Have you ever stopped to consider how little people really know each other? I don’t mean casual acquaintances or even friends. I mean people who say they love and deeply care for each other; people who are willing to commit their lives to each other.
I am not referring to whether or not they are interested in (or at least talk about) what we might call each others objective reality (how was work today, how were the kids, what did you think of that restaurant last night etc.). Rather, I am pointing to what seems to be a remarkable lack of interest in, and exploration of, each others subjective reality; their thoughts, feelings, memories, desires, fears, fantasies and so on.
I would argue that it is precisely those experiences, the ones we might identify as our “interior” self, which make each of us truly unique and remarkable. These are the deeper, more personal, immediate, and alive aspects of our being. They are the ones that matter most to us and the ones that define our essential and vital self.
And I am suggesting that the failure of people in relationships to learn more about and respect such qualities in each other leads to a whole host of potential problems and difficulties that may never get resolved until they are understood. And for many people, they may never get understood.
All in all this lack of interest and exploration of each other with each other creates a rather strange and confusing situation for us humans.
For example, we think we understand and know our loved one, when in fact we do not. We think the other understands us, when in fact they don’t. What we have done instead is identify with the “exterior” of the other, and confused that with who they are.
The truly odd thing about this is that we each expect, and sometimes demand, that the other be what we have imagined them to be as a result of what we have learned about their external apearances. But we are all so much more complex than our outside presentation.
And soon enough and sure enough, we will present to the other in a way that does not match with our exterior as they have come to know us. But it will fit with our interior and seem perfectly natural and acceptable to us.
And when that happens the other can feel surprised, shocked, dismayed, disappointed, angry, and a whole range of other negative experiences. At these moments the reaction generally tends to be; “Hey, what’s wrong with you, get back to being the person I know and stay there.”
When they present their self to us in an odd or unexpected way, we will ask the same of them.
If we are each reasonably healthy we will stand up for ourselves and ask to be known and accepted more deeply and clearly. If we are not so healthy, we will step backwards towards the image the other expects of us and we will stay there.
But we will suffer. And often, we will make the other suffer in a variety of obvious and not so obvious ways, for not being willing to accept the truer, deeper, and more meaningful aspects of our being.
Does this scenario have real world implications for individuals in those relationships? I am certain it does.
Can this help us understand why so many relationships struggle and eventually break-up? Can it help explain why so many people get depressed, turn to drugs and alcohol, have extra-marital affairs and a whole host of other relationship disturbance?
I think it does explain much of this and I think it is all so tragic.
Why tragic? Because I don’t believe people do this intentionally to each other. I don’t think they are trying to hurt each other. I just think they don’t know any better and don’t even see the problem being created.
So what does it mean to say “I love you”, if at precisely the same time I don’t really know you or even want to know you? And what does it mean if you won’t or can’t tell me who you are even if I ask?
Exactly who is this “you” I love?