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February 22, 2008

Sharing, sinking, and The Brick Wall Theory

Reader Kat wrote:


Please believe that I am way enthused about how much you enjoyed your trip, and pleased that you have clearly inspired so many people.

But I HATE to travel. Hate it. Don't like it at all. I've seen a lot of terrific places in Europe and America, most of them due to someone else's insistence, and I have enjoyed maybe one or two trips out of the many many I have taken. I even lived in London for several months and I hated that. I like HOME, and that's sort of the only place I like to be.

I used to beat myself up about this, in part because people seem to think you're some sort of freak if you admit this fact to them, in part because I am surrounded by people who like to travel and always drag me with them, in part because there's no good way to explain to yourself why you hate to travel without admitting you're completely agoraphobic. Maybe I am agoraphobic, but either way I have finally come to terms with this aspect of me.

I love hearing about other people's trips, and I loved hearing about yours, but I get pretty upset when, in the midst of someone saying what a terrific time they had, they insist that I should go with them the next time. I'm not entirely sure why I'm posting this, other than adding a different perspective, but maybe it's something about all you adventurous types who read and comment on this blog being kind to your non-travel-inclined friends (if you have any - I've found us to be rare). Or maybe not. Maybe I just needed to explain.

Viva Rome, and viva home, equally. :)


I am certain that five years ago I would have been assuring Kat she just hadn't been on the right trip yet. But things have changed around here. I'm glad.

Kat, do you know I refuse to go on a cruise? I will never ever go on a cruise. I don't like big boats and I am notoriously hermitlike and the idea of being trapped on a floating germtrap with 5000 strangers literally makes me want to eat my arm.

Now, you imagine telling this to friends who are both INSISTING you join them on a cruise. First you back off nicely and then you get defensive and before long you're all, "Listen there is nothing wrong with me! I just do. not. want. to. go. OK???" and then everyone gets real silent.

Yup. That's me, Ye Olde Partykiller.

But I just am not getting on a cruise. Ain't happening. Part of what I am figuring out right now in my life is that no one else's experiences, choices and predilections fit me to a "T" and mine don't fit anyone else. That's why I say you have to find what suits you. I'm so glad you posted this.

Also, for the record, I equally do not like SUSHI. There, I said it.

I have been thinking a lot lately about who we are, and how people see us, and how that changes the choices you make ... if you let it. Been thinking about how people have a picture in their head of a person and the littlest things shock them. Been thinking if I would have made the same choices way back when if I had just cared a little less what people would think of me.

Listen, no one is ever getting me on a cruise ship. It will. not. ever. happen. Call me any old thing you like, but don't call me when you're sinking. I'll just say, "I told you so." (Yes, perhaps I still have some growthy to work on. I'm getting there ... on dry land.)

(This next part ties in. Or at least I think it does, I am having some wine over here.)

(cabernet, thanks for asking)

- - -

I used to have a theory about relationships. I called it "The Brick Wall." (By the way, I am FULL of theories. My friends have to hear my theories on everything, it is really funny. They sometimes throw things at me.)

So, I developed the Brick Wall Theory of Relationships back in college. At that time, it seemed to me that men came at a new relationship with a woman as if she were this cute, adorable, perfect little brick wall. But then the guy would discover some flaw and whoops, take out one brick. Or maybe he finds out she is grumpy in the morning. There goes a brick. She's jealous about his ex-girlfriend calling night and day? There goes another brick. Maybe two. And before long, this perfect woman he's met is just another partially exposed pile of bricks and not the delightful picture of completion he expected. It's a big messy lump and he goes looking for a new, perfect brick wall and the cycle starts all over again.

In my theory, women come at it a different way -- not better or worse, just different. Women start with one brick: A man. They get a brick each time they find out something new about him (likes animals: brick, good kisser: brick, calls the day after the first date: six bricks...) and so on. Before long she is putting together a picture of this man, assembling her brick wall of him out of the things she's uncovering. And when there are big open spaces she will use her willpower and love to fill in the gaps. Sometimes this holds that brick wall together for a long while. But if the gaps are filled in with her personal mortar of luuurve (instead of real bricks from him) the whole thing just collapses.

I didn't draw a final conclusion from my then-19-year-old self's Brick Wall Theory. It was just a way of explaining how I thought men and women approached romantic love differently. Gave me something to think about while staring out the window in Biology class, I suppose.

Now that I am much older and many bricks along, I think my theory was a pretty accurate one in some ways.

Sometimes I feel like my life is just one big classroom full of what I fondly call AFGOs. (That stands for Another F***ing Growth Opportunity.) (I am also very classy.) Learning about perception was the class I took in 2007. I woke up, showed up for life, and got a big lesson in bricks. For one thing, nothing exposes you to "input" faster than putting a piece of your life out to the public. And then meeting said public. I wouldn't change it for the world, because it is how I developed my Bricks Don't Float theory.

Bricks don't float, so they impede the flow. Bricks are roadblocks. Bricks stand in the way of you and you seeing somebody for who they really are. Bricks are your pre-conceived notions of a thing. Bricks are what you bring to the wall. They aren't what the wall brings. Maybe the wall wants to be made of stones. Or clay. Or maybe the damn wall wants to be a boat.

