I told someone the other day that I was a one woman man. They recalled that phrase as the title of a song by country music legend George Jones.
Being a person that has spent time getting to know himself has made all the difference to my selection of a mate. I’m guided by what I see in another and what I see tends to be a reflection of me. By that I mean I am drawn to people who hold similar values, have similar interests, in short, get life in the same way I do. I’m not looking for a clone of me, but there has to be enough similarities so that we can relate, as mates. I have to feel a friendship, a kinship, before I can settle into a long term relationship. I need to recognize this person. From that comes the security of familiarity and then love, a very hard word to define. I’m a birds of a feather kind of guy. I don’t relate to the opposites attract theory. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xweiQukBM_k
In the wild kingdom we often describe an animal mating for purely instinctual, procreational reasons. Some animals are known to mate for life, but it is rare outside the human species. I belong to the tribe that values exclusivity in mating, even while I was dating I could only manage one woman at a time. While my relationships have been one on one, I can admit I might fantasize but, oh my, polyamory?
I saw in my first mate a mutual desire to build a loving family. She caught my attention as a true friend, growing into a confidant, then a loving partner. A strong bond was formed. We had so many mutual ideas about how we saw life unfolding. We planned continually. We eyed the future as a promise. When cancer took her away from me it was hard to recalibrate my thoughts on life, what to do next, or who I might wish to spend time with. The very idea of a life mate had changed in me. Surprisingly I found someone quickly, she appealed because she was more a colleague. We both worked in education, loved reading and were writers in our spare time. It seemed like a match. However, our differences soon overcame our initial connection. Thankfully, she changed her mind and left. However, I was alone again. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_P-v1BVQn8
Finding myself in the world of digital dating, I considered my options, gingerly. Could a computerized approach to finding a mate bring me the woman I dreamt of? Quickly intimidated by online choice, I decided a party was in order. Lucky me! My fantasy woman magically appeared. She had the image I desired and the substance I admired. She shared my passionate adventuring view of life and was brave enough to take risks with me. We both continue to believe in the importance of the singular moment. Check. Mate. On with life. Together. Eyes forward. Hands clasped. We are mated still. Love is beautiful.
A former girlfriend of mine, after several months of cohabitation, recognized that she had been in love with the idea of me, not the real, flawed person who stood before her. That act of recognizing the truth set us both free to move on from a relationship that had become difficult. It can take a hard look in the mirror to re-establish what we know about ourselves. Sometimes we count on another to reveal what we fail to see.
Knowing myself is very important to me. Self-Cognition and Re-Cognition have been ways I have checked in on myself since my adolescent years. I was a geeky introvert in my teens, often taking myself off to ponder things by a nearby creek. That shifting body of water gave me sound solace when things were puzzling me. I could dramatize further and say I gazed into those waters looking for the reflection of the real me and that might be a step too far, even though I did watch a lot of television drama in those days. That creek was a sanctuary where time, and space alone, allowed me to keep track.
When I have let my emotions take over me and my temper gets lost, I do not like who I am. In those heated situations someone might say to me, in words or facial expression, “Who are you?” At those times I feel wretched, less than, and very contrite. It takes time to rebuild the person I thought I was after such a loss of self. For me, even a few moments of self-reflection can make the restorative difference. Sometimes I have sought out others to verify that I have not changed, just experienced a speed bump of growth. The benefit others can bring to the situation may be no more than an assurance that everything will be okay. That sounds so wonderful to hear.
These others we turn to, may be those through whom we recognize ourselves. These people aren’t necessarily our family. They have traits that remind us of who we’d like to be and we adopt them, in a way, because then we can associate with a collective of similar thoughts and attitudes. Birds of a feather do indeed flock together. They become our clan or tribe. They become as familiar as family portraits in our hallways. They provide a picture that is not unlike a mirror, revealing the truth as well as triggering memories that ground us.
Sometimes I have been so lost that finding myself has taken a military style reconnaissance. Regular re-con missions are easier, keeping me abreast of changes and quickly calling me to account. The best thing I can bring to any relationship is the gift of me. Personal knowledge is powerful because it brings clarity and a map into the following day. I can rely on others for guidance, yet most of the time I navigate the various challenges of life whilst on my own recognizance.
Knowing I am bound by myself means I must respond when summoned.
Each of us have had a Big Bang moment in our lives. Probably several: There is that seminal moment of our birth as we are pushed out into the world gasping, reaching, spreading ourselves outward into the unknown. That explosive moment when we discover that our actions get a reaction, when we make a gesture that gets a smile, or our first words bring delight and feedback. That first urge that helps us define our sexuality leading us to tentatively explore with others. As the universe within us expands we get a chance to define ourselves.
Some moments are pivotal. External factors sometimes lay out the timeline of development yet it’s your internal response to these life suggestions that will craft the person you will always be. These are the foundations of your central character.
Discovering our personal identity is the most important and exciting thing that we do as we grow. We define ourselves by our experiences. We can overcome harsh beginnings. We sometimes shoulder these realities as a cross we’ve had to bare. Actors must enjoy the temporary thrill of inhabiting another identity. They can choose a role that helps them display a weaker persona or they may get to play the part of an evil manipulator. The spectrum of human behaviours is limited only by their imagination.
