Recently I was talking to Meg about relationships — about the ones that work, the ones that don't, the ones that would have worked or could have worked, and the ones that probably, definitely never should have worked. Eventually, inevitably, the conversation turned to ourselves.
I love talking about relationships. All kinds, really. But I especially love to hear what people have to say about themselves in relationships. It's interesting, isn't it, to think about who you are to someone? To think about the best, worst, and strangest parts of you, all tangled up in love and sometimes loss and sometimes everything all at once? To think about what it's like to love you?
In my early teens I went through a handful of dark and heavy things that forced me to look inward. To look at myself and my place in the world, at why I was who I was and what that meant and where that would take me. I learned to reflect and look inward very early on — too early, maybe — and that, coupled with my writerly habits of stepping outside a moment, plus the genes of a wildly sensitive mother and an insatiably curious father, make me wonderfully, painfully self-aware.
And it must be interesting, so to speak — for better or for worse — to be in a relationship with someone so drenched in that sort of awareness. I think about how odd and tiring it must feel to be in a relationship with someone so acutely aware of moments, someone who steps in and out of them and back in again, all the while internally narrating the ifs and the buts and the maybes.
... And then I think, fittingly: Seriously, Laura, stop thinking so much.
Once, in college, a girlfriend joked that our friendship would steer her straight into therapy. "Your self-awareness is rubbing off," she said, laughing, "and I've honestly never looked this far inward. It's exhausting." I cracked up, knowing all too well what she meant. (We eventually became roommates, and no, she didn't end up in therapy. But there were a lot of late-night talks. And wine.)
Still, that stuck with me — the idea that my self-awareness was something other people were aware of, and that my tendency to reflect might somehow wedge its way into my relationships one way or the other. For better or for worse. I found myself thinking about those faded friendships and relationships with a new sense of clarity, a genuine empathy, realizing what a real and understandably true turn-off that might be for someone who'd rather not look back or inward. Because not everyone wants to doubt and change and shift and evolve all the time — not everyone appreciates that sort of constant analysis. And that's okay, perfectly okay.
I talked to Radley about what that girlfriend said back in college and he agreed, saying my sense of self is a very real, tangible part of me, something that can't really be ignored. I felt a bit embarrassed, then, at first, a bit ashamed of that curious, sensitive, impossible piece of me. But then I thought about what it all meant, because if it's true — if that piece of me really does, somehow, rub off — then how lucky I am to be there when that self-awareness strikes, when those walls come down. How lucky I am to grow into relationships with people who look in at themselves, and at me, and who hold both of us accountable for being our best and truest and most sincere selves. For better or for worse.