I just broke up with a man whom I believe to be my soul mate. The problem with my soul mate is that he is a married man of 19 years and thus my needs and desires could never have been fully met, as a single 24-year-old with the (perhaps naive) hope for a meaningful, lifelong relationship.
We had an honest and close relationship that was unlike anything I had ever experienced. We would tell each other everything, without judgment -- it was truly a revelation for me.
Since then, I have been disillusioned with the dating game. It makes you conceal crucial parts of yourself. It entices you to present a facade so that the other person is not taken aback by who you really are. Many of us are complex individuals and complexity seems to disorient men. They prefer to have the nice, neat, unassuming and prepackaged woman that they have dreamt of since they were 10. I am a passionate woman. Once a boyfriend described me as a "tornado," as I am a whirlwind of emotions that sweep men off their feet initially; but eventually all the spinning simply overwhelms them and they back away due to the strength of my emotions. It is a double-edged sword, it seems, to be a strong, independent and passionate woman in this world.
Given this, the total openness I could show the married man was splendid, as he seemed to accept my nature as is and even revel in the debates we would have. However, we recently had a petty argument regarding a trust issue and he asked me, "Why does everything have to be a battle with you?" and honestly, it shattered me to the core. I wrote him an e-mail and told him that we were finished and to never contact me again. That comment alone suggests that he has been simply "putting up" with my challenging nature and not enjoying the debates and arguments we have had in the past ... which completely contradicts everything he has proclaimed to adore in the past. Thus, I have begun to question just how honest one can be in a relationship -- will I always have to hide my true nature, hide my passion, hide my emotions and true feelings? I am hardly psychotic, overly obsessive or weird; but I do have a passion for both life and the major loves in my life.
I doubt I can go through life hiding my true nature, and until the ending comment he left me with, I thought I had found someone who would completely accept me as I was and not judge. But then he threw out that comment, and it makes me doubt whether I will ever find someone who can still love me while knowing all of me.
So my question is: Can a person be truly and utterly honest with their partner? Or does a certain element of dishonesty exist in every close relationship?
Lost and Very Confused
Dear Lost and Confused,
First of all, every relationship presents inherent difficulties in knowing the other. These difficulties are not just philosophical and behavioral; they are to some extent material. No matter how honest one tries to be, one has no control over how well or poorly one is "known." That is really the problem. Honesty is a bit of a red herring. No matter how honest you are, even if you were to speak nonstop for 100 years, you still couldn't reveal yourself completely. Nor, as I said, do you have any control over another person's consciousness, this thing we refer to as "being known."
So let's dispense with absolute terminology such as "truly and utterly honest." Let's instead talk about relationship itself, that living, changing figure of interactivity, that transactional thing we do. Most of what we do in relationships is try to dance with the other person; we try to find some harmony in motion. That means not ticking them off if we can help it; it means not being too rigid or demanding; it means give and take.
Let's take me for instance. If I were to begin speaking all the thoughts that crowd my tired brain I would speak utter gibberish and profanity, random syllables, grunts, sighs, mutterings of unknown provenance perhaps not even Indo-European but deeper, primate-centered; I would utter mammalian cries, baby talk, womb sounds, muscle aches, brain farts, bad poetry, vicious puns, nonsense. If I were to give myself over to that raging maniac inside me, it would soon be clear that I am not the tolerant and understanding person who tries to help others solve their problems, that instead I am a vicious, selfish old man; I want what I want when I want it and that's that. Is that what you want to hear? I want to spit on people I pass on the street. I want to yell at other people who spit on the street. I want to stop at various intervals and just give a speech to passersby. I'd like to occasionally swing a two-by-four at certain people; I'd like to swing a two-by-four randomly, to tell the truth. The thoughts that come into my mind when I'm concluding a retail transaction at Sears do not bear repeating. Do you have any idea of my monstrous insensitivity, my awe-inspiring hubris, my boundless contempt, the malicious humor that lies just below the surface of this otherwise very nice, gentle, middle-aged man?
So if you are suggesting that personal relationships would be improved if we simply expressed all our thoughts without evaluating them first ... I'm thinking: not such a good idea. Believe me, I've tried it.
Maybe I'm a lot like you, actually. I'd be morbidly entertained by a world in which we're all psychoanalyzing each other all the time, clawing at each other, tearing into one another, ripping away layer after layer of artifice and convention, lacerating each other's skin like hyenas, ripping and shredding until we arrive at ... what? What have you got after all that? You've got Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton at the end of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" You've got the exhausted participants in Primal Scream therapy.
And how then do we go on day-to-day, after exhausting our savage rage in front of one another? How do we face each other in the morning? How do we go to work, cook dinner, make love, sing and dance? If everyone were encouraged to pause at a moment's notice and express what is going on in their hearts, who would be the victims of all this emoting? The quiet, innocent ones trying to go about their lives in peace.
So people like you and I, you see, it's our job to moderate our behavior out of concern for others. It's our problem that they don't live up to our standards. They don't want to be George and Martha savagely drunk in the early morning hours of despair.
So, to be quite frank, and based somewhat on my own experience, I think what happens in relationships is that you engender conflict by demanding more than is reasonable. Your attempts to be "truly and utterly honest" create frustration; you are, in effect, asking for more than anyone can give. These poor souls may feel confused and guilty about not being able to give you what you want. But it's not their fault. What you're asking for is impossible.
As long as you feel that your behavior is right, you may find it difficult to let go of it. That is why I say that the question of total honesty is a red herring. I figure if I can dislodge your belief in the rightness of your behavior, perhaps I can nudge you in the direction of positive change. If you believe there is a moral imperative to be completely and utterly honest, I say: That is nonsense. There is no moral imperative that we attempt the impossible.
My recommendation is that you pay attention to what is happening in your relationships rather than what you think should happen; try to open yourself to the process of relationship itself, to feel the prismatic emotional tones, to sense the motion of plots and subplots, to enjoy the movie you're making. And if you find yourself upset at some point, just stop and be upset. If you observe closely over a period of time, you will find that your emotional responses to events are not so tightly linked to ideology, but instead have to do with simple human desires -- to be treated well and kindly, to be listened to, to be loved.
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What? You want more?