There was a time that the pieces fit, but I watched them fall away.
Mildewed and smoldering, strangled by our coveting
I’ve done the math enough to know the dangers of our second guessing
Doomed to crumble unless we grow, and strengthen our communication.
Cold silence has a tendency to atrophy any
Sense of compassion
Between supposed lovers
As recently as three months ago, I was all but convinced that my relationship with my honey was over.
After getting a call from an old friend, I began looking at myself and my life clearly and found that I was not happy with what I saw. I had allowed myself to become superficial, disconnected from my past and my own personality, closed off from those aspects of myself that made me unique, self confidant and alive.
I spent a lot of time reading old journals. I began to deconstruct myself. I pulled out each belief, assumption and behavior, turned it around in my hands and set it out on a shelf for observation. I found that the change in myself was far older than I had first realized: that in fact, it had occurred prior to the start of my relationship: so there could be no blame or recrimination. However, it also meant that I had never been me and with my honey at the same time.
Next, I looked at the things in my life that I wanted to do. Goals, dreams and aspirations that had become central to who I wanted to be: and in fact, where also central to the person I once was. I had been traveling a great circle, gradually moving back to myself without having known that I had left her behind years before.
Finally, I looked at my relationship. In terms of who I had been, as well as who I wanted to be and what I wanted to accomplish in my life. And this is where it all fell apart. I could reconcile the girl I had been with the person I was now, as well as the person I wanted to become. I knew that my boy was compatible with that earlier person (we have known each other far longer than we have been a couple), but it had been clear to me for some time that our goals had diverged.
So did I want to compromise those goals or did I need to compromise the relationship? It was a hard question, but one that I felt I needed to face, and one that really only had one answer. We have one life: how could I compromise that lifetime for security, safety, or even love?
But then the unthinkable happened. My honey saw the turmoil I was going through and instead of throwing up his hands in despair, or stubbornly asserting his own thoughts on the matter, he found it in himself to open up his soul.
That sounds pretty dramatic, but I cannot think of any other way to describe it. He opened himself entirely, expressing his hopes and fears and emotional foundation on a level that I have never experienced before. He left himself open to the greatest pain he could imagine: that I would not only leave him, but that I would spurn his deepest feelings in the process. At first I did continue to believe that I would leave him, but I refused to spurn him: after all, I still loved him; I just felt that we had diverged from one another.
We spent day after day, talking about our secrets. It was very emotionally draining. It was exhausting even as it was exhilarating. We laughed on occasion, but mostly we cried. We made love in the aftermath of tears and it was good. The intensity slowly diminished, but the honesty did not. The exploration of our souls continued for weeks, months, hell, it continues to this day. And it is like nothing I have ever experienced before.
All of this trauma has brought us to a place that I had never imagined possible. With a few exceptions, we have become one in our thoughts. The great divide I had once perceived was a pride induced mirage. When we talk now, there is nothing held back, the fear is gone, we have exposed ourselves to one another and found support, encouragement and admiration. Trust. We have both become better people for it, and I can only thank him for being willing to take that first step.
Now that I have seen this play out, I find myself asking why it is so hard? Why do we, as members of modern, industrial societies find it so difficult to open ourselves to one another? Do we, as a species, have so little capacity for trust, or is it an effect of our culture? It will come as little surprise that I suspect the latter.
Our culture (global, industrial culture, irrelevant of localized tradition) de-emphasizes relationships. ‘Family’ has been reduced to nuclear family relationships. ‘Community’ has been reduced to ‘Neighborhood.’ Don’t like your cousin? No problem, just don’t see him. Your neighbor irritates you? No problem, just move. Your co-workers? Nothing could be easier than finding a new job. We have no connection to or dependence upon our environment. (Note: this is less true as you look at lower and lower socio-economic classes. And I think that you also find a greater sense of family, community and social integration as you move closer and closer to the ‘ghetto’)
At the same time, our culture tells us, both literally and figuratively, everyday, that we can only depend upon ourselves. That in order to function we must go along with societal norms. That any sign of weakness will be exploited. “Keeping up with the Jones’”: “Survival of the Fittest”: “Dog eat dog World”: Competition, exploitation, derision.
I suspect my honey and I followed an extra long path to get here. We both grew up in relatively cold, closed families. Perhaps that is why it is so clear to me: the difference is so stark. So ask yourself, is there anyone in your life that you could share anything with? Not just tell them, but actually share the full complexity of your feelings, aspirations and failings?
I suspect that this is another skill we need to relearn if we are to create a new way of living. We need to learn to share ourselves with other people, not just our true love or our one special confidant, but with everyone that we love. Find real trust, companionship, support and validation for all that we are as individuals.
Without that trust and support, how could we ever put our lives into the hands of another? And without putting ourselves in another’s hands, how can we ever really engage the full complexity of the infinitely iterated prisoner’s dilemma? Without that, we are left with if only people were better and we know that doesn’t work.
(Originally posted August 30, 2006)