Monday, October 24, 2011

Others to ourselves: Friendship and Expectation

By James Curcio

Most of those we call "friend" can't bear the full weight of our honesty. The inverse is also likely true. You imagine you can hear the moorings creak and groan when you stray too close, even, to whatever personal truths are mutually, exclusively taboo.

I can be completely honest with you, of course, because you are anonymous. Even if I know you, I can't control whether you read this or not. That forces a form of anonymous relation even though in another context we may know one another. It is easiest to have honesty in an environment of anonymity, as I have often found through years of writing my most personal secrets for all to see online. Let's not pretend that honesty is not itself drawn in relation to falseness, but it is a statement I can make all alone, singularly owned, and it is not said with any expectation of the response.

But how is that taboo actually determined? It never is. It comes, instead, by way of expectation. This expectation has an internal dynamism. The expectation engine, fueled by imagination, rainbows, and the belief that if we lived our lives speaking our truth (we'd be delusional to think it is The Truth) we might find ourselves antagonized and then entirely alone.

I hope you can already see a really odd idea taking form here, and though it might be fuzzy yet, it still has sharp edges. Our relationships are based on a kind of personal fantasy. Beginning at a time before we even have memory, in earliest childhood, we begin building relations, behaviors, habits, ultimately, our conscious selves, based on the expectation of what is mutually desirable, or at the least, safe. Kosher. Of course, this is not the only model available to us. Some may engage with the counter-clockwise current of rebellion, and shoot instead for the personally desirable, or even mutually undesirable. Yet somehow the fact remains that all of that is based on a kind of mutual compromised based on imagined boundaries and past experience rather than what is empirically known about the present.

Two things seem very interesting to me about this.

1) All these states are liminal, all based on expectation rather than certainty. It is a form of semi-intentional, mutual ignorance. If we were to test by trangression of those imagined barriers, it would already be too late to maintain a status quo. Either it is transgression or it isn't, and either way our perception of the relationship is transformed, whether in some small particular or in a blinding apocalypse that leaves only fragments behind.

2) This bounded world of implication, expectation, in the vernacular, "pussy-footing" can barely be called friendship. It's a convenient mutual illusion in stasis, only bending those rules when it has been challenged. (And, take notice: no one wants to stay friends long with someone who is constantly testing boundaries, either personal or of the relationship. In small doses it is radical and transformative, but applied constantly it is absolutely exhausting. A lesson learned by myself from around ages 16-23, though I've certainly seen it in others.)

This seems to make a mockery out of ourselves as well as our friends, committing us to all play roles based on an imagined reaction against a future shadow.

All of this is done, from the moment of birth and individuation, against the terror that beats behind our eyelids: I am forever all alone. Distinct and estranged from the environment, known and knowing only possible in a negative relation ("not that, not that, not that"). That was the cost of recursive self-consciousness. But must it damn us to play this timid, cruel game on one another?

This is not some kind of veiled message for one individual or another, "psst! our relationship is based on a fiction." Not at all. It's something I've witnessed in thousands of permutations throughout my life. Our relationships, and the ego that is structured as a result of them is, oddly enough, an empirical unknown.

I have had lovers who had to in an absolute and final way kill our relationship, not even because of the relation itself as the fact that they had built a self in relation to their ongoing expectation of my expectation that they quite simply could not live with.  They had to kill it, and there was only one clear way to do that. Of course, this decision was arrived at not by way of logic but emotion, but years of reflection have shown it to be true time and again. When we feel trapped in a relationship it is not so much a trap or cage (unless it literally is, but that's another thing entirely) as an internal discomfort at the self we have built for the other. This isn't about who wronged who, it isn't even about agency, as to a certain extent, the more we commit to a relationship, they less we commit to our immediate agency anyhow (as the relation becomes more and more ones perceptual center.) We all wrong one another sometimes. The best of us do it unintentionally; or maybe, it is in the intent? It's hard to say. I mean that from the outside, hurt and offence is unipolar, but when you count intent, we may have meant nothing of the kind, or taken what we had to survive, or actively sought revenge, and these are three very different acts with the same shared or mutual dimension.

Back to task. That self, the one you build so that you can relate with them, is your cage. The other may have little to do with it at all, as we build it out of what we imagine others want us to be. (As I said, even if we rebelliously try to act against this and forge our own way, we're participating in a similar game, only superficially polarized. That is, supposing you don't become a true hermit.)

If you doubt this line of inquiry, I challenge you to gather the presence of mind to think outside the boxes created by your relations with others, and then speak your thoughts, feelings, and convictions with the utmost clarity and honesty you can muster. You won't need to be a total asshole to find that many of your supposedly nearest and dearest will very quickly come to think of you as a stranger, and yet others, maybe, only existing on the periphery of your life because your present fiction won't or can't engage them, might be able to engage with that honesty, or at the least, create a more mutually beneficial narrative.

Further, there may be some "friends" who actually love you enough to work through your truth and theirs, day by day, moment by moment, despite the fact that it is not constructed with their best interests in mind. If so, you are lucky. But you will only know them if you have the conviction to jettison all the rest, and risk being alone.

For my part, as time goes by, I have come to think that it is better alone than forced to be someone else's wind-up doll. But on that, we each need to make a decision, and what is more difficult, live by it. The more we do that, the less we are understood by others. But that may be the real price of freedom.

(Closing note: though it's been many years since I've read Neitzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra, I think what I've just said here essentially cliff-notes about 1/3 of that book, minus all the poetry. I suggest you check that out if you haven't, and this was of any use to you.)

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