Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Labyrinth minds: and the people who love them

A few background points before I unpack my thoughts: 

- I just finished reading Anne Frank's diary, in anticipation of my visit to Amsterdam this summer, which is a book I haven't read since I was a teenager. I have so many thoughts about that book, I don't know where to begin.  But this post is only loosely related.

- Steve and I have been discussing whether you could marry or befriend anyone in the world and  eventually make it work, because the innermost core of most persons is usually lovable and good.  It's the layers around that essential core that are usually difficult and complicated.  Bad upbringing, prejudices, insecurities, coping mechanisms.  Beneath all that: The very raw core of us shares more than it differs on.

- Marriage reminds me a lot of Pandora radio.  You tell about yourself, and then they act on what you tell them.  Some hits and some misses.  You keep communicating back and forth -- with effort, time, and trial and error -- until you end up with this cozy, perfectly-suited backdrop to your life.  All these contradictions about myself...Eminem, Matchbox 20, and Alabama?...and Pandora just calmly accepts it about me.  A lot like Steve.

Okay, there's more -- but those are the primary things. 

The last entry of Anne's diary, she talks about her contradictory self: the flippant and silly outer-layer, and the "purer, deeper, and finer" side within her -- the side no one ever sees.  

I remember vividly reading this as a teen, and knowing exactly what she meant.  I had my deeply private, analytical, highly-serious side that was smooshed inside of me through most of my teen years.  

It's not a side you can show to parents in those years.  Or maybe you can, but I tend to believe the teen years are about autonomy, and the need to keep sides of yourself private is part of the march to adulthood.   

I tell myself I want to be a parent that my children confide in and trust in their teens...and while I believe that's in part true, I also think the best autonomy process happens when some of you is shielded from adults.  When you get to expand into a space that no one created for you.  

I was very similar to my parents in some ways...many ways...but to become the independent adult I became, I needed to believe I was carving a path no one had ever experienced before. 

In hindsight, I wish that for my children too.  Do I want them to feel understood?  I do.  But I also think that feeling misunderstood is perhaps part of the process.  

Okay...I'm skimming through about 10 ideas that I could write an entire post about.  Whatever.  I'll move on.

Anne's core-self seemed so similar to me as to be uncanny.  I think she and I are likely more similar than not, as we're both the introverted, deep-thinking, writer-types.  But perhaps if you peer into anyone's mind, uncensored, you'll find so much shared humanity that the differences will seem insignificant?  

I write to process...I think and contemplate I tend to connect with other writer-minds, because they're the ones putting thoughts on paper.  Maybe it skews my sense of "normal" in the under-layers of other people.  The people who don't think/act like me aren't writing down their thoughts for me, so I can't compare notes.

Here's what I want to tell Anne...or my teenage-self, back when she read Anne for the first time...or my kids, down the road:

Being a teenager means sorting through the mess of who you are, what you love, and who you'll become.  And finding others to meld into that is complicated at best, because you're still figuring it out.  Even surrounded by friends...lovely, wonderful friends who shared my secrets...I felt a loneliness and an angst.  I couldn't find someone who connected with my deepest layers of self, because I hadn't yet figured out what those deepest layers looked like.  

As I settled more into myself, late teens and early 20s, I found friends who really shared my soul.  There are two things about those found-friendships I remember with seering gratitude:

- When I told a friend something about myself, they understood what I meant, and then added an insight I'd never considered.  To me, that's the greatest moment you can have as a human.

-  Realizing I'd found a safe place to say anything on my mind. Whether they agreed or disagreed with me, they'd still accept me and respect me.

I deeply believe that the best love and friendship happens when you find someone who helps you just be YOU.  It was a process for me to  learn how to peel off another layer, the thick outer-surface of who I was, and see that I was still accepted.

Once I saw that it was accepted by those few persons in my life, it seemed less relevant if others saw it.  I didn't need to be recognized and known by the masses, because there was this circle of persons where I could bring my authentic core -- and re-fuel for the rest of life.

I still feel this way. Last week, when mind-ramblings tumbled out of me to a dear friend, Danielle said to me: "I like knowing that about you and Steve, because if you can think like that, it means you won't judge anything about me."

My inner-self turned to goo. Deeply analytical people can be tricky to learn about, because their brain is like a labyrinth. And sometimes recreational-analysis can look like neuroses. :) It's hard to find someone who can see complicated thought processes as something other than worry or concern. That instead of trying to calm my brain, they help me unfold my ideas.

 When I find someone who will listen to the complications, understand the complications, and like me more for it -- I will adore that short-list of persons my entire life. 

The grand finale of those friendships was showing my authentic self to Steve, when we first started dating. We were young (18 and 19), bumbling, still-forming, and very new to what we were trying to do:  create an adult relationship when our brains were still growing-up. 


Young love is much harder than parenthood.  We met before we wanted to meet -- neither of us were interested in meeting The One at that age -- but both sensed that this was the right person.  The ins-and-outs of those 4 years could fill an encyclopedic tome, but that's the nutshell of it.  It was the most awful, most awesomest thing ever.  And neither of us regrets any of it, although we offer deep sympathies to our younger-selves. 

A major part of what made it so awful/awesome was that process of becoming me in front of someone I really liked.  And it was important to me that he liked me back. Not just the outer-surface, but the hidden parts too. 

I handed him pieces of me -- stories I'd never told someone or things I wished away about myself -- and waited for when he'd look horrified, maybe, or just confused.  I didn't want someone confused or alarmed by my inner-self. 

Many people (maybe most?) define marriage as fidelity or loyalty or commitment.  The certificate or the vows.  But my definition has nothing to do with the legal documents or convenant..  It's about this place in my life where I've been ripped open, parts spilling everywhere, and being able to think every single thought out loud.  Radical honesty.  Being, doing, and saying nothing that he can't know about...and doesn't know about.  Maybe those things would freak someone else out, but they don't freak him out. The rest just falls into place, it seems.  Or has so far, 16 years into him. 

So my marriage advice is: 

"Marry someone who isn't freaked out by your authentic self."

Could you just drop any spouse into my life and make it work?  If the core of ourselves can connect, if you just search someone deeply enough to know their Essential Being?  Sixteen years into this relationship we've made, based on radical honesty and split-open innards of Self, it's hard to imagine finding someone else who so unblinkingly accepts me.  And thinking back to myself in the "Anne Frank" stage of my life...that wandering soul looking for definition and clarity...I am deeply, deeply grateful that people came into my life.  Steve, yes, but also...that short-list of persons who peered into my deepest layers and stayed my friend. 

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