beautiful walk, and it lifted my melancholy. I recommend this tactic wholeheartedly.
As long as you still move aside if someone is walking quickly behind you. I mean, really. That’s just common courtesy.
Listen, I don’t think that I handle the unending ennui of life better than anyone else out there, but if you aren’t sure what palliative measures to take to help you get through the week, see how some of these strategies work for you. And don’t forget – we’re in it together.