I remember a conversation I had with my friend Ronnie back in college. A mutual friend of ours had broken up with her boyfriend and, as a direct result, got her nose pierced. The infuriating conversation with Ronnie followed thus:
Ronnie: “But why did she get her nose pierced?”
Me: “Because they broke up.”
Ronnie: “But why did that make her want to get her nose pierced?”
Me: “She’s always wanted to get her nose pierced.”
Ronnie: “So he wouldn’t let her get her nose pierced? And now she can?”
Me: “No, I’m sure she could have done it whenever.”
Ronnie: “Then why now?”
Me: “Because. They. Broke. Up.”
Bless him – he did not understand – but to me it made perfect sense. We’ve all been through our share of post-break-up changes. I’ve had friends who started a bucket list to celebrate their newfound freedom. I know people who focus in on their careers and make changes there. My personal go-to remedy was to dye my hair and become a whole new person. It’s just what you do when you thought your life was going one way, but now everything is different and you don’t know where to go next. Perhaps Ronnie never had his heart broken before.
But, then again, maybe Ronnie had a point. Why does change beget more change? Why, when our very foundations are shaken, do we shake things up a little bit more? Doesn’t it make sense that we would try to cling to the familiar? When change happens, and it’s change we don’t want or had no part in creating, why is our impulse to ride the wave and join in with changing things instead of keeping what we can the same?
I think, on some level, we all know one simple, undeniable fact: change is gonna come. Change is in the very fabric of who we are; getting older, changing schools, starting jobs and getting fired, moving house, getting together, breaking up, having kids and watching them do it all again. Change is in the seasons and the weather and it’s what moves life forward. We can’t escape change, this we know, but by making small changes of our own, it’s as if we try and take back control.
We get our nose pierced and say to change, “Well, you can have my relationship, but you can’t have my identity.” We go on a shopping spree and declare, “You can have my job but you can’t have control of my finances.” We buy, we make plans, we start something new and affirm, “You may have taken that, but you can’t have this. I may not be able to control that, but I can control this.” My question is, though, does it work?
Does getting your nose pierced really help you get over a break up? Does a new makeover make you forget who you are underneath? Or are we making those changes in an attempt to prove to ourselves that we’re fine? Maybe we’re looking for an outward sign that everything’s OK, when in reality we’re anything but. Because if you’re making changes of your own, if you look like you’re taking action and moving on, then you must be OK with whatever big scary thing has happened to you, right?
I’ve been going through a lot of changes recently – big and small – but instead of attempting to cope with the changes that have happened, I’ve found myself trying to make more changes instead. I moved house but my problems didn’t go away – they just moved with me. So then I started looking for new jobs, even though I knew I’d be complaining about the same problems soon enough – just in another office. And then I began planning my next tattoo and, yes, strongly considered dyeing my hair blue. Because, you know, you can take on anything if you have a magpie on your leg and a cornflower ombre – everybody knows that.
Perhaps I’m being a bit hard on myself. Making a little change and regaining a small sense of control isn’t a bad thing, but we need to be honest about it. Little changes don’t make the big changes go away. The big stuff is still there, and you will still have to deal with the fallout of how that’s affected you and your life. You can’t just write a bucket list and pretend you’re not lonely, or move to another rubbish job because you can’t be bothered to sit down and figure out what you really want. You can get tattooed until there’s no more space on your body, but Donald Trump will still be President tomorrow morning – we can’t avoid dealing with the annoying things in front of us.
But, still, make your little changes. Take your mini-stand against the establishment. Turn to death and say, “Not today.” But just remember that it’s not going to make everything better. It’s not going to get you out of doing the hard work of processing your feelings and making your peace with the big, crappy stuff going on in your life. But if we know that, if we know the road ahead might be tough but we are going to walk it anyway, then maybe – just maybe – that walk will be a little easier with a magpie tattoo, or blue hair, or – yes Ronnie – a shiny new nose ring.
Written by Chloe Satchell-Cobbett, Deputy Editor, Liberti