July 17, 2020
I've lived with six girl friends in my life. In my life I've lived with six women and all six of them have left me. And sooner or later, I'm going blame myself. But not today!I'm a nostalgic beast.
I figure we always have the present (maybe that's all we have!) but if you keep your eyes only forward, valuing the future but discounting the past, you're only going to get poorer as time goes on.
Even with relationships and what not that didn't work out the way I would have hoped (and for almost everyone in a relationship doesn't that tend to be "all of them save the current one"?) I like to frame those as good and interesting times that I once got to have experience than something I've lost.
Exes tolerate or accommodate my retrospecting nature to various degrees. I had an epiphany during a friendly "hey I'm in town" dinner with A. the other year. At one point I mentioned how I don't have an intuitive belief in personal growth or qualitative change. People can adjust their behaviors, and new habits can become more ingrained, but there's a core that is constant, and I'm not sure it develops all that much - every potential a person has is in there at the beginning, and at best things become unlocked.
(There's a lot in Ted Chiang's short story "The Truth of Fact, the Truth of Feeling" that resonated for me... the sci-fi piece traces a parallel between a possible future technology of completely recording your own life to the adoption of writing and the cultural changes it wrought. But his quote landed for me: "And while I wasn't that man anymore, I couldn't deny that I was continuous with him." The way the characters recognize the difference but also the ongoing thread seemed instructive. Another particularly apropos quote to the narrator from his daughter: "'Fine,' she said. 'But let's be clear: you don't come running to me every time you feel guilty over treating me like crap. I worked hard to put that behind me, and I'm not going to relive it just so you can feel better about yourself.'"... Good to keep in mind as I talk with old loves.)
Anyway, A indulged me by listening to me talk about what happened with M (the one time a relationship got to the marriage stage before falling apart.) My take on it was: I think we started with a similar 1:1 outlook but over time M. started to grow in a future + family looking way, and I didn't give her enough indications that I was inclined or able to lean in that same way, even though I think that potential was there. But I will always resent that she didn't communicate that much at a time when it was still actionable, to give me time to adapt. (Maybe it's not fair of me to have expected to be told what to do, but on the other hand, I think that's what wedding vows are kind of about...)
So at that dinner with A, for the first time a newly amalgamated thought clicked...
I was carrying a grudge that M didn't give a guy who doesn't believe in personal growth a chance to have personal growth
Wow. It seems stupid that it took so long for me to put those threads together.
Ah well. I've had a note to write about "expecting people to let the guy who doesn't believe in change have a chance to change" for a long while, but that Jeffries quote above finally nudged me over - along with this review of an old video game console controller, where the gimmick is they try to figure out what family/relationship role any given controller plays:
The relevant quote:
[The Sega Master System Control Pad:]I guess I aim for "having been ok". (Reminds me of my first company, where one senior developer remarked we had "delusions of mediocrity.")
Nothing is really wrong with them. They feel sturdy... when I hold them in my hands I'm not thinking about my death, I'm not feeling pure divine joy either but that's not their fault. They're doing their best.
Who are they in our family? They're not a sibling. Our relationship feels both more distant and more intimate. They're not our family dog, our dog is more energetic.
I feel like they're our first husband, who was fine but our lives just moved in different directions. Perfect!
Welcome to our family first husband. We'll always remember the time we shared as having been okay.