The person selected for my interview was X, a seventy-year old woman. She is active and intelligent, and she has lived her life within both urban and less concentrated environments, which are reasons I was drawn to talking with her. Also, X married young, divorced some years ago after a long separation, and has two grown children. As will be evident, the leisure enjoyed by X throughout her entire life represents choices made very much appearing to be heavily influenced by her gender, generation, and social circles.
From her early childhood on, and ascertained through a conversational interview in which questions prompted multiple reminiscences, X revealed to me that her leisure activities have consistently been focused on socializing, either with family or friends. In her youth, this most often took the form of family gatherings at the home, in which she was usually the only child. She clearly enjoyed these occasions very much, as family members took turns singing, telling stories, and then dining. X recalled leisure time spent with girlhood friends, but this also reflected intimate, and not particularly active, forms of leisure. More exactly, the periods were more defined by ease and conversation than by any specific activity. In all of these types of leisure, there was an element of passivity; for instance, many occasions involved going to the movies or the theater, going shopping with her grandmother, or dining out with adults. It appears this translated in X’s adulthood into her providing the leisure environments. While she spoke of the same sort of excursions, as in meeting other young couples for dinner or going to a club, she more took on an entertainment provider role, setting up environments at home in which friends and family could enjoy their own leisure. As much as she is able, this pattern exists today, as she more typically invites others to her home in order to provide a comfortable atmosphere in which all may enjoy casual leisure.
Two Activities and Development
As consistent as were the family occasions of leisure enjoyed by X as a girl, it seems that this leisure reflects the early developmental stage of Initiative versus Guilt, and in an unusual way. That is to say, in these years of childhood, X clearly developed her lifelong attraction to leisure as a casual and intimate experience, usually occurring in the family setting. This is the stage wherein children typically experiment in social contacts, broadening their experience through permissible forms of intrusion (Engler 155). X, however, presents a different leisure scenario, in that she evinced docility to a remarkable degree. Her family paid attention to her in these leisure experiences, and she was encouraged to participate. At the same time, X was aware of limitations here due to her age and her unique status as the only child present. Consequently, she was more inclined to enjoy the leisure around her in a passive way, taking in the enjoyment and amusement of the adults. There was a measure of initiative, as there seems to be no evidence of guilt being fostered, but there were parameters. Most importantly, however, X exhibits absolutely no sense of having been denied leisure; on the contrary, and supported by her independent choices as an adult, it seems that her own leisure needs were met by attending more to those of others. Her leisure enjoyment, in these years and later, chiefly derives from a psychological gratification in being attentive and attractive to those around her.
The leisure activity of shopping was also generated in these years, and I had the distinct impression that, in both childhood and adulthood, the internal vantage is central to X’s perception of the leisure itself. This vantage refers to how the individual perceives the effects of the activity, and there is a psychological element here specific to both times of X’s life. As a girl, she enjoyed the gratification of observation and learning. She insisted, in fact, that she was aware of being privileged on these occasions, as her grandmother educated her in the proper ways to seek merchandise. She was strongly sensible of enjoying herself, yet she was as well keenly aware of an unusual opportunity. This reflects, interestingly, how she would later both translate the shopping and socializing experiences for herself as a young woman. In both, she seems to have internalized her own phases and taken on a provider role. For example, when she shops with a friend today, she very much enjoys enlightening them as to better quality in goods, and the many ways she has learned to recognize it. Similarly, as she affectionately recalls the leisure occasions provided by her family, she has since made consistent and involved efforts to reproduce the comfort and offerings of the socialization experiences she provides. With X, the psychological and the social are inextricably connected. I observed that, in her reminiscences, it was only the discomfort of others that caused her anxiety, as making others feel completely at ease is necessary for her to be able to relax. Ironically, then, and in both shopping and home entertaining, only by being actively instrumental in shaping the experience may X truly enjoy the leisure.
Current Developmental Stage
It is my conviction that X is within the Ego Integrity versus Despair stage of life, typically occurring in her age range. It is remarked that, in this stage, wisdom translates to an acceptance of impending death, in that the individual is reconciled to their entire history in a way that affords a sense of peace (Engler 159). This, I feel, is true of X, yet it is not absolutely true. While I do not at all perceive any significant ego integrity issues, the fact remains that X’s entire life has been an exercise in adhering to behaviors she feels are right for others and for herself, while she has consistently been disappointed in how others reciprocate.
