I am still sitting with the power of difference and “otherness” in relationship that we explored last week as well as the power of thresholds.
This week, I want to dive into a personal example of difference and “otherness” – from my own experiences. Next week, I will dive into thresholds.
When Bill and I first became friends and, even, when we became partners, part of what drew us together were the many things we have in common. First, of course, is our commitment to dreams, dreaming and living a dream-informed life in this waking world. We were both working as teachers of dreaming, both wanting to bring dreams to people who want to work with dreams in this lovely way we do, both wanting to deepen our own relationship to dreams and to others. We both, also, have been on “the inner” journey for most of our lives in other ways before, and still, finding dreamwork.
We have somewhat similar backgrounds, too – we are both European American and white, have Irish Catholicism in our lineages and both grew up in the Catholic Church. We both have multiple siblings and understand the chaos of growing in a large family. We have similar political beliefs, similar hopes and fears for the planet. We have similar parenting styles and worked amazing well, for the most part, as a team in our part of raising Sam.
When we moved from friendship to lovers, to partners, to committed partners, we seemed to fit in so many ways. It would be all easy from here, right?
Shortly after we started our journey together, we had a couple’s session about some minor disagreement because we wanted to be sure we stayed together and worked well on our communication. The person we were working with at the time said this to us, “The only problem you have, is that you are so much alike. Even your argument – you are arguing the same thing in just different ways! You don’t need to be here!”
I remember leaving that session feeling flushed with these ideas – we also were still in the flush of the newness of our relationship – and also incredibly uneasy at the same time. There was hope in my flushedness; hope that I had found a relationship that would have the kind of ease I had hoped for, a place where I could be seen in ways I had not been seen.
Our couple’s person was, of course, completely wrong.
When I think back to that session, when I consider other couple’s therapy session my dream clients have reported to me, I so feel how the myth of merging or the myth of “two becoming one” infiltrates our culture and confuses us about how to be when relating to others, especially partners.
And how damaging this myth and cultural expectation has been and still is for many of us.
It has taken a long time for Bill and I to realize we are very different, even in our similarities.
Recently, Bill and I were joking around about if we were plants, what kind of plants would we be. Bill immediately said, “I would be a mushroom.” Which felt and still feels completely true and not just because Bill is a forager and loves finding mushrooms in the forest. I said, “Well, what kind of plant would I be?” And we both thought and thought and finally Bill said, “You aren’t a plant at all, you are a hummingbird!”
We laughed and laughed – and realized it was completely true. Where Bill’s energy can be like the entities that are mushrooms, with their mycelium reaching far and wide underground, their mysterious “flowers” that are edible or poisonous or psychedelic – my energy can be like the hummingbird, flitting here and there, fast and slow, forward and backward.
It has actually been incredibly helpful for us, this joking around that feels so true. When I am in my hummingbird state and I expect Bill to be like me, I can become confused and even angry when he does not follow my hummingbird ways of thinking, which can flick here and there and seem to have no pattern. Except to me. When Bill is in his mushroom state and he expects me to be like him, he can become confused and even angry when I do not follow his mushroom ways of thinking, which are so completely different than my experiences.
We are incredibly different beings.
Even in the places where we have similarities, we are very different. His experiences in the Catholic institution were very traditional and family-based whereas mine were very untraditional and individual – my family stopped going to church and I pursued being Catholic for many years on my own.
We were raised in larger families, but in his family, his parents married, had children and stayed together, living in one house in an urban environment for the rest of their lives. In my family, my parents married because my mother became pregnant. They divorced when I was in high school and I was raised in a very white suburban reality.
We are vastly different beings with different experiences in so many ways. And many of our early difficulties in our relationship were based on the idea and ideals that we were so similar.
Now, we celebrate and, honestly, tolerate our differences. I admire his mushroom ways and sometimes get frustrated with them. He admires my hummingbird ways and sometimes gets frustrated with them. But we know now.
We know that the couple’s session early in our life together was damaging and dangerous. We know the myth of similarity is just that – a myth. We know that we love and admire each other because we are so different, because we can learn from each other and because the other respects the other’s ways of being. We also know to that to merge would mean losing ourselves.
The last thing we want to do is to lose ourselves in the relationship, to sacrifice ourselves for the relationship, to give up being a hummingbird or a mushroom.
I fell in love with a mushroom being because he is a mushroom being and he fell in love with a hummingbird being because that is who I am.
I have never felt so seen. Not seen in the way I had been taught to want to be seen – but in this way. With all my quirkiness, all my strangeness, my uniqueness, all my flaws. All of me.
Back to dreaming – the dreams and the archetypes do not want us to merge with them, do not want us to change our beingness, do not want us to give our very selves away. Our dreams want us to find who we are, to discover the ways of being that suit us just so, to embody the strange loveliness that we are – and they support, encourage, cajole, trick, dance with us in that journey.