Thursday, January 31, 2008

On Being Known

I’ve often felt that the major component I desire in relationship is to be known and to have the other want to be known by me.

That isn’t “knowing someone in the Biblical sense.” Even our little straw poll to the right reflects that most of us believe sex has very little to do with a loving relationship! So what is it to be known?

For me, it is something about someone who wants me to recognize the whole of his life and who wants to be involved in the whole of my life.

It isn’t allowing someone else to become the total meaning of my own life. We each have our own self, ultimately, to be at peace with.

Yet it is something more than just my loving my own life and enjoying others as they come and go from it. Without someone with whom I choose to invest in knowing one another, there is no shared anchor in my life. There is only me with others sharing fragments of me.

Maybe it’s sort of like this:
I go to work and the people there know that I am there. I go to a lecture and the people at the lecture know I am participating in that event. I share some chai with a friend and she knows that I am there with her. I am fully present in each of these activities, emotionally, mentally, physically and, yes, the people there “know” me for that shared time.

But floating between them, is this person who is me. No one shares or sees that person. No one knows what I am doing or thinking or feeling when I’m not around them; folks who share one activity with me don’t know what I am doing when I am away from them, nor do I know them.

Yes, we might play catch up at some point, “How have you been? What’s up with you? Tell me what’s going on in your life,” but that is more about keeping up-to-date with a good friend than it is about a sharing of real-time life that connects between all of the various moments.

Here’s an example using this week and the activity and busyness that make up so much of daily life. This week has been a series of work and going home at five. No one knows that I am not doing anything after work. (And, conversely, if I was doing something, they wouldn’t know that either.)

People only know me, in this sense, when they are around me. The folks at the cancer center knew that I was there for treatment. The people at work knew that I was at work. The people at the store knew that I was buying groceries. The people at city hall knew that I was there for a meeting.

In each instance, the people sharing that instance fairly knew how I was feeling and what I was thinking about. It isn’t the case that I was not present in the moment, nor that we weren’t connected. But it is true that no one other than me shared the whole picture. No one knew that each evening this week I have spent the time alone reading or watching a movie on my laptop at home.

This weekend I’m invited to attend a Mardi Gras party and to share an evening at a friend’s home. If I go to one, those present at the other activity will not know where I am or what I’m doing. If I stay home, neither group will be aware of that fact. In other words, no one shares the scope of my life in a way that makes me feel fully known, nor do I share someone else’s life in that way. Though my individual points of contact affect others and they affect me, the whole of my life is left unshared.

I have met some people who want to share sex without sharing my life and vice versa. I have met some who want to share my work and humor, but not my time at home. Some want to share in my extra-curricular activity. Some are engaged in sharing intellectual discussion. But I have not met anyone who wants Dennis to be the anchor in his life, who wants to be the anchor in mine and to share our lives.

I don’t think that this post says it well, but maybe it scratches the surface a little of why it is that sometimes I feel unanchored, unknown and lonely.

When I try to bridge the gaps by allowing someone to be aware of the various parts of my life or to share such a scope of his life, I can’t create interest for that person. I can only share what someone else wants to share. Thus far, this has meant that I continue to feel like periphery to others’ lives and they remain on the periphery of mine.

Somewhat known. But not fully known.


Eric said...

I think this is a very good picture of what makes a difference between a life-partner and a sex buddy, or a friend versus a lover, or, for that matter, a good marriage versus a bad one.

I remember a looooong time ago, when I was 18 or 19 (I had just been with Brian for maybe a month or two by that time) I was talking to one of the other waitresses at PoFolks, where I worked. I was telling her about how Brian, because he looked older than he really was and knew his way around the gay community in Tampa, liked to go to the 21 and older bars, whereas I looked younger than my already too-young age, and so I couldn't go (and didn't want to anyway because I think gay bars are gross). I was upset that Brian wanted to go to these places now that he was in a committed relationship, and I was telling my coworker about how I was struggling to come to grips with the whole idea of my partner having his own time, which was what everyone always expects, right? Have your own time, your own hobbies, your own friends, etc. Well, my friend asked me, "Well, shouldn't he WANT to be with you all the time? And what's going to happen when you retire? And what if you ever work together? If he really loves you, why wouldn't he want to be around you all the time?"

This was basically the premise of "He's Just Not That Into You" (a great book, by the way), except I was hearing this from a waitress fifteen years ago.

And I believe that's what really makes a relationship - KNOWING the other person, missing them when they aren't there, and knowing what they are probably doing, thinking, feeling, etc. (at least to some degree) when they aren't around. Some people may see that as a rut, but I see it as really knowing someone. And you deserve that, Dennis. You're a great guy, and there are other great guys out there looking for the same thing.

But part of that is also opening yourself up to the world. Why don't you have any "best friends" who do know all of those things and share your life like that? My friend, Anna, has been my best friend since high school, and we always know what the other is doing. We're in touch almost every day, or every other day, and we know the details of each other's lives. We really get each other's "big picture." I've had other friends like that too, so this type of thing doesn't just happen in romantic relationships. On the other hand, Brian has no real friends. But that's because he doesn't open up and let anyone else see the big picture. (Not yet, anyway. He's working on that.) I'm basically transparent, and so I've got a lot of people who I think really "know" me. He's got a wall that he leaves up all the time, so people can't really get to know him.

Anyway, I'm one of those people who doesn't know the "whole picture of Dennis," so I can't say if any of this really pertains to you. But I appreciate the honesty of your post and it inspired some good reflection on my part (which has developed as I've written here).

I hope you do find others who get to really share your world. And I hope others get to share yours just as much. From what I have seen of it, it's worth knowing.

Anonymous said...

cancer center?! whats up with that treatment??

Dennis R. Plummer said...

It's my monthly phlebotomy because my blood produces too much iron.

Dennis R. Plummer said...

Long time in getting back to you, Eric, but I really appreciate what you say. I'd love to sit longer to talk and may try to write some more here (at least in a post). I think it is helpful (to me, at least) to hear others' views and opinions. I always like when you chime in!