Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Relative relations

I sometimes wonder at our capacity to handle such a wide variety of interactions, each with a separate set of parameters, expectations, obligations and rewards (or otherwise). In each we are a different person, or show a different side of ourselves. Inside, we may feel quite complete, but those who watch us across contexts often find that we turn unrecognizable as we move from one to the other. We are able to move across ages—we are children to some, parents to others, lovers with an infinite range of visages and friends with an even greater range of faces, and all the shades of no-name relationships in between. So many people within each person.

Do any of us have a true measure of ourselves as people? While we may outwardly marvel at how little we know of others, and how they constantly show us different sides of their selves, we usually explain it away by attributing it to a latent schizophrenia in the other—and only half jokingly! The person most of us know the least, because we observe her/him the least, is oneself. We measure ourselves by others’ reactions to us, not by any sense of who we are. We judge our success or failure at relationships based on how well we are able to hold on to other people’s interests or affections, not by the intrinsic nature of the relationship and what we bring to it.

But beyond this there is a question that puzzles me…and I’d be happy to hear thoughts on this…how is it that we are able to sustain so many different kinds of relationships, in so many ways, and yet have so little tolerance for differences outside of ourselves?