Health

Do you listen to your gut?

The one time I really ignored my gut, it involved a man I didn't really love, but thought I was supposed to love.

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The one time I really ignored my gut, it involved a man I didn’t really love, but thought I was supposed to love. We dated for a long time, and he was nice enough, but I had a nagging, churning feeling that something was wrong — deep in my gut.

My head kept trying to talk me into the situation. Our families, friends, and habits became more and more entwined. People kept telling me how wonderful it was, remarking on how great we were together, and wondering aloud about when we were going to get married. He had big blue eyes and knew how to plant a garden. And so I just let myself be quietly unhappy, convinced that I was just being neurotic and could somehow force myself to get on board with the nice plan everyone else saw in store for me.

A recent story in the Globe & Mail by Mark Fenske — “Trusting your gut can actually get the best results” — ties together the more mysterious properties of your gut with the more concrete, respected zone of rational thought. Fenske reports that recent research indicates that the little voice inside of you might actually “arise through brain circuits that are optimized for fast, automatic evaluations of a situation, which take place without our awareness.” In other words, intuition is a message from our brains — but it just happens to feel like it’s bursting out of our guts. We use our prior experiences to predict what will happen in current circumstances, sometimes on an unconscious level.

I bring this up because it can be interesting just how intangible a sense of happiness or unhappiness can be. It doesn’t feel rational, but it persists nonetheless. Yes, we all know some of the obvious answers: Sex is fun, family is important, and exercise helps. But sometimes the things that produce happiness or unhappiness just come down to a feeling. Whatever it is, it just feels right or wrong for you — regardless of what anyone else thinks.

Sometimes, when I think about this past relationship, I still shudder. Not about the relationship, per se, but about the conversation I had with a family member shortly after the breakup. She nodded her head silently, while we both sipped our very full glasses of red wine and I got everything out with a considerable amount of tears. She acknowledged that she had thought many of the exact same things I was expressing — but while walking down the aisle to marry her first husband.

The idea of dodging a bullet comes to mind, as does the idea of a lesson learned. I sometimes wonder what might have happened to me if we hadn’t broken up, if I had permanently shelved my gut and gone into an extended state of denial. I’m sure there would have been good times — just as there are often many good times in plenty of deeply flawed relationships. But now, with the benefit of hindsight, I can recall not feeling like myself for the entire relationship. I can’t imagine that’s something that could ever make me happy.