When I’m with you.
February 12, 2017 § 6 Comments
My alone-self is relaxed, and as comfortable as a pair of well-worn jeans, entertained by quiet thinking, making a little music, leaving a trail of words across a page.
Who am I in company? That depends on the company.
It’s not that I am a mirror, vacant until you step up, but I respond to you.
Together, we create a dance that is not the freewheeling dance of all-alone. We cue each other. We synchronize.
Depending on you, the shift from the inner me to the public me can be slight or profound, but it always happens.
You do it too. You change for me as we turn toward each other.
No one is unyielding, unresponsive. No one is, under all circumstances, a single, monolithic self. That would be as impractical as wearing one outfit for all occasions.
Now, think of the people you are closest to: parents, children, spouse, best friend, colleague. But don’t think of them with you. Think of you with them.
Who do you become in their company?
Unlike a brief encounter with a stranger, that one-off in which we hold a door or honk because that idiot hasn’t noticed the green light, our encounters with those we know well come with a history, an unspoken set of rules. Over the years a shared vocabulary has been established.
When we are together we will definitely talk about this.
We will share this worry, retell this story.
We will steer clear of that topic for sure; we always disagree about it.
If a relationship has persisted, it is because we have come to an unconscious understanding of how we interact with each other. We have perfected the dance.
This is true whether the relationship is beneficial or toxic. For either, we have shaped ourselves in ways that allow us to remain working gears in each other’s lives.
In any new relationship we seek the other, but we also seek the chance to create a better self. Who we will be in this nascent relationship is up for grabs.
How do we decide who we like? Often that liking is rooted in who we become when we are in the other person’s company. We like them because when we are with them we like ourselves.
In the course of a life–even the course of a day–each of us acts in ways that suggest we are more than one person, that who we are is fluid.
Think about who you are with your spouse. Now shift to who you are with your best friend, your boss, your mother. In one snapshot you are goofing off, in another you wear a serious expression, in a third you look bored.
You will like some of those snapshots more, some less, but all will be an accurate representation of the public you.
So, who do you become with those closest to you?
How do those selves square with the self you are when alone?
If the contradiction is great, you will be uncomfortable with the person who requires you to hide or distort that true self.
If the deception goes on year after year, it stunts and damages.
Here is the hardest question of all.
What selves do you bring out in those who are closest to you? What other selves are they hiding because to show those traits would break the unwritten contract that binds you to each other?
Who are these people you love when you are not watching? What would change if you could see their private dance and they could see yours?