So soon after claiming that I wasn’t ready to write my own posts, here I am, writing my very first post. I don’t want this post to set the tone for this blog, as it’s gonna a bit gloom-n-doom (read: a reflection of the state of our relationship). But hey, I started this with the hope that writing and reading may lighten the mood, and I guess I won’t know until I’ve given it a shot.
My partner, L, has been engaging in some pretty self-destructive behaviour recently, both psychologically and physically. I can’t reveal the details over the internet – despite my care to remain anonymous – without betraying the trust that ultimately holds us together, but let me just say that it extremely painful to watch somebody you love hurt themselves REPEATEDLY in a way that undermines all their chances of achieving the things they have been working hard for; and thus in a way that defies all rational thinking.
Which brings me to my point: it’s so hard for me to make sense of his behaviour, and because of this my responses to him have been resentful, aggressive, critical, harsh…i.e. all the things that just fuel addictive, self-destructive behaviour even more.
And the more we become tangled in this the more I fear that it’s due to incommensurable differences in not only the way we think and view the world (‘the way we act in the world’), but our very experience of the world (‘the way the world has acted upon us’) – if I can be so naive as to draw this dialectic in the first place. I’m fumbling here to articulate something that goes beyond ‘culture’ (our socialisation, our value and belief systems, our sense of personhood and family obligations) to what I’m calling, for total lack of imagination and a better word, ‘class’. I don’t mean ‘class’ in the economic/Marxist sense…I just mean that L and I come from such different ‘status’ backgrounds. Another way of saying this is that I’ve had, relatively, a much more privileged life than him – and this is linked very closely to race.
What has been a struggle for him has not been a struggle for me. Not to say I have no way of understanding where he’s coming from. My parents moved to Australia at a time when there were very few migrants here from their home country. Life always seems normal when you’re young, but in retrospect I realise how much they sacrificed for us kids by staying in Australia, because they did, and still do, face isolation and a degree of structural racism that has often placed the family under strain (again, through certain types of self-destructive behaviour, though not the same extent as L). Unlike L however, who moved here by himself over 10 years ago from a country that still has no significant migrant presence, my parents bore the brunt of the racism for me. I am very fortunate to have grown up in an Australia where people from my background aren’t generally stigmatised or looked upon as some sort of exotic specimen (creepy old men might be an exception to this…but they are in every country and prey on anyone!). Unlike L, I have not: survived a civil war (he won’t talk about his personal experiences in this time), been detained without charge, been harassed by police and bouncers on a regular basis, faced discrimination in the workplace…you get the gist. So where he sees social barriers or a problem that seems ‘intractable’, I see a problem that is, yeah, undeniably a problem, but not something to despair about to the point of shooting yourself in the foot.
Cos where’s the logic in that right?
But unfortunately people’s responses to pain aren’t always logical and that’s the rub – I try to understand what he’s going through at the ‘logical’ level, but despite this understanding, when I’m upset and see him doing something I think is S-T-U-P-I-D any ‘rational empathy’ flies out the window and bubble forth all my (irrational) resentful emotions, chastising him for being unable to cope with a type of pain I can try to understand, but never actually FEEL. And because I can’t feel that pain, emotionally if not logically, I expect him to respond the same way I would, based on how I’ve experienced the world – that is, just get on with it and deal with it. It’s not that hard.
[Now let me shift the topic slightly to deflect any more self-criticism…]
On another level, I’m increasingly beginning to feel like our differences also affect the type of lives we imagine living, which makes me feel insecure about our future together. For instance, I have a passionate interest in travel and particularly foreign cultures; an interest which is largely channelled through what L calls an “academic/intellectual” curiosity because I studied anthropology and would absolutely LOVE to pursue these studies further. For L this curiosity is, at best, bourgeois (read: spoilt western arts student with time to ponder on exotic others) and at worst, outright colonial (read: spoilt western arts student with time, money and power to subject underprivileged ‘others’ to exoticising study). He has even refused to go on a mini-holiday I suggested because, he explained (half) jokingly, he suspected me of only wanting to go to “take photos with Aboriginal kids and post them on Facebook” [!!]. Where I saw a fun excursion doing and seeing something different (cos frankly, where we live, there’s not much to do), he saw insidious and suspect motives.
It’s funny, L and I have been together for over 3 years and only now am I starting to realise just how different we are. Not to say that the only thing holding us together this whole time has been the false impression, on my part, that we’re the ‘same’, but I can’t help feeling like the terms of our relationship are shifting and I don’t really know how to handle it…
Sorry for the long-winded post. I would appreciate any comments about how you see differences between you and your partner – are they cultural differences? Something else? Are they intractable? Or do you see difference as something that enriches your relationship?