How can we really find meaning?

A low-key visit with OH to a play from a local am dram club had an unexpectedly powerful effect on Alex Molton this week.

Lady in a field with her arms open wide


A date night trip to a tiny local theatre this week had an unforeseen effect on me.

The play centres around an unhappy wife in Edwardian London, a well-to-do member of a fashionable ladies club and local church, who dreams of bigger things and wants more from life. With a busy, respected husband who no longer sees her for who she truly is, the protagonist enlists the company of another local unhappy wife to accompany her on a great adventure to Italy for a month.

A Room With  View

With a clear resonance with EM Forster’s classic novel, A Room With A View, the play explores the importance of being true to oneself, of finding the life that you want and questions the societal norms which tell us what we should expect from life. A big fan of the novel (and film!), I was in my element. Many of the ladies in the audiences similarly seemed to enjoy the references to the original work, but also laughed along with the main character’s quips about the monotony of her life, her search for meaning in her own existence and the tedium of performing her wifely chores, as expected. Notably, the husbands were a bit less enthused.

But it got me thinking; 100 years on have things really changed that much for women in the world? In many wonderful and terrible ways, yes, of course. But fundamentally most of us still expect to grow up, get married and have babies. It’s certainly not the ‘norm’ in my generation to have chosen a different path, to have not ‘settled down’, had some babies, got a dog, bought a caravan (big in my group of friends, for some reason).

Finding meaning

And yet we are told that the modern world is better for women, that we can have a brilliant career and Instagrammable family life, and that in these fundamentals we will find meaning and a satisfaction in achieving our destiny. But for lots of women this clear-cut path to happiness does not lead them to the promised land, and they have chosen a different life for themselves; one without children, without a husband (or any partner at all), one filled with adventure, spontaneity and uncertainty. And these women seem really happy in their lives, fulfilled in being themselves, making their own plans, bucking the trend. To be honest, it’s the life I’d expected to be living myself.

After weeks of self-exploration and time to reflect, altered and reborn, both of the main female characters decide that they want to return to their marriage, and invite their husband to Italy to join them on their great adventure. Away from their everyday world and entranced by the beautiful Italian setting, the men are similarly regenerated and born again, seeing the world through fresh eyes and viewing their wives in a new light. I’m not doing it justice really, but it was actually a very touching part of the play; a simple, quiet moment where the characters realise that they are in charge of their own destiny and can choose a different future.

The future is bright

With a holiday planned shortly and away from the chaos of family life, I hope to spend some of this time and space reflecting on how I find meaning in my own life and considering how the future might pan out. Hopefully, some adventure and exploration are out there waiting for me. As EM Forster said herself: “We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us”.

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