I first saw Shirley Valentine as a one-woman play when I was about 16, and I loved it. The movie came out in 1989 and I don’t remember when I first saw that, but when I did it made me fall in love with Shirley Valentine all over again.
It’s about a woman whose kids have left the nest, and whose husband is in his own “chips and egg are on Tuesdays, steak is on Thursdays” kind of funk. And how, at 42, she finds herself somehow morphed from the rebellious and spirited Shirley Valentine of her youth, into “the wife” and “the mother”. She has sunk so far into her life that she simply doesn’t recognize herself anymore.
Shirley’s friend Jane wins a free vacation to Greece, and in a spark of familial defiance, Shirley accepts an invitation to accompany her. But once in Greece, she finds herself abandoned by Jane on the very first night, and instead of being alone at home talking to the wall, she’s alone in Greece talking to a rock. But she quickly decides that she can do alone in Greece just as well as in London, so why not make the very most of her two-week holiday.
So one night she goes out to fulfill her “soft little dream” of sitting by the sea, drinking a glass of wine and watching the sun set. A restaurant owner, Costas, obliges her by carrying a table down to the shore, glad to be able to make someone’s dream come true.
Of course, what Shirley finds is that sometimes the fulfillment of our dreams doesn’t feel the way we thought it would. And the life we’ve lived, even one we thought we wanted, doesn’t always achieve our great expectations.
Shirley: I’ve led such a little life. And even that will be over pretty soon. I have…allowed myself to lead this little life when inside me there was so much more. And it’s all gone unused. And now it never will be. Why do we get all this life if we don’t ever use it? Why do we get all these…feelings…and dreams and hopes…if we don’t ever use them. That’s where Shirley Valentine disappeared to. She got lost in all this unused life.
I’d be lying if I said I’d never felt the way Shirley feels, and I think lots of people go through some kind of emotional crisis of the “what have I done with my life” variety. I won’t tell you what Shirley does to put the living back in her life (some of which I can’t condone), but I will tell you what Costas says when he comes back and finds her crying:
Costas: Dreams. They are never in the place you expect them to be.
And I think that’s the thing. We don’t always get what we think we want most; our dreams won’t always fulfill us in the way we thought they would.
Life won’t always fulfill us the way we thought and hoped and planned that it would.
But that’s no reason to give up. Disappointment is not a good enough reason to give up.
We have to keep creating new dreams. And we have to remain open for the adventures that come to us unbidden and unforced, the dreams we don’t even know we have until they’re happening to us.
Have you ever gone through a “mid-life” crisis?
How did you handle it?