I'm strange. But am I authentically strange?

Are my choices genuinely my own, or am I just trying to show the world something?

Published November 6, 2008 10:42AM (EST)

Dear Cary,

I'm strange. I don't mean that as a value-based word -- it is merely a fact and I am relatively OK with that. I am strange by normal societal standards. I am a young female who doesn't want to have children and doesn't want to get married and is fairly self-sufficient and pragmatic when it comes to relationships (i.e. I am not a romantic -- I am not waiting for anyone and might very well end up alone). It is a lonely life sometimes, but mostly it's just life.

This is where the seeking of advice comes in. I worry that I do all these things merely to be contrary to expectations and not necessarily because I want and value these things myself. There is a fine line between saying I'm this way because I've chosen this path and having this path foisted on me and trying to save face by saying I've chosen it.

An example of why I feel the need to figure this out:

I have ramped up my "strangeness" by dating a much older man. I admit that by outer appearances this is not so rare; in fact, it is a bit of a cliché. But he does not have a lot of money (I probably have more), he is not "powerful," and I know I am not his midlife crisis. Other people, I'm sure, assume the worst. But for me, it fits well into not wanting children, not wanting marriage, and generally doing things that would shock my grandmother (I use her metaphorically here). Yet I am faced with the real possibility of a much more "traditional" relationship as well, with my college sweetheart. He is good, he is accepting of my irregular choices, and he loves me. This path is the one normal people would take. Do I not want to love him in return merely because it is expected? Am I denying myself happiness and choosing a contrary path just out of habit? I am tied up in this quandary of the chicken or the egg and I feel the need to figure it out to move forward.

The Contrarian

Dear Contrarian,

I can't possibly know which proposition is true, but I may be able to suggest some ways of thinking about it -- or, more accurately, of feeling your way through it -- that may result in some clarity for you.

Hmm. That's a great opening line. It seems to promise some good, reasoned discussion to follow. But nothing is coming. I can't think of anything. I want to go to the gym. Actually, I was just thinking, I wonder if I could take the day off, as the election had me up late last night and I can't think of much to say.

I'm not alone with this. Ah, how nice not to be alone. Katharine Mieszkowski forwards this from editorial writer Robert Solé in Le Monde: "Sorry. No column today. The keyboard is not responding. History is a page being turned. Three words on the screen: 'Yes we can.' While it is impossible to joke with genocide or disaster, it is equally impossible to joke with an event that makes you weep for joy."

So today's column may be a bit of a struggle. Should I just bag it?

Nah. I've got the pride of the daily columnist: Pull something out from the bag of tricks.

So. How can you go about figuring out your own motives?

I don't suppose it's as simple as just asking yourself what you want, is it?

Well, let's suggest this, that you ask yourself from moment to moment how you feel with each of these men. Which man are you more eager to see? If you envision both of them, are you equally eager to see each of them, or do you gravitate toward one or the other?

OK, now we're getting somewhere. I may yet pull something out here. OK, so try sitting for a few minutes in silent meditation, paying attention to your breathing, just breathing, you know, getting into that good, quiet, receptive state that you know so well from all your daily meditation. Go into that state and just let these two men sort of float around there. Visualize them somehow. Maybe they appear as bright orbs. Or maybe they appear just as they are. Try to hold them both in consciousness and see what happens. See if any answers come. See if one seems more right than the other.

Your quandary may be not just that you cannot decide about your own direct feelings toward each man, but that you cannot decide what your choice of one man or the other would say to others about you. Are you able to become conscious of the momentary and subtle thoughts you have of how you appear to others? We find if we think about it that much of our motive for action has to do with a picture of ourselves as others will see us. We also find that we have symbolic needs, and attractions to certain images of ourselves. So it's complicated, indeed, figuring out what we want and why we want it.

There are a couple of tentative routes to finding some clarity about this issue. And I find now that I have exhausted my store of helpful advice. I have to go out now and see if the world looks any different from the way it looked yesterday.

Perhaps you should take today off. Perhaps we should all take today off.

I realize that by the time this column runs, I may seem a day late with all this. But there you have it. For me, it's Wednesday, the day after Election Day, and I'm not quite myself, nor am I quite anyone else.

I commend you to the larger spirits of your nature!

Meaning of life revealed! Guaranteed!

Signed first editions on sale now.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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