beginnings

There’s one quote from all of Mad Men that continues to haunt me, and it has nothing to do with advertising. It’s spoken by Faye Miller, the beautiful blonde Psychologist, to Don, when he dumps her because he has impulsively proposed to Megan on a trip to Disneyland. Understandably pissed off, Faye spits:

“I hope she knows you only like the beginnings of things.”

Of course everyone to some degree or another would agree that the beginnings of certain things – e.g. relationships – are more ‘fun’ and ‘exciting’ than four or six or twenty years down the line. But I think this phrase isn’t about that. It’s about a personality trait. It’s the kind of statement that, if it applies to you, and you hear it, it sticks in your mind like an earworm.

To me, that one quote summarizes and explains all of Don Draper’s misadventures throughout the entire series. So often you watch him and wonder, in helpless frustration, why he doesn’t just not do the shitty thing you know he’s going to do: run away. Screw the secretary. Kiss someone else’s wife.

This is why. It doesn’t necessarily indicate (to me) a defect of character. More like a pathology. Like it’s something he can’t really help.

I am a notorious liker of ‘the beginnings of things’. Items of food. Jobs. Cities. Everything is best at the very beginning, and sharply drops off in its value and interest in my mind.

Gretchen Rubin (of The Happiness Project) categorizes people as ‘finishers’ and ‘openers’, meaning that there are those who derive great satisfaction out of finishing something (e.g. a shampoo bottle or a container of milk) to the very last drop, and then there are those who relish the experience of opening the fresh new one.

Guess which one I am. My bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen are littered with half-empty containers. Often I will buy an identical item to one that is running low and impatiently open the new one before I finish the last.

In my mind it’s obvious that these two concepts are very closely related, but I’m not sure how to generalize the thought. It’s certainly true that people I know to be ‘finishers’ (e.g. my housemates) seem to be more patient, more comfortable with staying put in one place, more likely to cook something time-consuming or to finish a book. Are they also more likely to successfully cohabitate with a romantic partner, or to weather the same job (same route to work, same office building, same people), or for that matter the same career, for longer than the Don Drapers of this world? My instinct says yes but I’d like to see more proof.

Any thoughts/studies on the matter, friends?

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About Varia

Traveler, writer.
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6 Responses to beginnings

  1. I’m a finisher when it comes to things with a defined ending because I see it as a goal to work towards (a degree, a milestone, a contract end date). I also derive great satisfaction from finishing products to the very end and minimizing what I own. The toothpaste situation in the bathroom is a testament to this…my boyfriend bought a new toothpaste when there was still a third of it left and I stubbornly am still using the old one.

    When it comes to jobs, cities and relationships that come with no exact expiry, I definitely love the beginnings best. That is because the start is always more memorable and emotional. There are lots of highs and lows. When I look back on my life, the beginnings (and to some extent, the endings) are the most salient to me, as opposed to the “middle” or the months or years that just drag on where nothing especially exciting happens. I think people (myself included) romanticize new beginnings because they hold a lot of opportunity.

    • Varia says:

      Ah, this reminds me of Kahneman’s research, which shows that when it comes to experiences, people only remember well the beginnings, endings, and any sharp turning points (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peak%E2%80%93end_rule) – which he uses to argue that our memory is malleable and inherently flawed, but which I think is interesting in this context as well. It’s true that the middle of things is the most boring. But I wonder whether there’s a greater tendency to ‘stick things out’ among finishers, to persevere and/or resist the urge to seek change just for the sake of it? I know you are a fellow city-hopper though. I suppose there are loads more nuances to this, but it’s a really interesting question!

  2. ben says:

    I enjoy both, in a way, one compliments the other.
    I love filling my bin with new stuff.
    It’s like shedding an old skin, with the anticipation of what the next will bring.

    Especially relevant at this time of year.
    I enjoyed throwing out the xmas tree, the wrapping paper, a few bits of old furniture. I enjoy the space it leaves and the freedom to fill it with whatever new thing I want to do.
    And come December 2016, I’ll enjoy buying a new tree.

    But relationships are different.
    I hate that bit at the end. The relief after is good, but the end, urrgh.

    • Varia says:

      It’s funny – I didn’t even realize that I was writing a very end-of-December-appropriate post until I hit ‘publish’, but it’s true, it’s very timely. Of course here in Amsterdam it’s even called ‘Old and New’.
      I doubt that many people like the ends of relationships – and I don’t mean to draw a direct parallel between serial daters versus serial monogamists, so to speak. Just wondering whether perhaps people who are more likely to see things through to their rightful end are more likely to find comfort in the familiar.

  3. lapeddi says:

    Ok, I know nothing of psychology, but I kinda feel like doubting the whole categorization in the first place. Beginnings are intriguing, you are taming the unknown, there are mysteries to be solved, challenges and surprises, you are going on an adventure, the creative side of your brain is firing up. Endings are accomplishments, they increase your self-esteem and make you feel like you left a mark in the world, cheated death. At a beginning you feel like you can do something, at an ending you know you could. Beginnings are exciting, endings are satisfying. And I think this is true to most people. And maybe there are people who enjoy excitement rather than satisfaction, but even if it was true, I don’t think the difference between the two enjoyments would be so high. I don’t think finishers aren’t happy to begin a new adventure after staring at their beautiful accomplishment for a while, just like I don’t think openers are destined to hop from place to place, job to job, partner to partner without ever finishing anything. (But if this distinction is correct, I’m definitely an opener.)

    It’s so mainstream to quote Robin Williams, but a quote that stuck with me is from Dead Poet’s Society, when a student asks prof. Keating “Why do you stay here? You could go anywhere!” “I like it here. I don’t wanna be anywhere else.”

    To me, that’s the whole point. When I came to the Netherlands, everything was exciting; the tiniest most insignificant detail was a shiny source of awe because it was new and different, and because I could be new and different. Nobody knew me, I could present myself as my new, shiny, improved persona without old memories clouding anyone’s judgement. I was a clean slate I could decorate the way I wanted, hopefully a way I was so happy with I wouldn’t care if someone didn’t like it. Now all of that’s gone. What was “amazing” is now “nice”, or worse, “fine”. I think the trick is to find a place (in its broader meaning to include job/friends/relationship) where “amazing” turns into “good” or “great”, instead of “fine”. Or this is all wrong and it’s about you being ok with yourself in a way that allows you to feel good in any place. Very hard to achieve. I’m not sure I’ve made any sense at all.

    • Varia says:

      I suppose that this is the whole question that I intended to pose with this post — whether or not there IS actually a distinction between the two.

      I don’t — and neither, as far as I understand, does Gretchen Rubin — intend to imply that people who enjoy ‘opening things’ or ‘finishing things’ do not enjoy the opposite. Of course they do, it’s just that one brings them greater joy.

      So, I would posit, there are people who love – who are almost addicted to that feeling of – dropping everything, starting anew, burning bridges be damned, etc. Whereas there are others (perhaps) who actually love that feeling of being settled in somewhere, of belonging, of not needing to figure out anything anymore. For example my aforementioned housemate, an expat, who said she wouldn’t want to leave Amsterdam, possibly ever, because it took her two years to set up her social circle and no way in hell does she want to do that again. Whereas for me that’s not even something that factors into the equation.

      I don’t know — could very well be I’m drawing a false dichotomy here. I certainly think – as you mention — that people with both ‘tendencies’ can absolutely benefit from making an effort to embrace both ends of the spectrum.

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