I enjoy taking stock of the parts of me which make me whole. I like shuffling this deck of characteristics when I look in my metaphorical mirror. I wonder when I let one aspect of me dominate the other; does that make me more, or less? After suffering through a bout of depression in my forties I had to restore my identity step by step. I consciously rebuilt myself based on the memory of what I thought I had lost in my journey into adulthood. I recovered my birth name and created the story that was Robert. This identity wasn’t so totally new that others didn’t recognize me, but as I broadcast my newest self I felt a confidence that my message was being accepted and appreciated.
Canada’s Residential School system has left a huge scar on our collective identity. The policy was specifically intended to erase the identity of a whole race of people. Reconciliation will take time. Hopefully all of us, as individuals, will find new parts of ourselves. We have a daily opportunity to reshape our identities in grace and harmony.
Groups work hard at creating a communal identity. This is easy to spot in the sporting world as teams encourage support by inviting you to belong. Consider attempts made in communities to build identity: We are Marshall, We are Boston. We are Humboldt. Some feel they belong to a national ethos. I am Canadian! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pASE_TgeVg8
Clearly in the present U.S. political climate many may feel, “I don’t recognize my country anymore.” Part of a search for a collective identity has to include the varieties of the membership otherwise it will be hard on those who have felt left out.
No is a small word with powerful connotations. It can be used to send a message of finality, of desperation or of resolve. It is incontrovertible. It does not mean maybe. This is not the time for coaxing, bullying or cajoling. This is a word that must be respected.
When I am angry, the word No comes to mind quickly. My mental dictionary translates the feeling and I may end up shouting “Stop!” I never feel well after I have lost my temper. The emotion behind the thought of No is strong. It comes when you find yourself backed into a corner. You must quickly demonstrate that what is happening is not to your liking. Retreat is the order of the day. You are not deserting the field, only choosing to live on so that you can fight another day. No can be an active word in that it leads you to reshape what will happen next. Paradoxically, sometimes before getting to Yes we have to say No.
No is a levidrome. Its twin is On. Herein lies an amusing puzzle: In the binary world On would represent the opposite of No. So from analog to digital we have a yin/yang mystery. No implies that we have turned off, turned away, or maybe even turned ourselves inside out. We need a rest from decision making for a spell. The lights are out. The Off switch is engaged and taped down. Please leave us alone while we go into shutdown mode. Processing. Processing.
There was a time after the death of my first wife when my decision making circuits were shut down. Every time my brain came to a choice intersection, I would reflexively turn off. For a while I even forgot how to engage the On switch. Did it go up or down? Saying No outright was way easier than risking another foreign situation. I didn’t feel lazy so much as squeamish. My biological cyber security was in question. The passage of time helped. At some point I remember making a conscious decision to say yes more often. I spent less time weighing the options presented and more time engaging in the invitation. I recalled a mentor once saying to me that there is often a good reason why someone invites you to do something.
My new granddaughter is almost two and the only word she uses consistently is No. It makes me smile when I hear it. I wonder what awareness of the situation she has when she says it. She seems to know her mind and I act accordingly. For adults, in some situations it takes courage to say No. We may not want to let someone down. We don’t want to be misinterpreted. We don’t want to be labelled a poor sport or a Debbie Downer. We don’t want to turn people off. The fact remains that sometimes the word No needs to be said.
Even though No is a valid answer to a question, my life feels somehow better when I can get to Yes.
“He started it!” was a common phrase my sister would use against me when being confronted by our mother as she tried to deal with our latest squabble. Such scenes, with modified language, are common amongst siblings, workmates, young lovers and wedded couples alike. On the one hand it can be helpful to determine who initiated the drama. Was there aggressive intent? Was dominance or hierarchy a factor? However, the nuance behind the moment may be lost as the emotional quotient ratchets upwards; villains must be identified, victims must be protected, justice must be done. Crisis over! Anything learned? Let’s move on.
To initiate something takes courage. What is being suggested may never have been done before; with this person, at this moment, or in this particular context. It’s exciting to try something new, to follow an impulse, to venture a wish. The response may be immediate rejection, laughter, insult and isolation. Your plan for success may have been spontaneous or carefully thought out, yet still end in failure. You may have to try again another day, with another person, in another place. You may rethink the idea, or just let it pass. You may have to find satisfaction in compromise. Far better a compromise than a regret for pushing your personal agenda on the unwilling. There is always the solo option to satiate desire.
If you have garnered some support for your initiative you might feel emboldened to carry on. There is a rush that you feel when someone agrees with your suggestion. Some may give enthusiastic endorsements and your head starts to spin with the joy of acceptance. This is the point when you check with yourself to see if the encouragement you are getting is because of your position or the validity of your idea. People who are doers are rare, and that makes them powerful. Most of us say, ‘sure’ too easily. This quickness to respond to initiators may be a wish to be seen, to be loved, to be finally given that job with the office by the window. It is often too easy to give your personal power over to one more powerful. We all want to be seen, respected and accepted. No one wants to come out of an encounter feeling used.
When I was dating my wife I looked for ways in which she might initiate a conversation, an adventure, a plan. I watched to see how my initiations were perceived and reacted to. I was looking for a common acceptance of the merits of the proposal. I was pleased when neither of us dominated the role of initiator. Each of us wanted to lead in a certain context and wanted to be lead in others. The discovery of the details of this dance, as we got to know each other, led to fascinating admissions of wants, needs and future dreams. Hearing the truth like this, did make us feel free to continue trying new ways of being together. This gave us confidence that we were seeing each other’s desires as mutually important and equally as necessary.