Friend: I would have thought that you’re trying to find yourself.
Me: I’m not trying to find myself. That’s a battle I surrendered, long ago.
I lied. I only raised the white flag recently, after being provoked by Kate Harding’s excellent essay/polemic/battlecry, The Fantasy of Being Thin. Charge!
The reality is, I will never be the kind of person who thinks roughing it in Tibet sounds like a hoot; give me a decent hotel in London any day. I will probably never learn to waterski well, or snow ski at all, or do a back handspring. I can be outgoing and charismatic in small doses, but I will always then need time to recharge my batteries with the dogs and a good book; I’ll never be someone with a chock-full social calendar, because I would find that unbearably exhausting. (And no matter how well I’ve learned to fake it — and thus how much this surprises some people who know me — new social situations will most likely always intimidate the crap out of me.) I might learn to speak one foreign language fluently over the course of my life, but probably not five. I will never publish a novel until I finish writing one. I will always have to be aware of my natural tendency toward depression and might always have to medicate it. Smart money says I am never going to chuck city life to buy an alpaca farm or start a new career as a river guide. And my chances of marrying George Clooney are very, very slim.
None of that is because I’m fat. It’s because I’m me.
Still, I know all of this from the inside out. Naturally I’m curious about the view from outside.
We worry about worrying about what other people think.
We’re conflicted. We’re conflicted about being conflicted.
We want to be self-sufficient machines who don’t require praise or reflections from other robots. We should be so grounded that it should be irrelevant. We shouldn’t be so motivated by the perceptions of others or by external validation. We ought to be healthily individuated, dammit.
We ought..we should..we shouldn’t…
Bah. Talk like that is a beauty pageant reply.
When I speak about these things, I’m conscious of the fact that my words and actions are being measured against discourses of The Healthy Independent Individual, The Woman Who Doesn’t Let a Man Define Her, and How To Date Without Appearing Needy or Heaven Forbid Desperate or Even Worse Trampy.
I know that if I say I need a man, that I’m going to hear “you want a man, you don’ t need a man.” Because that’s not healthy. That’s not independent.
When I say that I need praise, I’m going to hear “isn’t that a bit co-dependent?”I’m not even going to go into The Rules. I don’t do The Rules. I do men.
So I often steer my stories into beauty pageant replies to circumvent judgement. I construct the emotionally, relationally healthy narrative.
Or I just don’t say anything at all, because I know that tales of my dating adventures might require a call to the Healthy Relationship Police.
Or I blog it. FTW.
It just is, and this is why: it is damn near impossible to get perspective on yourself because you see yourself from the inside out.
We seek perspective. That’s why we have mirrors. Some of them hang on walls. Others are found in the eyes of our loved ones and the impartial gazes of outsiders.
I used to say that I was shy. Nobody believes me. Maybe I’m not really shy. Maybe I’m just awkward and groups are not my medium.
So I struggle. It is an effort. It is shocking to me when that effort doesn’t show. I’m not alone.
Think about the difference between these views: Google Earth and Google Street. Then think about the view of the world and the street from inside the house. This is vantage. Perspective. It is a shifty, slippery character.
No one view is more real than the other, no more “truthy” than the other. I see the world from inside the apartment – my own eyes, my own experience, me – more often than any other. That is why external perceptions are so damn interesting. And surprising. And needed.
Maybe the reason we tell ourselves that it is a problem to worry how others perceive us is because we’re trying to reduce an internal conflict.
We think there is a conflict between how a healthily differentiated adult functions (no need for validation, approval, reflections) and how we experience ourselves (embedded in relationships. needy. curious). So we call it cognitive dissonance. We strive to deduce that disharmony. Oil the friction.
But there is no conflict. This is the truth, according to me. There is nothing to reconcile. Shift.
There are other ways.
Or you can erase the friction and find unity. Define it all as one. There is no distinction between mind and body, self and other. It is all one.
Or you can embrace the poles and oscillate between them. Develop, like justice, a theory of scales. It is both/and. Balance. Forgive yourself. Accept and embrace yourself and all your eternal, contradictory, heat-seeking needs for self-knowledge and the the reflections of others.
Marvel at it. Marvel at the old lady on the bus who speaks frankly and tells you look more put together than you feel. Marvel at the polish that shines all the shinier because you’re constantly working away at it.
Think about oiled wood furniture.
Think about diamonds.
Realize that it is often unremarked effort that produces shine.
You’re privy to the effort so it is not a character deficiency to seek others to note the glow.