[6 minute read]
I’m struck by an obviously common core in the profiles of mid-lifers on dating apps:
“I’m an honest, fun-loving, kind, positive person who knows what I want, and values honesty and the Golden Rule… No drama please!”
Selection menus surely underlie some of its recurrence, but much appears in sections of free-form self-descriptions, as if there’s a common media source for the expressions. There’s certainly a core of wounds suffered by many mid-lifers, but that seems insufficient to account for the common language used.
Certainly, some persons must have unconscious affinities for drama. I’m not sure anyone gravitates toward dishonesty, but some are unconsciously dishonest with themselves. So I’m very intrigued by how self-deception makes it easier on one’s conscience to be dishonest to others.
Explicitly articulating desire for honesty and aversion to drama strongly suggests you have been wounded by these. I’m very interested to hear what you have learned/ are learning about your own self by looking back on your being in dishonest/ dramatic relationship(s)—besides that you value honesty and dislike drama:)
It’s hard for me to imagine even the most theoretically dreadful person declaring that they hate fun and honesty, and like drama and boredom.
I commonly see sentiments like these coupled to expressions about desire for a partner who “has their shit together,” and knows what they want. I haven’t seen many profiles that say, “I don’t know what I want in life yet.” It again seems to me as if these authors were challenged by a common media source with the question, “What do you want in life?”
In honest exchanges, I’ve heard expressions like, “I’m not sure what I want, but I’m sure what I do not want.” Meaning, another malevolent partner that causes me pain. Explicitly declaring that you know what you want is no evidence that you do. So adding generalized value statements may be a way of softening self-deception? You know it’s critical to answer that question, but don’t know how, so cannot let it linger.
So you declare that you are fun-loving, non-dramatic, honest, compassionate, kind, etc. Those, to me, reflect what EVERYONE wants, quite likely the same wants as persons who have wounded (/may wound) you. You may very well know your self deeply, but these expressions are not evidence of that. If you are honest with your own self, you must know that every relationship inevitably encounters difficulties because a partner is no less complex than you are.
The power of positive thinking is illusory if it rests atop ignorance and/or denial of the unconscious self. You don’t know what you don’t know. Yes, I do think positive thinking (like an attitude of gratitude) is a habit that helps us tend more toward awareness of the unconscious. But, when not tempered with moderation, positive thinking—like all things immoderate—is not praiseworthy.
When positive thoughts become an end unto themselves, you have developed an unconscious habit, and denial and avoidance are irresistible temptations to serve that habit addictively.
A good has become an idol.
If you think you are immune to those temptations, you are unwilling to confess to yourself your own imperfection, which leaves no choice but to project blame elsewhere. That may not be the same as the coping defenses we developed in childhood and adolescence. But blame projection is indeed a defense mechanism—typically obvious to everyone except the blamer.
You cannot actively live in any relationship without healthy awareness of your imperfections, so that when they arise—as they inevitably do—authentically humble contrition fertilizes ground for repeated forgiveness, and, in turn, cultivates your own forgiving heart.
No solitary rule for living can be a good rule for living. You are seeking clean simplicity in a messy world of the imperfect, which includes you. The Golden Rule is an extremely difficult ideal which, you must confess, very few mortals ever achieve well. If you isolate its Christian formulation from the rest of its Christian context, it is a very, very dangerous and bad rule, because it is impossible. Let’s examine it in a simple example by contrast to another unconditional exhortation of the same gospels: Love your enemy.
Many of us think we follow the Golden Rule often and well. I contend that’s rubbish. The first word in the rule is the imperative, “Do…” It connotes action, and let’s admit we most readily consider action as physical and external. We *do* acts of kindness. Often perhaps, even toward our enemies. So let’s re-state a prior thesis: The power of kind/loving acts is illusory if it rests atop ignorance and/or denial of the unconscious.
Acting lovingly, and loving acts… Are they the same as loving? Most of us know they are not, as much as we wish they were. Acts of kindness have the same pitfalls as positive thinking. They can become addictions, unconscious habits, and—except for the benefits to the beneficiary—those acts tempt the actor to believe that acting lovingly is synonymous with loving.
Loving is not an exterior, physical action. What, then, is it that we are exhorted to do to our enemies? What is it that we should “Do unto others…”? What is it that we should want “…done unto us”?
We know that answer when we know our own selves. Enumerating our imperfections, faults, flaws, etc. is not enough. Even confessing in a generalized way that we are imperfect is not enough. How can we be perpetually loving if we are not perpetually vigilant of the potential for our failure to love? You will inevitably have an ill thought toward someone. That is part and parcel of your imperfection. You are mortal.
When you hurt someone in your thoughts, if you recognize your ill wishes, what is it then that you want? It is the same thing you want when you hurt someone by your exterior physical acts. You cannot undo the thought any more than you can undo such an action. You want forgiveness. Every great wisdom tradition advises that you seek it. It is not hard for us to appreciate the benefit of apology to the recipient. When we get hurt, we feel better when an apologizer acknowledges our pain. But…
What is the benefit to the apologizer? That is not a question to be trifled with. It is a profound question. If it were not, it would not be a universal formula in every wisdom tradition of humanity’s history. Societies grapple very poorly with this profundity in their penal justice codes. Here is that notion expressed in art—the literary and cinematic art masterpiece of the Shawshank Redemption:
The 36-second video of the scene is here. And this is the transcript (1-minute read):
[parole board]: Ellis Boyd Redding, your files say you’ve served 40 years of a life sentence. Do you feel you’ve been rehabilitated?
[Red]: Rehabilitated? Well, now let me see. You know, I don’t have any idea what that means.
[parole board]: Well, it means that you’re ready to rejoin society…
[Red]: I know what you think it means, sonny. To me it’s just a made up word. A politician’s word, so young fellas like yourself can wear a suit and a tie, and have a job. What do you really want to know? Am I sorry for what I did?
[parole board]: Well, are you?
[Red]: There’s not a day goes by I don’t feel regret. Not because I’m in here, or because you think I should. I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try and talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone and this old man is all that’s left. I got to live with that. Rehabilitated? It’s just a bullshit word. So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don’t give a shit.
[Red is then granted parole.]
Next: Who hurts more: Your partner or you? (HONESTY part 2 of 5)
Index of HONESTY, a 5-part series