There’s no Locke-down ( 😉 ) on personal history, people. There’s no blank slate! Don’t gripe and complain that your partner has hang-ups, concerns, issues, and expectations! What did you think you were getting into? A vegetable garden? Cause if you’re asking for my histoire to be left at the door, I might as well be a vegetable! Look, it’s like this. If you’ve picked me out of a crowd, there’s something about how I hold myself, how I wear my being, that you’ve spotted. Now I didn’t get here just from popping out of my mother’s womb. I crawled, walked, digressed, walked some more, ran (in my case A LOT), took a couple of pit stops, got slapped down, crawled some friggen more (but now as a full-grown adult!!!), learned to walk all over again and maybe in between there might have been some singing and dancing! But ultimately I have a walk, a stride all my own. It’s what you saw. It’s what elated you in my presence, it’s what drew you in. Now maybe you might not stay long. Maybe my run now looks more like a trot, and my gait now makes you think; Purina Dog Chow. But that wasn’t always the case.
What’s my point? We are all historical and existential beings, and that’s just a fancy way of saying that life experiences are the material from which each of us gives shape to our being. Who we are is neither given, nor entirely a social construct. We are intimately preoccupied with the “who” of our being; it keeps us awake at night, and causes us to anguish over how to respond to life’s callings. We are inescapably arrested by that inward pull into ourselves as we wrestle to understand through a process of self-understanding. We are uniquely oriented to the world with others in this way. We don’t just make decisions that can be deemed rational, valid, quirky or stupid. We don’t simply (well, maybe not that simple) speak to a set of claims organized according to logic specs. For even when decisions ascertained are strictly valid, there remain residual concerns of conscience. I can reason my way out of a situation and still find myself startled by the lack of insight and agential restitute that follows. How can this be?
Well, it would seem the who of our being is not constituted by rationality alone. Decisions made do not speak authentically to my sense of being for their excogitations but rather for the unique way that I am the experiencing subject of a life. Again this boils down to the act of understanding as self-understanding that is always concrete, individual and which cannot be outstripped. People come with all sorts of baggage but the #1 slot goes to betrayal! We’ve all experienced it even if the conditions and circumstances that occasioned it were radically dissimilar. So Aleena, a thoughtful, lovely young woman spent the better part of her adult life with Damian ( 😉 ). Damian, though not overtly abusive; in fact, one might say, to the contrary; he was outwardly caring, thoughtful and tremendously supportive. But he had this one teensy, itsy-bitsy quirk, you might say. He was an insatiable womanizer. Blindly committed, Aleena was in the dark…well, until she wasn’t. But that came some 20 odd years later. Those that knew her, knew her to be a true Kantian, and hence, autonomy was non-negotiable. There’s no way Damian could not have known this. So the news of his compulsive infidelity came like a tsunami! Resilient, but now single, Aleena carried on, and as luck would have it, met Stergios. Now Stergios, as his name suggests, was a caring, reliable and dependable man. You might say, Aleena had found her Kantianpart ( 😉 ). So when Aleena would find herself expressly agitated by what were for Stergios perfectly innocent liaisons with other women, he first appealed to reason – her reason, his reason, the selfsame Reason inherent to all human thinking God damn it!!!! – but that was to no avail. Aleena seemed unappeased, and hence to his mind, irrational, unreasonable, and quite frankly, exhausting. It seemed unfair that he should have to pay for the wrongful ways of Damian! After all, Stergios is the guy! He’s the one that has his shit together, is decent, caring, a man of integrity, and committed to building a life, his future, with Aleena. Shouldn’t she be expected to transcend her past, her life experiences? Shouldn’t she be able to attend to the situation at hand, and with reason guiding her breast, conclude that her reactions are nothing more than displaced emotive energies?
Could Stergios be asking that Aleena leave her history at the door? Could his expectation be that Aleena turn back the clock and undo all that has been done? Reason most certainly can guide thought processes, and this is essential insofar as clarity of thought, and precision of speech can put quandaries and paradoxes to rest that might otherwise be the source of aporia. However, Aleena has not become a suspicious, and infuriatingly sensitized woman alone, she has also become that magnanimous, deeply caring and vulnerable woman. That woman, in fact, who Stergios found to be exquisitely endearing and authentic. It is through an active process of self-understanding that often arises in moments of rupture that we come to renegotiate ourselves, to redefine, and realign ourselves in the world with others. Who we are is always on its way, for as Sartre would say, we are inescapably free and in this life practice we must (re)invent ourselves. But none of this is ever accomplished in a vacuum (well Sartre got pretty damn close…) and hence Aleena is who she is (e.g. magnanimous and fragile) only because of the manner in which she experienced herself as the subject of betrayal and the meaning that that came to have for her. It would do little good to speak to her of betrayal as something commonly experienced and walk her through the 5 stages of grief (Kubler Ross’s account has been adapted to speak beyond the scope of death). This can often do no more than demoralize, deflate, and decay Aleena’s sense of person. It will create a disconnect; one where I – in Aleena’s voice – feel misunderstood. I am not anyone of those people that have experienced betrayal. Even if there are commonalities that one can discern in the narration of my story, the particular experience is existentially relevant to me because only I can experience myself as the experiencing subject of said betrayal and come to an understanding of myself within such dimensions of life. It is not to be discerned dispassionately, as a spectator, by Stergios, himself unaffected, living life at a frequency of sound unheard, though nonetheless relayed by word and deed.
So that’s it? Case closed? Should Stergios just accept Aleena’s hyper sensitivity? Well no, of course not. For we are also not just the product of our experiences, even those existentially realized experiences of self. We are always on our way, and who Aleena is can and will be renegotiated within a backdrop of openness and care with Stergios, who critically but un-judgingly will indulge Aleena looking to uncover that narrative which speaks to the way in which she has come to see herself (she may experience herself as more vulnerable and yet open, or intolerant and closed…) and others (she may now experience others with suspicion or with greater insight into the human condition), the values she has picked up along the way (she may now reject her Kantian ways!!!), and the opportunities that her relations with Stergios have now occasioned. The conversation is not conducted by two rationally disposed, self-contained beings, bridged by their mutual adherence to basic principles of reasoning. Instead, engagement is characterized by mutually, amongst inter-historical beings who share an inward process of self-understanding within a context of openness (open to the possibilities of becoming through the activity seeking joint understanding). Stergios then does not begin from a position of superiority as if to suggest that his leanings are impervious to historicity, and hence he is called upon to also expose his existential, and hence, personalized investedness in his paradigm of meaning. Suddenly, engaging in liaisons with other women is neither abstractly and hence absolutely innocent or suspect, and manners of being-with-(female)-others need be renegotiated. Mutuality suggests, therefore, that a paradigm of meaning shall be negotiated amongst two historical existential beings.
Relations?! It’s a l o n g, convoluted, often treacherous road. Negotiating these can be taxing, yet rewarding, as each time it takes partners to deeper levels of intimacy, connectedness and mutual understanding. When left unnegotiated or when they are beyond negotiation (the reasons are endless, but high on the list is an existential disconnect) it’s time to sever ties, but WOW, when those ties are restructured, rekindled, that twisted, messy webbed tangle, is gloriously fulfilling, and unmatched. Hold on to those, people!
Song – the arts in general – have this incredible way of communicating the non-transferable and utterly subjective character of human experience. Have a listen (my Greek readers will understand best!)! 🙂 ❤
FYI – None of the characters in this story are historical figures, rather they are a semblance of many – of you, me, mom and dad, distant strangers and more.