I used to meet people and learn about them and then unconsciously fill in the places where I didn't know stuff about them. I would bring my own perceptions to their table. For example, after being married for a while I would just assume to know what my ex-husband wanted for dinner or what kind of movies he'd prefer or whatever -- such mundane things -- but I believe this kind of familiarity and assumption prevents people from really seeing each other with fresh eyes. Letting each other grow, change and evolve. It's like that one uncle in your family who knew you at age 13 and to him you are still the gangly, messy chatterbox 13-year-old and he can't move past his perception of you even though you are now the CEO of your own corporation.

[Grandma did this to me a few months back. I was washing dishes in her kitchen and she said, "I have never seen one person change so much in my life!" and I said, "Who, Grandma?" Because, you know, this could be some juicy gossip! I wanted to hear who had changed!

And she said, "You! You used to be so messy and now every time you are over here you're washing dishes or scrubbing something. I have never seen anyone change so much and become so particular." I sighed. "Grandma, I was thirteen! I had a messy room when I was thirteen years old!" But she was already off in another room. Anyway.]

The truth is, it's hard to look at someone who is close to you, familiar to you, with new eyes every day and let them be .. whoever they want to be on that day. We put expectations on people. We bring our own life experience and social conditioning to their picture. I have done it. Used to do it daily. Without ever examining my thoughts, I just made assumptions about folks. Assumed I could trust someone even though maybe they can't keep secrets. Assumed someone was a peaceful, centered person when inside they were falling apart at the seams. Assumed someone liked green beans, or whatever. It was me projecting my stuff on them.

I think it's normal and everyone does it.

Having said that, it's odd to start letting go of it. It's been the strangest sensation for me. I had to start letting go of my expectations for others because I saw how many people had ideas of me that were not just inaccurate, they were downright polar opposite. Last year I was being interviewed by a reporter who reads this website. "I feel like I know everything about you," she said. "So I have nothing to really ask you!" and we laughed. I thought that was the funniest thing. I said, "That is just so odd to me! Because I don't talk about 99% of what goes on in my life."

Now this peaked her interest.

"Like what?" she asked. Microphone at the ready. Hey, this might be some juicy gossip!

"Well, you say you've read every paragraph here and the book. But can you tell me who I favor in the election? Or what sort of church I attend? Or do I attend church? Do I think as a Christian, a Hindu or a Pantheist? None of the above? All the above? What the hell is a Pantheist? Do I have a boyfriend? Am I engaged? Am I planning a wedding? Do I take any classes at night? Am I planning to move to another city? What is the title of my next book?" Then I paused. "No really, if you do have any book title ideas... I am wide open..."

I am thrilled to my toes that I can tell a story well enough that it makes a total stranger feel personally connected to me. That is the one thing I always wanted to do and even if no one read another word I'd still be spinning my wacko theories and boring my friends with stories. And I have been learning that even if the assumptions a total stranger makes about me are false, that's okay. It's not my job to always defend myself or set the record straight, or share every detail, or tell all my juicy gossip. I never expected to be someone who lived any part of her life publicly and now I am, a little bit. So I have had my good days and my challenging days, and the good days far outnumber them. But if I hadn't been challenged in this way I'm not sure I would have arrived where I am in my own personal life so quickly. You figure out who you are real quicklike if a hundred people are trying to tell you who they think you are! I had no idea I would end up being grateful for anyone being so off the plot.

Since I want people to let me be whatever I pick on that day, I have to do that for them. That is kind of the way it goes. I can't be all bound up on my high, high horse atop my big large horse-holding soapbox expecting people to let me be. (Also, I loved that soapbox and that horse. I truly did. It is hard to say goodbye.) So I am learning to just let go of my assumptions and allow my friends and my family to be who they are. Allow the surprise. Stop being so full of assumptions. Stop assuming I can size folks up. Stop assuming people believe the same things they did last week, or that if they have changed their opinions that makes them weak. Who cares! It's their opinion to change!

You know how I know this? The hard way. I was terrified to tell anyone I was getting a divorce and I kept it hidden for months from some people. Three guesses why. I didn't want anyone telling me, "I told you so." I was terrified of it. Terrified to give people the smug satisfaction of sitting in judgment of me at my time of failure. WELL GUESS WHO IS DIVORCED NOW. ME. WANT TO READ THE BOOK?

It allows me to be my own free self, and I get to practice it everyday (and hopefully I'll get better at it, because you know I still often see someone wearing something and have a word or two of judgy about it. You know I do). (Rome, not built in one day.)

- - -

(see, it kind of tied in.) (wine.)

Can you ever truly know another person?

Because I don't think you can. I think it is impossible to really ever know someone else all the way through, and amen for that. It sure makes life more surprising. The upside is all selfish, of course. Letting go of my need to have people fit my expectations has given me the chance to stop living up to anyone else's picture for me. So Kat gets to stay home and love it, I get to avoid sushi and find cheap airfares to wherever, and my friends who want to take cruises can go off to their watery graves. Bon voyage!

We all get to be different and unique and surprise the pants off each other.

If I even am wearing pants. I am just saying is all. You never really know!

- - - -

p.s. If this isn't the selfhelpiest pile of column I have ever written, then I am not a wine drinker. Lord have mercy on my everlovin' advice giving soul.

Posted by laurie at February 22, 2008 11:19 AM