Her mocking smile says it all
As she records the rise and fall
Of every man who's been here
But the only one here now is me
I'm fighting things I cannot see
I think it's called my destiny
That I am changing"--Suzanne Vega
How much does one change over time? I think that the best gauge in some ways is how one behaves in relationships. So many changes in my life recently seem to be in the bifocal and lessened memory skills categories--changes that make me think about more capable days in the past. But I think back this morning on relationships and friendships past, and perhaps I have changed after all.
I remember being the sort of guy whose normal phrase was "I'm sorry". I don't mean that I transgressed so often that I ended up having to apologize. I mean that I was constantly vigilant, to ensure that I expressed empathy or concern as to any mild friction, whether I caused the friction, or just the person I was with was talking about a bad day.
I think that anytime one absorbs a statement like "I'm sorry" into one's autonomous system, then a whole dynamic of the relationship becomes something like 'he breathes, she breathes, he says 'I'm sorry'. I know in this way I've changed as the years go on. I think it's a combination of enhanced self-confidence, but also perhap a diminishing of that incredibly intense solicitude that my younger self might have had.
I think that in relationships, so much of what seems to be "the issues" in the relationship are merely the individual issues of the people involved, refracted through the prism of the relationship. I think I am by nature a 'nurturing' person, but when I was younger, perhaps this meant that
I would stay too long in relationships in which people clung to me as a port in a storm, to be sailed away from when the weather improved. I think, too, that my own sense of self-denigration made me less assertive in relationships, perhaps because I was less convinced that I was entitled to kind treatment than the people from whom I perhaps should have sought it.
So many things change as one grows older when it comes to how one relates to people. So many of the rough edges of self-doubt wear down--I've never found that any magical change converts one to a suave 60s movie hero type of confidence. Instead, one might retain one's own bundle of neuroses, but they are polished, like fine silver, into something quite presentable.
Maybe that's what one learns that one did not know at 17. At 17, one knows only the rough, raw power line edge of fitting one's own idiosyncracies among those around one. But the erosion of age softens the wire burn feeling this involves.
Now I'm much less worried about whether people like me then I was then, and much more certain about what I want from life.
But I do miss my more starry-eyed idealism from that time, and my sense that through intense loyalty, anything could happen. I believed in one relationship that if I were just "there" for someone, it would solve a myriad of shortcomings in the relationship. You know, "I'll just be there for her, and she'll *see* that I'm the one she should spend her life with". I think that with hindsight if the particular "she" in question had indeed elected to suspend her reservations about our relationship, then "she" might well have had a workable life. But I did not realize then that one should not hope that a woman will "settle" for one for want of anything better to do. I know that when offered the chance to "settle" myself for someone entirely amiable and kind, but with whom I did not feel the right synchrony, I declined to do so. Perhaps this time,which was painful at the time, taught me a great deal.
I think it's tempting to look back at past failed relationships with longing and regret. But in some ways, it's just a longing for lost youth, and a longing for the ability to live out one's choices using today's more mature insights.
Among other things, knowing that I would be less shy about what I want and more bold about seeking it intrigues me, because when I was 17 I was not particularly assertive and anything but bold.
But I suspect that part of the reason why at 43 I am no longer the way I was at 17 is that I lived the intervening years, and got a post-graduate degree from the University of Experience. I suppose, though, that there is no harm in sometimes wishing I could matriculate again.