It’s rare that someone gives me a topic to write about. Explicitly, at least. Typically, ideas come from something I hear in a meeting, in a conversation, in a podcast. Less often does someone say, “You should write about X.” When this does happen, I try to listen.
I grew up in the Quaker tradition. When put in situations that do not square with my understanding of God, I tend to push back. Telling people about Jesus, for example, was never in my bag of tricks. I suspect this is why I appreciate the explicitly non-Evangelical focus of AA, a program of "attraction rather than promotion." Quakerism is also traditionally non-hierarchical, which squares well with AA: "Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern."
My parents taught, and I believed, that God could and would speak through just anyone. God will meander over to just anyone who rolls down their window and hands him enough money for a meal. I was taught that some parts of the Bible are divinely inspired, in the same way that I myself could be divinely inspired, as could my friends.
And so, when someone says, “You should write about X,” I try to listen. Even if they just text it to me; God speaks through text, too.
Here's what she said:
“You should write a post about what it means to you to feel understood...how to define it and how it might feel different across people/relationships. And I hear you talk about it more than anyone else I know, so I’m curious your take.”
She’s right. I talk about it more than anyone else. I’m particularly prone to feeling misunderstood. Understood is the feeling I am looking for in romantic relationships, and incidentally the absence of this feeling nearly always precipitates their demise. I do not feel understood by him. I feel like a reduced, abbreviated, abridged version of myself. This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit this screen and edited for content.
Last week, I watched the United Airlines-approved version of the movie Vice. Vice is a supremely dark and detailed movie that portrays (with more or less bias) the vice-presidency of Dick Cheney. The airline cut made perfect sense. And yet, with that disclaimer prior to watching, I was left wondering what I’d missed. Anything good? Anything that would have contributed substantially to my enjoyment or understanding? The airlines have been known to cut legroom and meals, after all. What did they cut from Vice?
In romantic relationships, I have done a fair bit of editing, both to fit a new screen and to nix potentially inappropriate content. And because I am at least as skilled as United Airlines, the final cut still makes sense. My partner assumes he is getting a whole person.
Meanwhile, I am the angsty screenwriter with big dreams. I am James Franco without the cheekbones. The “inappropriate” scenes were vital. The original cut added depth. If I’d wanted an Airline-approved movie, I would’ve re-released Finding Nemo.
Everyone loves Finding Nemo: despite all the fish, it deals with recognizably human issues. It’s just clever enough to please a range of audiences. It contains nothing offensive. It’s cute to look at.
In nearly every relationship I’ve been in, there’s been a Finding Nemo moment. A moment of Oh shit… he was hoping for Pixar. Meanwhile, I’m feeling like the graphic, “there-were-never-any-WMDs-and-now-look-at-all-the-dead-children” scene cut from Vice. And I have no one to blame but myself for getting us there.
If United didn’t edit its movies, there would be testy East-Coast mothers rapping at their door; Midwestern moms trading in anger for the more socially-acceptable worry; and moms from the Pacific Northwest trying really really hard to be cool alongside their rising blood pressures. (Gonna take hours to kayak this one off.)
But I’m not United, and neither are you. Although self-erasure can feel self-protective, it’s actually self-sabotaging in the context of intimate relationships. Where the goal, I think, is to be known. To be accepted. And more than that: to be celebrated in your wholeness.
In my last relationship, I did the fellow a disservice by compromising in the beginning. Afraid of losing him, I silently agreed to lose parts of myself instead. Months later, he began seeing me for the first time. He thought I’d changed, but I knew I’d stopped changing. I had lost both the will and the way to change for him.
The self your partner currently sees is cogent. That self works, she or he makes sense. Your partner might even really like that person. And yet, the question remains: What have I cut? What have I left out? And am I brave enough to bring those parts back, and see what happens?