Yesterday, I wrote a blog post titled “Everything Is Real.”
That isn’t necessarily true.
It’s true enough, within the context I was describing — the Hanon exercise is just as real (and should be given just as much focus and attention) as the Mozart sonata, and so on.
But there’s one huge exception, and I didn’t fully understand it until this past year:
The only thing that is real between two people is what they create together.
I want to tell you the story of how I learned this, but it’s not fully mine to tell. Instead, I’ll tell you about all of the times I didn’t understand this — all of the relationships where I was sure my reality (“I love you! We’re a great team! Let’s figure out all of the ways in which this can work!”) would triumph over the other person’s reality (“I’m not sure this can work, I’m not sure I want to move in with you, I’m not sure I’m fully happy in this relationship.”).
Notice how my reality, hidden even from my parentheticals, also included “I’m not sure I’m fully happy in this relationship.” Because if the truth of what we were creating between us had been we both feel loved, happy, and secure, I wouldn’t have been pushing so hard for my alternate reality to prevail.
Coincidentally, Captain Awkward wrote about this exact same concept this morning:
Don’t plan your life around anybody who isn’t choosing you. “I don’t think I’ll ever fall in love again” and “I’m getting used to the idea” don’t spell “You are the love of my life, let’s fucking do this.” Nor does “If we can get through this, we can get through anything.” HE HAS TO SAY THE WORDS. Do not build a habit of guessing them. Han isn’t the love of your life until or unless he asks you if he can be so and tells you that you are his, at which time you can see how you feel about that.
But this isn’t just about the big, DO WE REALLY LOVE EACH OTHER kinds of questions.
It’s also about the everyday, how-we-live-our-lives stuff that is created between two people who do love each other, and who do feel happy (most of the time) and secure (nearly all of the time, which is the more important factor).
The moment when one of you says “Boy-oh-boy, Wii Bowling is our favorite thing, I’m so glad we love playing Wii Bowling so much” (to use an example that is both outsized and outdated) and the other person says “Actually, I don’t like Wii Bowling all that much, I like playing it with you because I like spending time together, but I don’t really want to say it’s our favorite thing because that feels like a lie. What would it look like if we found something we both loved, instead?”
This doesn’t just apply to romantic relationships, of course. If a child believes that they have been treated unfairly and a parent believes that they have treated their child fairly, what is real is neither the fairness nor the unfairness — it’s the conflict between them.
It doesn’t just apply to dyads, either. If a group of people — well, I’m going to follow our president’s example and quote St. Augustine on this one:
If one should say, ‘a people is the association of a multitude of rational beings united by a common agreement on the objects of their love,’ then it follows that to observe the character of a people we must examine the objects of its love.
The common agreement is what matters.
Even if the only thing the people involved can agree on is that they disagree.
“But how is this kind of reality created?” L asked me, when I was talking through this post with him. Then he answered himself: “This is what Hofstadter’s writing about in Gödel, Escher, Bach, isn’t it.”
Not to spoil an 800-page philosophical/mathematical text that most people don’t actually finish reading, but GEB, at its core, is about how systems acquire meaning. How we agreed that numbers were, and that language was — and if you take it back far enough (and Hofstadter does), how our consciousness blinked at itself and asked “hey, are you thinking what we’re thinking?”
A bunch of brain cells, for lack of a better metaphor, agreed that what they were creating between them would be called an I.
(Even though we only have the word I because later on, a bunch of Is agreed that I would be the phoneme we all used to refer to ourselves.)
(My goodness, this gets complicated.)
And, at some point, L and I agreed that what we were creating between us would be called love and home.
And if only one of us had thought that our relationship felt like love or our house felt like home, it wouldn’t have been real.
And both of us think that finding this shared meaning is the luckiest thing that ever happened to us. ❤️