Thursday, December 2, 2010

Another way to think about mirror-to-mirror eternities

When I wrote about Jane Eyre a couple of months back, I was critical of the engagement scene: Rochester telling Jane about herself. There's something in it that feels domineering and erasing--that Jane isn't a real person, that she's not filled in somehow, until Rochester describes her to herself. But I've been thinking about it and I don't think that I reacted so strongly to the incident because I was upset by it but because it felt so familiar.

That is, I've been thinking a lot about what I value in relationships lately and something that all of my most meaningful relationships have in common is this feeling of definition. There's the potentially alarming implication here: I have been known to change dramatically in some relationships, I've been (too) eager to please or be defined or whatever, but for the most part this is a really positive and vital part of my friendships. I go to a friend with a problem and they're able to help me see how deeply seated fears or personality quirks or what have you are coloring my opinion of the situation. My really great friends are the ones that seem to understand these fears (or whatever, they're not always negative or that deeply seated) and who are able to tell me about them. The version of myself that they see is the one closest to the version I myself imagine. And I think that in the very strongest of these relationships, this is mutual. I'm able to help my friends (family, whatever) get to know themselves better.

There might be something a little unhealthy here. There's more-than-is-maybe-useful self examination (slash centeredness). And shouldn't I be able to see these things myself? And sometimes there's some game playing--there's something coy about me refusing to see the way that my daddy issues inform my perfectionism, asking, indirectly, for some sort of validation or other. But there's also something deeply confirming and intimate about these exchanges: I know you well enough to know that.... or I trust you enough to let you help build my self-image or, mostly, really, I get it/you, you aren't that broken/freakish/alone.

And through these exchanges, relationships become essentially generative: both parties are invested in the building/defining of the other, and so the relationship.

What do you think? And do you do this? Or not and why?


  1. I so do this. Mostly because my life is driven by analysis. I think I love the idea of a self that isn't strictly defined, but is rather definable in a given situation. I like coming to new truths about myself, but only if I trust someone with myself to the extent that we define each other. I think this is productive and that it works. (Did I engage in this exercise by writing this comment?)

  2. I think that we are not meant to be alone in this life, and I don't just mean in regards to romantic/dating/marriage relationships. I think we have family, friends, and communities because we cannot develop to our full extent on our own. If someone helps you learn about yourself and you grow in some way, that is fantastic. If that comes from a person who also wants romance with you, then even better because you know that they can see more than just your surface appearance/attributes and still love you.