Damned If We Do

“He was a dreamer, a thinker, a speculative philosopher… or, as his wife would have it, an idiot.”
– Douglas Adams

It’s Just One’s Perspective, After All

It’s strange, even unfair. If she needs what he can’t give her, he’s an idiot. If he has what she needs, he’s brilliant. And between those two perceptions, he hasn’t changed… at all! He is what he is. He is who he is. He’s probably not going to change. Did she not know that going in?? Nope. She was sure she could change him, with time.

I’m of the opinion (perhaps because I’m a guy) that women are far more capable of disguising their real being from men, than the other way around. My reasoning is this… on average, we men are WAY simpler and more straightforward than most women. Most women instantly see right through us, partly because we’re transparent, more so to women than to other men. And partly because we don’t care anyway… we usually have a fairly simple agenda that we’re focused on, unless we’re in a bar or at a party, trying to impress that hottie we just met. And even then, we’re painfully transparent and simple. I have women friends who are happy to verify this. They usually smile and nod, sometimes even saying things like, “Oh yes. And that’s not half of it…” or “Heh heh. That’s just the tip of that iceberg…”

My women friends tell me they’ve learned to be deceptive and more perceptive over the centuries, as a way of overcoming or working around the male power structure. I can tell you from experience that they’re damn good at it. I’d guess that most of the time our women are manipulating us in ways we’re not even aware of. And the scary thing there is (to me, anyway) that the world clicks along fairly well this way. We get to watch our sports with a beer, and work on our cars… and then we do a host of mindless duties, having no clue that we were quietly manipulated to do it.

Sadly, it’s just like our elders used to tell us when we were young and so much more impressionable… “Get to know her better first, don’t be in such a hurry.” Good advice, of course, but like nearly all youth, we discounted it and went ahead on our instincts, usually making myriad mistakes along the way. I submit, however, that virtually none of that mattered in the long run, for it often takes years of sharing real life and its ongoing challenges with another. Only then does the “real person” emerge, often to the detriment of the relationship.

It would seem that there’s not really very much we can do about that. When we find a mate who turns out to be pretty much who they appeared to be at the beginning, we should thank our lucky stars, for there appears to be far less than a 50 – 50 chance of that happening. So often we get attracted to / fooled by another’s initially good characteristics, only to discover, after a time, that those attractive traits were only the nice new paint job hiding a damaged vehicle underneath.

Naturally, anyone over 40 should be aware of all this. But, like so many things in history, we are doomed to repeat this process of having to eliminate those who turned out to be “not who we thought they were.” Part of that is our fault, of course… we get enamored with certain aspects of another’s personality, and simply don’t see or recognize the whole person. That’s on us. It’s not realistic to expect the other person to sit down with us and say things like, “Look, there’s a lot about me that you don’t know. Here are my weaknesses and here are my hot buttons and here is a list of reasons why I’ve dumped some friends and lovers… nope. Probably not going to get that conversation. I mean, would you / could you delve deeply into your real, inner being for the potential benefit of a new relationship??

Eh, probably not. I doubt that many of us even know ourselves that well in the first place. We think we do, sure… but as introspective as I try to be, I’d have to think long and hard about what deep (and perhaps dark) traits I hold inside that others I care about might need to know. For one thing, it’s Psychotherapy 101 to realize and admit to ourselves our weaknesses and faults. Playing off our natural strengths in daily life and finding it to be the most successful way to get through this life, we tend to work overtime on refining our strengths and ignoring (or refusing to acknowledge) our weaknesses. I often dodge some of my known weaknesses by telling myself I’m working on them, and if they go away at some point, then why share them with anyone, needlessly tainting their stellar perception of me?

Turns out, however, that we often end up perceiving ourselves as our friends and loved ones perceive us – which is almost never the whole picture. If it feels right, many of us end up becoming what others perceive us to be, especially if it’s the more pleasant, easier path to pursue. In that case it becomes almost impossible to consistently be who we really are. I know this, having felt the easy pull (and reward) for being who I was perceived to be.

Most strong personalities resist this, of course, as they should. I know people (almost all of whom I like and admire) who are true to themselves and don’t give a damn about what others think or say. In most of those cases they seem to know themselves intuitively and don’t even have to think about it. I’m seriously jealous of those few when I’m with them, for it’s something I’ve worked toward all my life and never quite got the handle on. That’s another story.

The deal is, it’s easy to criticize a dreamer and a thinker if we need her to be strong and practical. In our country, being a dreamer & thinker can be a sign of weakness among the macho set. Too bad, because we thinkers and dreamers end up doing as much good for the tangible world as the rest of them. I grew up in Montana and had a big, strong, quietly macho dad. From that, I’ve spent a good portion of my life struggling between being “a man’s man” and being a jazz musician, which I really am. The big city made it very easy and comfortable to be artistic, to be a musician.

Montana, on the other hand, made it uncomfortable to be a musician from time to time, believing that Montana is for “real men.” Yawn. All the ships at sea know Montana is a tougher place to live, that sooner or later all who live there are challenged by the elements to one degree or another. I suppose I’m oversensitive to that element, feeling that I’ve done my time in survival mode in Montana to the tune of 18 years growing up there, and eight more years after my retirement. I won’t bore you with my tales of working in two gold mines there, two summers with the Forest Service, cutting wood out in the high timber, riding snowmobiles with my pals in the back country, riding horses, fishing and kayaking the remote lakes of SW Montana… no, I won’t bore you with those. Wait, I probably already have.

My B is still amused when I try to access my “mountain man” persona. She knows only too well who and what I really am. And she’s right, of course. Don’t know exactly when I finally realized that we can only be, ultimately, who we really are, and that daily life will force it out of us sooner or later. In my case, it happened fairly recently. But what the hell… it happened, didn’t it? And if I am, after all, a dreamer, a thinker and an idiot, I’m a happy idiot. And in the end, that’s all that really matters.

Steve Hulse

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