This dramatically relates to leisure in her case, because the leisure described powerfully reflects a kind of ideology of living embraced by X, and inculcated in childhood. She emphatically holds that attending to the desires of others is the proper way to live, as this, again, affords her deep gratification. Even as those near to her have frequently enjoyed her efforts, however, she has been saddened by inconsideration displayed by them, whether in her regard or directed to others. A leisure activity for X is usually a combined occasion, wherein a day of shopping is followed by a trip to the movies, and/or her preparation of a meal to be enjoyed at home. All of it is generated by an impulse to make other feels good and be at their most relaxed states. Too often, however, X has observed that an increased selfishness arises from these efforts of hers, when she always anticipates that they will fuel similar impulses in others. Consequently, long years of similar experience have provided X with insight, if not wisdom, but there is a despair as well. It does not threaten or reflect her ego integrity; it is more a result of an issue she has never been able to reconcile. The pattern and the dilemma exist today in a compounded manner, as X is often physically incapable of providing the leisure for others she still wishes to offer, even as the consequences still disappoint her to some extent.
In the case of X, as is likely true of many, there are few delineations between structural, interpersonal, and intrapersonal constraints. Rather, they seem to be more a chain of factors influencing one another, than distinct entities. For example, with X, there has always been an acknowledged structural constraint of gender. She was raised to conform to female roles of a certain kind, and these roles invariably stress the woman’s responsibility to provide leisure, rather than seek it for herself. Consequently, the structural constraint has enabled a variety of interpersonal ones, particularly in regard to her marriage. She demonstrated a complete adherence to her perceived role, yet the balance of the male partner in validating and supporting her efforts was not in evidence. X told me of many occasions when she would greatly exert herself to prepare an evening’s leisure for her husband’s business people, for example, and her efforts drew no reaction from him at all. Interpersonal constraints, then, arose from the ensuing interpersonal conflict, as X then focused more on conforming to an ideal not perceived to have been met. From this, she developed intrapersonal constraints; essentially, her awareness of the reality of the situations contrasted with the reactions she faced, so she ultimately “constrained herself to cease the efforts completely and obtain a separation. Interestingly, in fact, the trauma leading to the end of the marriage appears to have been based on this leisure issue, as entertaining became the sole activity she and her husband would share.
Uses of Leisure
If any concept defining a use of leisure may be applied to X, it is that of protection. In this, the individual seeks more to maintain through leisure a desirable state of being, rather than to create a new one. X’s entire history of leisure as related to me, in fact, reflects in a textbook manner this overriding concern. The offering of social support, central to protection, is central to her desired leisure, and this may be seen in how consistently she has provided leisure to others from her home. This adds the ancillary measure of control within the protection concept, yet it by no means diminishes the more overtly positive affects of the leisure choice here. For X, and less “protectively,” the desired environment has allowed her to generate and/or deepen friendships.
Then, this aspect of protection is clearly a factor in how the leisure has directly benefited X herself. She made it clear to me that a wide variety of stresses, including problems with her health, were eased in socializing with others in her home environment, and in making them feel relaxed themselves. This is, I believe, something of an interesting variation on how leisure is more typically perceived and/or pursued. For many, stress creates the need to remove the self from the known arena, as well as to seek out leisure of new and distracting types. With X, the process was more intimate, and more reliant upon her formula of entertaining. At very bad points in her life, she expressed, she would hold a dinner party for close friends, during which she might only refer to her problems briefly, if at all. What would occur is that, in reenacting the normalcy of the convivial entertaining, she would be enabled to feel at peace again. It is worth noting that X was and is aware of this process, at least to an extent. As she told me more than once, it simply pleases and relaxes her to both be in the company of family and close friends, and to be the one catering to their own levels of satisfaction. The final impression here is that, for X, this kind of socialization offers optimal experience, in which the highest rates of gratification are consistently in evidence.
Engler, Barbara. Personality Theories: An Introduction. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.