You can always tell when you’ve thrown a wrench into someone’s plans.
This morning I was reminded of someone who came to visit a few years ago. She pretty obviously had a bit of a thing for Brian (my partner); they had met elsewhere and she was coming to stay for a few days. On her first arrival it was clear she was not warm to me, and over the course of the next few days her body language (and the fact she would not meet my eye when I spoke) belied a dislike, or at the very least, a discomfort around me. She was polite enough, but reserved when I could see she wasn’t that way with other people. It was odd, and at first I reviewed our interactions to try to identify what it was I had said or done to provoke this reaction. I can be a bit abrasive, forward, difficult – and I know this – but nothing I had said or done was anything but polite conversation. I couldn’t track exactly what was going on until it dawned on me that she had come a very long way to visit Brian after only knowing him for a few days in some other context. Call me naiive, but I hadn’t thought anything about that because I believe that we can have strong/close friendships with people whose gender we are attracted to. One of my best friends for the last twenty years is my pal Aaron who lives in New York. We regularly fly long distances to visit one another and there is no sexual subtext at all.
But in this case, I came to realize that the problem with me was nothing I had done, but the fact I had become real. As in, no longer the theoretical “wife”, but a real other human occupying a central role in the life my partner and I have created together.
To be clear, I do not believe she came here with the intention of breaking up our home or anything like that, but I do think a part of her imagined that perhaps I was on my way out, or maybe that we had a more flexible marriage. We all do the thing where we are interested in something and so we imagine it to be what we want, and we aren’t even conscious that have created a fiction until it is laid out for what it is. And there I was, laying it out for what it was.
There was no drama in the visit, the issue of my existence never came to a head and never created any particular problem. Brian wasn’t even sure that my read on the situation was the correct one (but the fact she never really contacted him again after the visit speaks volumes). But it sits with me as one of those moments, as in childhood, where you’re in trouble but you don’t really know why because no one makes their intentions or aggravations explicit.
I’ve been feeling this frequently over the last several weeks, though unlike this interaction from years ago, I know it’s related to some underlying anxiety that has been eating at me all summer. My senses are off, and I feel like I’m always saying or doing the wrong thing. Deep down, I’m sure it’s not the case, but that’s the problem with anxiety (and depression, for what it’s worth) – it occludes the truth with its very presence, making it hard to read the room. Perhaps this episode has come to mind because it was a trigger for social anxiety, and I’m feeling that same kind of social anxiety now, the kind where I only want to be around my safe people. Or perhaps my anxiety is related to the pandemic and general climate-change disturbance and that is really the wrench in everyone’s plans! Or maybe it’s that my meditation practice has been off-kilter for most of the summer (that’s very likely the culprit now that I think about it).
But for what it’s worth, every visitor leaves in the end, no matter what intentions (conscious or otherwise) they arrived with. Anxiety, people, daily practice, the conditions of our survival – they all come and go. A wind in the trees, a wave on the shore. We ride these moments out until our perspective changes them, allows us to see what was really happening all along.