Mastering Stoicism in the Bedroom: Transforming Your Love Life through Inner Resilience

“Absolutely not,” I firmly stated to my husband as he attempted to find the perfect spot on his dresser for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. “I don’t want him staring at me all night long.”

This bust, made of white alabaster, was as big as a child’s head. Marcus wore a profound expression, determined to achieve eudaemonia – a state of goodwill and happiness – regardless of the challenges he faced.

Unbeknownst to me, my husband had ordered the bust of this Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher. So it came as a surprise when I stumbled upon him in the dining room one afternoon, hunched over a cardboard box, delicately unpacking tissue paper onto the mahogany table. Noticing the rare smile on his face, I attempted to catch a glimpse.

Curiously, I asked, “What’s in there?”

He replied, “Marcus Aurelius.”

He retrieved Marcus from the box with the same care a doctor would handle a newborn. After months of stress and anxiety due to his job, it seemed as though he had found solace. That evening, the bust found its place in our bedroom.

My husband is the proud owner of eight coffee shops in and around Boston that barely survived the challenges of the pandemic. In 2021, when his company could only offer takeout service, his employees surprised him by announcing their intention to form a union. Caught off guard, he willingly acknowledged the union without a vote. He also penned an opinion article in a local media outlet to express his support for their efforts.

Negotiations ensued. He entered those sessions with hope, anticipating a mutual understanding. However, as time went on, he realized that the demands in the contract would nearly double his labor costs, putting the business he had built over the past 25 years at risk of closure. The stress levels soared.

Phone calls with his lawyer replaced lunch breaks, and he had little appetite for dinner. I insisted, “You have to eat.” He was naturally tall and thin, and couldn’t afford to lose weight due to stress.

At night, our bed felt the impact of his restlessness. Even when he managed to fall asleep, he often woke up at 3 a.m., consumed by calculations of labor costs in his mind. Sometimes, these worries kept him awake until the sunlight streamed through our pink colonial home, the place he feared we might lose.

As a native New Yorker, raised with a sense of unease ingrained in me, and part of a lineage of anxious Jews, I understood living with the constant hum of worries. Yet, the potential closure of the business he had built meant something more significant to him. I pleaded for him to seek help from a therapist.

After a few Zoom sessions, the therapist leaned in closer to the camera and said, “Let’s discuss philosophy.” According to the therapist, philosophy enables us to process our suffering and maintain a sense of well-being.

It didn’t take long for my husband to start quoting Marcus Aurelius to me.

One winter morning, I voiced my concern, “What if there’s a bad snowstorm and school is canceled? I won’t be able to work on my freelance assignments with the kids at home.”

To my surprise, he calmly replied, “You have control over your mind, not external events. Understand this, and you will find strength.”

I rolled my eyes and proceeded to my laptop.

I couldn’t deny that overthinking sometimes left me exhausted. The idea of approaching life’s obstacles with a certain detachment appeared tempting. I must admit that, in part, I relied on my daily Prozac to achieve the equanimity of a stoic philosopher.

On the other hand, my writing flourished from the ashes of my daily worries about motherhood, health concerns, and others’ opinions of me. I contemplated my anxieties while in the shower, and often these moments spawned ideas for articles. I couldn’t fathom losing my sense of concern. Anxiety was my muse.

No matter how many times my husband shared Stoic wisdom, which seemed to me like switching off my brain, I shook my head. What kind of writer would I be if I didn’t allow my emotions to fuel me? As my husband quoted Epictetus, “You become what you give your attention to.” He was learning not to become his stress, while I strived to fully embrace mine.

Although I didn’t feel the need to structure my life around Stoic principles, I allowed him to keep the bust on the dresser. If Marcus Aurelius watching over him brought him solace, then I had to let go of my reservations.

Each morning, he woke up and reminded himself that “humans are not troubled by real problems as much as by their imagined anxieties about real problems.” I eventually forgot about Marcus perched up there, observing me. Perhaps, silently judging me. But perhaps that’s just my anxiety speaking.

Megan Margulies is a journalist and memoirist whose work has been featured in publications such as The New York Times, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, and Vogue.


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