A reality cheque is something one doesn’t want to write because of the costs involved; but it is something that has to be written. It very rarely involves money, and yet it nearly always concerns profound feelings. If it doesn’t do that, there’s no point in writing the cheque in the first place.
Sometimes, life feels so perfect – if only during a brief respite – with another human being, we fall in love with that time – and remember it as being only about the person. Every now and then, that’s accurate: a special partner paints the hours spent together an unforgettable colour, and the two are genuinely inseparable. At other times, it is the hues of nature and the warmth of the sun, the cool blue sea and the other stars at night, that really make it special: the holiday romance ends with the holiday, and we mistake the sensory atmosphere for emotional depth. We get back home, and wonder what it was all about.
Either way, reality intervenes sooner rather than later. The everyday demands of life reassert themselves, our goals take on their old importance, and the romantic perfection of the respite is ruthlessly challenged by the dictates and deadlines of our material aspirations and families. The wrestling desperation of a man or woman trying to come to terms with this has been the subject of many books, plays and films; but the characters in such art forms only rarely reflect the true struggle there will always be between life objectives, and the objects of our passion. For the real live person experiencing such feelings, the tug of war between the idyll and the treadmill can never be replicated by a mere character. True desire that transcends lust is stronger than any fiction.
In this sense – be the imperative a factory job, a career aim, or an exploration at the edge of endurance – we are all captives in a self-assembly prison. We have things we must achieve now, and they cannot be realised by making good our escape. The urgent insists on coming before the important. Indeed, if we are scrupulously honest, the urgent sometimes turns out to have been the important after all. A woman may give up an acting career she found compulsive, and discover that her family becomes a far more real and fulfilling alternative. A man can walk away from a vital career qualification, and find tranquility in the task of site managing and helping to build his own house….or looking after a baby.
Today, we are all of us more acutely aware than ever of the range of opportunities available to us. Tomorrow – especially in the current global economic environment – those experiences and achievements may have gone forever. But ultimately, the greatest wellbeing, and the most calming tranquility, is to be found in what two people can derive from each other: the new learning, the shared laughter, the old memories and the timeless humour. Brightly-coloured but false flags can lead to a winning post of Pyrrhic victory, swiftly followed by loneliness and frustration. We don a plastic crown, and never gain the kingdom.
The reality cheque is usually written by the seeker after trust, companionship, shared experience and truth. It is made out to the person still as yet in search of prizes, plaudits, podiums and perfection. All of these things appeal to us at various times of our lives, but the tragedy is that all too often, two people’s needs are out of sync. Each is asked to choose, and neither wishes to constrain the other. The racing driver and his wife, the politician and his children, the mistress and the husband, the passionate son and the cold mother. We’ve either been there, or know those who have. And we all know those who have written the reality cheque, only to have it returned, torn in half.