Perception as reality?

I have been incredibly productive this weekend.  I had two group meetings, completed one project, did my homework for tomorrow, wrote a paper due on Tuesday, saw the new Harry Potter movie, did some reading for fun – Gavin de Becker’s Gift of Fear (highly recommend it), did laundry, cleaned my room, and slept in this morning.  It was a good balance of work and play, and somewhere in the three days, I learned two things: 1) I can balance work and play and 2) the schoolwork I needed (and need) to do that seemed so ominous and challenging ended up being relatively easy.  There’s some popular metaphor for this, but the only thing I can think of right now (because I admit that my brain is a bit fried) is that it was like viewing a gigantic shadow on the wall and then, when I turned a corner, I saw that what had created the shadow was only about three inches tall.  Or, since I can relate just about everything to Buffy episodes, like that one Halloween episode where Buffy and co. got stuck in this house when they were at a costume party and they were all confronted by their fears because of some demon that somebody summoned, and when the demon actually materialized, it was a bunch of noise and floor shaking but it was literally about 2 inches tall.  Giles realized that the picture in the book was actually drawn to scale, and Buffy stomped on it and killed it.  The end.  Now, this is certainly not to say that some obstacles might actually be as large as they seem when I get close to them, but even then, that doesn’t mean they cannot be overcome.  All of this led me to start wondering about perception.

Perception is an odd sort of thing.  A couple weeks ago, I decided I needed to do something concrete in an effort to break the pattern of poor choices I have a history of making when it comes to romantic relationships and the men with whom I choose to involve myself.  I started a list of the positive and negative qualities of three men that have either had a significant impact or were recent and therefore more pertinent to discuss.  We’ll call them 1) Historical Ex, 2) Middle Ex, and 3) Recent Ex (I could be more creative with their names, yes, but I’m maintaining this detachment because it’s good for me).  Historical Ex was an off and on thing that lasted about 5 yrs, and was extremely unhealthy.  He was closer to me than anyone has ever been, and, consequently, hurt me more than anyone ever has or ever will.  I extricated Historical Ex from my life successfully after a few attempts back in 2005.  Middle Ex was something of an anomaly in that the sole problem stemmed from a rather significant misunderstanding.  Middle Ex was also a very brief matter that transpired in October of 2006.  Recent Ex is discussed in the second post on this blog.  Recent Ex and I were together for 2 months, but you wouldn’t know that to read that post.  More on that later.

In comparing the positive and negative traits of these three men, I noticed frightening similarities and was disheartened when I saw the amount that Historic Ex and Recent Ex had in common.  Had I learned nothing in the span of the 2 years that divided them?  What happened?   I was somewhat encouraged, though, to determine that Recent Ex had fewer negative traits and was lacking in the seriously harmful negative traits that Historic Ex possessed.  I can think of a few reasons right now as to why I ignored certain signals or just plain didn’t see them.  I hadn’t been involved with anyone romantically and significantly for almost two years, excluding the interlude with Middle Ex that was very short-lived and a few rather awful first dates thanks to eharmony.  There was a large part of me that wondered at the time if I would ever find happiness in the face of a romantic relationship.  Bluntly put, I was overeager.  I was walking into a situation in which I would need all my faculties and I was blindfolded and drunk with loneliness.  My perception as to what reality was, subsequently, was perhaps a bit skewed.  This is not to say that Recent Ex lacked qualities for which I was looking.  He had some of the most important ones. Unfortunately, he also had some of the ones I desperately need to avoid: immaturity, poor communication skills, and emotional unavailability (I sure can pick ’em, no?).  Recent Ex and I were (and I’m sure continue to be) on very different developmental levels.  I’m not saying where I am is better – there is no nature of value in developmental levels unless one adds context.  And in this context, it just would have been better if our levels were complementary or the same.

After the extreme emotionality dissolved when Recent Ex and I broke up, my perception altered drastically.  I began asking myself how well I really knew Recent Ex.  Was I just projecting on to him what I wanted to see?  Or did he merely change the face of who he showed me he was at some point during the 2 months we were together and I never realized it?  I honestly don’t know.  To a degree, I don’t think that part is important.  More importantly I think is stopping myself from jumping in to something without really knowing what it is.  Part of my pattern of behavior is building things up in my head and creating meaning where there isn’t any – altering my perception (dangerously) from the very beginning.

In The Gift of Fear, de Becker addresses the notion of constantly reminding one’s self of context.  While the context he discusses involves being addressed by a stranger and reminding one’s self no matter how friendly or charming this stranger  is – he is still just that, I think the idea applies and serves as a tool for keeping myself in the present.  Most will agree to not being able to understand or foresee the future as a whole.  As for the past, I, personally, don’t agree with the concept of hindsight being 20/20.  20/20, to me, implies perfect clarity and an absence of context, which is not possible to achieve.  Having lived the past experience, we are changed by it, whether positively, neutrally, or negatively.  Either way, we do not see it on some pristine, white background.  The present in which we find ourselves each moment seems the only of the three that stands the chance of being accurately perceived for what it truly is.

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