So profoundly Other.

mom-dad wedding 2

This is my sister Clare holding a picture of our parents on their wedding day.

When I was growing up, my parents’ social lives revolved within a small bubble of Lebanon Valley College where my Dad taught religion. Their friends were faculty couples. I observed them and observed my Dad observing them. Once he privately remarked how uncomfortable it made him to watch them snipe at each other at social functions, a discomfort I absorbed. But now that I’m older, I see a more subtle form of it: members of a couple anticipating each other’s contribution to the conversation, finishing it for them, cutting each other off, policing each other. It’s a form of ownership: the assumption that they know each other. The assumption that they can. 

I’m not sure what intimacy is. But whatever it is, I don’t believe it’s a function of time. My Dad says that the longer he was married to Mom, the more he realized how profoundly Other she was. That as much as he loved her, he could not possibly know her—why she liked the things she liked, or did the things she did, or said the things she said. I guess that may seem like a desolate concept, but to me, it feels liberating. We don’t have to know each other! We just get to let each other be.

Recently an actor friend and I had an intense conversation about Romeo and Juliet. He’d first read it in ninth grade, like I had, and the teacher had posed the same question: “Was it really Love?” And in both cases, the whole jaded classroom of fourteen-year-olds had said no, no, not possible. They’d only known each other for a week. They were too young. It was just a crush.

But we both thought it was real love. I still do.

What are love and intimacy a function of, then, if not time? Sometimes I think it’s a function of presence. Romeo and Juliet experienced radical present-ness, and just didn’t live long enough to keep practicing it. Lately I keep being reminded of how hard it is to be present to a person, in front of me, changing in time and space and fundamentally unknowable, instead of merely reacting to the construct of them I have in my head.

But somehow, that practice seems like the key to everything else.

8 Comments on “So profoundly Other.”

  1. sam wilen says:

    I love your blog.

    Just wanted to say that.

  2. Andrea says:

    I have a different perspective on this. Those moments you describe – finishing each other’s sentences – never feels oppressive to me. On the contrary, when my husband anticipates what I am about to say, and he fills in a part of my story, I feel elated, relieved, and truly loved. You see, it’s my husband way of saying, “When you told me this story and you thought I wasn’t paying attention, I really was. I was listening. I care.” It’s not a way of policing my thoughts, but of demonstrating his investment in understanding me, in knowing my history. As an introvert, a lonely child, and a member of a large family full of people who never tried or seemed interested in trying to understand the essence of who I was/am (they still aren’t very interested), I love those moments.

    I don’t necessarily think that intimacy and love are a function of time. As Marianne Dashwood says, “Seven years would be insufficient to make some people acquainted with each other, and seven days are more than enough for others.” However, I do think that often love and intimacy go hand-in-hand with time. In my opinion, the key to intimacy is vulnerability. In order to be truly intimate with another human being, you have to be willing to be vulnerable with them. You have to be open and present with them. I can’t be vulnerable with someone unless I am extremely comfortable with them. For me, this takes time.

    I’ve been married almost six years, and I feel more intimate with my husband than ever. I feel like he knows me – the core of me. That doesn’t feel limiting or restrictive. That doesn’t feel presumptuous. I know that I can still do things that are “out of character” and not feel judged or questioned. It feels liberating. Being understood, being accepted, allows me to expand – spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, sexually, and all the other -ly’s you can think of. His love and acceptance allows me to evolve, so I still am able to surprise him and reveal new sides and dimensions of myself. To me, that’s what makes for a truly transcendent relationship.

    • Thank you so much for all of this, Andrea. It’s so beautifully written. I agree with you that though intimacy and time don’t necessarily have a causal relationship, they often DO go hand-in-hand. And that the ability to be vulnerable comes easier (sooner?) to some than others (not a value judgment, just another way in which people are diverse).

      Thanks and ❤ to you.

  3. Julie E. Byrne says:

    I likid this, mami!!!


    yes to all.

  4. nicolequenelle says:

    Love this. The whole idea of how do we know anyone really, ever, really speaks to me right now. And funny enough, my 14-year-old niece and I were just talking last week about how she has to read Romeo and Juliet this year [she rolls eyes as I quietly hope that’s her playing it cool and not really so blase already, not yet.]

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