You’ll Never Truly Know Anyone
Three Things You Need to Know for Rock Solid Relationships — Part 2
I am not you. But I’m guessing you knew that. No matter how much I’d like to know what it’s like to be you... I never can... I never will. It’s impossible for me to wander with your mind when the meeting you're in is taking too long, I can't feel the ripples of pleasure you feel when your lover brushes against your skin, I will never experience the pit in your stomach when you receive disappointing news.
We can have a conversation, I can listen, and I might be able to relate, but I will always be relating through my own ideas, or from my own experience.
In 2005 I read an online article about the possibility of the housing bubble bursting. At that time, my husband and I were living in a house we’d purchase as an investment. We’d only intended to live there for a couple of years… but two had turned into four. I was terrified that it would turn into five, prices would fall and we’d be upside down on our mortgage and stuck living there.
I got my phone and called my husband at work. I told him about the article I’d just read and how I thought we needed to act quickly to get our house sold before winter. He agreed! We finished our conversation and I tapped my phone's “off” button.
I was sitting at my architect style desk in our office-cum-guest-room, on the second floor of the house. It was a lovely September afternoon… the sun was bright, but not directly hitting my West facing window. From my vantage point I was eye level with the highway and could count the cars — well, in theory anyway. There were eight lanes of traffic traveling at 70 miles an hour. I couldn’t actually count them all.
When we bought the house, there’d been a 50-foot tall tree blocking most of the highway from our view, but it had become diseased and we’d had to take it down. The new row of fast-growing evergreens would eventually block it again, but a plant's version of “fast" was different from mine.
So the view from our house sucked, the constant roar of traffic was bad, but the dust was the worst. A normal house gets dusty, but the dust is usually light in color and a quick pass with a cloth will take it off. This was black road dust. It’s oily, it clings, you can’t just wipe it with something, you have to use spray and clean it off or else it leaves a residue. I didn’t even want to think about what it was doing to our lungs.
But right then, my mind was on the future and dancing for joy. My husband had said “yes," just like that, so easily. What a relief! We’d be done with this place soon. I couldn’t imagine staying here any longer with our two year old. I wanted a yard he could actually play in and air that was safe to breath. There were so many places we could go next. What exciting possibilities!
I clicked my phone’s “on” button and called our realtor.
Here’s what had been happening for my husband…
"I was at work, in the middle of doing a financial analyses for our program, when my phone rang. I saw it was my wife’s number. She didn’t usually call me at work in the middle of the day, so my first thought had been “what’s wrong.” She said she’d read an article about housing prices going down and she wanted to sell our place. I agreed that we could do that. When we were done talking, I dropped the phone receiver back on it's cradle.
My office was drab — your typical leftover from the 70’s tech building — it had painted cinder block walls, commercial, low pile carpet and everything was in various shades of cream and tan. My desk and office chair were standard issue too. I had a window but it looked out over the parking lot and another ugly industrial building. It didn't matter though, I sat with my back to the window anyway so I could see who was coming through my door.
There was a bright yellow pacifier on my desk. I’d forgotten to take it out of my pocket before I'd left home that morning. It was next to the framed picture of our family that we’d taken on vacation in Maine. I couldn't believe it was ending. I knew it was coming some day. The housing market scare was just an excuse to sell the house. Once it had sold I knew my wife was going to ask for a divorce. It would be easier if our assets were liquid and we could just split up the cash.
I was going to miss seeing our son every morning… and after work too. I’d probably only get to see him on weekends. He was so much fun to be with, always smiling and laughing. I loved it when he would wake up at night and then fall asleep again lying on my chest. But that would all be over soon.
Despite the sun coming through the window behind me, I shivered… then sighed, took a deep breath and made myself go back to work."
My husband and I had participated in the same conversation. We’d even agreed on the same course of action, but our experiences were COMPLETELY different.
Eight years went by before I even learned that he had thought I wanted to sell the house so we could get a quick divorce. I was shocked because the idea had never… crossed… my… mind… not once. Not only did we end up selling the house quickly, but my husband left his job as well and we took our son on a four month road trip around the Southwestern U.S. before coming back to New England. It was an amazing time!
But, for who knows how many weeks after our initial conversation, I was living in the excitement of moving off the highway, while my husband was living in the despair of our life together collapsing. It’s the stuff movies are made of and it’s happening to all of us all the time.
It’s easy to accept that each person has their own ideas, opinions, and perspectives… but it goes far beyond all of that. Each and every person on the planet is actually living in their own experience of reality. Truly, their own reality.
This isn’t to say that the chair you're sitting on is a figment of your imagination. No. I’m saying that the experience of sitting on your chair is 100% unique to you. Someone else can come and sit on your chair, but they can never, ever, ever have the experience of being you, sitting on that chair.
It’s so easy to think we know someone. Especially when we've spent a lot of time with them. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, or a colleague, we think we know where the other person is coming from. We make very reasonable guesses (usually without realizing that we’re guessing) based on our own version of reality. We’ll even say things like, “Yeah, I think we're on the same page.” Only to find out later that we were on the same page, but in entirely different books!
So who has the correct reality? No one! We’re each just having our own unique experience of life and it’s all we can ever do. This is always the case. The beauty is that when we realize separate realities, we're able to communicate in a way which illuminates, rather than diminishes. We get more curious about the people we’re with, curious about how they see things, how they experience things. We grow in our understanding and can build bridges with each other instead of running from the voids.