When I was a teenager, oh, so long ago, I began to have fantasies of a prince who would enter my life and soon we would go off and live together forever after! Soon the place where we would live became the major focus of the fantasy. It was never a cottage in the woods; it was never a mansion in a fashionable suburb. No, it was always similar to places in which I had lived with my family—a brownstone facing a park—a spacious city apartment.
The difference was that in the fantasy I could make all the decisions as to how our living quarters would be decorated—the colors, the furniture, the art—how it would be arranged in the space my prince and I occupied.
It wasn’t that I found my parents’ décor distasteful, but I wanted to make the decisions; and in the fantasy, I could.
Now that I look back, older and wiser, what troubled me—and fed my fantasy, was that my mother often consulted my sister before making any decorating decisions—my sister had "the eye," the talent for design and composition; and indeed, in her adult life she became an interior decorator. To this day, in her 90s, she is frequently consulted about anything that involves "the eye."
Years passed. The prince and I found each other and we did go off together to set up our first home—to feather our nest. I must confess that I turned to my sister that first time for some guidance. After that I took the plunge and made my own decisions and took pleasure in the process.
Over the years, to make changes in our home, to create a new ambiance, to be au courant, it was exciting to leaf through magazines, to shop, to talk with friends; and, yes, my sister and later my daughter. It was not a major preoccupation in my life; it didn’t call upon my best skills, but feathering the next did give me a sense of pleasure and satisfaction. It was as if I were doing something that came naturally.
Recently, I’ve become aware that I no longer derive pleasure from feathering the nest. If I’m attracted to a set of dishes in a display or see a beautiful piece of furniture, the inner pressure to acquire it is no longer there. I no longer ask my daughter what color carpeting to get for my den. I like my furnishings, and there is no excitement attached to making changes, as there was in the past. Is there an internal pressure to feather nests at certain periods of time as there is for birds to feather their nests at a fixed time in their pregnancy?
There is a feeling of loss attached to no longer feeling that inner urge, just as there are many other feelings of loss as we age—the loss of our youthful vitality, our reproductive function, the loss of loved ones. We cope with these losses in various ways.
Are there gains along with the losses? To some degree, yes—in the case of feathering the nest, some relief from the instinctual pressure, from the competitive factor that is part of the nesting process in our culture, and maybe among the birds, too. There is also the freedom to fill the gap, with other interests and pursuits—to say nothing of the money that is saved to use for other urges and purposes—perhaps to help the next generation to feather their nests.