We all live with fairly intense blindspots. It is, perhaps, one of those facts about human nature that can be funny, frustrating, and even infuriating. And as our stories tend to go, no one quite seems to know our blindspots like friends, families, and most especially partners, spouses, and boy/girl friends. In a perfect world, our blinspots would be pointed out to us, we would say, “Ah, thanks!” then make a few adjustments to our personality, tweak our persectives, and give ourselves a spiritual tune-up, so to speak. Unfortunately, life doesn’t work that way.
Blindspots come in many shapes and sizes: “neat freak,” or the opposite, avoiding conflict, or the opposite, compulsive spending, or the opposite, being excessively obsessed with one’s image and appearance, or the opposite, judgmentalism, or the opposite. Our blindspots can appear as little quirks to others, but in the context of intimate relationships, they often take on a much more profound significance.
I’ve been reading a few novels that deal quite intensely with tensions within marriages. Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is a novel that I finished last summer, and currently I am reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. These deal with the knock-down, drag-out brutality that can develop in long-term relationships. Gone Girl brilliantly sets the relationships in a slightly comedic frame and also within the context of a thriller plot. Franzen’s book is just straight up brutal, but no less brilliant for it.
For I am poor and needy, and my heart is wounded within me. I am gone like the shadow when it declineth: I am tossed up and down as the locust. – Psalm 109
One of the things that interests me about long-term relationships is how people deal with their own personal shit, their blindspots. Often these blindspots cease to become blindspots and instead take center stage in the conflicts and tensions of the relationship. They take center stage because they aren’t just quirks but fundamental issues of our egos, things that we often don’t even see as issues because they are so deeply integrated into our personalities.
A compulsive spender might joke on Facebook about how s/he just indulged in “retail therapy” and bought that really killer product, and oh, isn’t that hilarious. And on Facebook it is. On Facebook we can laugh at ourselves. It’s probably another form of therapy. But in a long-term relationship where budgets are tight, it’s not quite so quirky and charming, and one’s partner is not so prone to click the “Like” button after a few years.
There’s deeper stuff going on, there’s a reason that a person copes with life by compulsive spending, like we all cope with life in various ways that don’t serve us well.
This is the point where this kind of thing becomes really interesting to me. In the context of a relationship, our blindspots become issues and points of conflict, and often the tension and conflict can grind us down. In the midst of the conflict, we are confronted with these choices, it can become an axial moment in our lives, a moment of choice, when we can deal with ourselves, grow and change, or else seek to defend and protect these ways in which we cope with the world.
(I’m not saying that one should always stay in a relationship to deal with stuff. Sometimes relationships become toxic and impossible, and the best way to deal is to break up.)
This axial moment is something that I’m looking to explore more in my novel, one of the themes in my character development. I’m interested in the big and small ways that we are given choices to evolve in more open and sincere ways, dealing honestly with our fragility or else entrenching ourselves in a defensive posture and closing ourselves off to others. The amazing thing about life is that we confront these choices on a daily basis. Whereas our lives often appear to us as fixed and our destiny set, the reality is that at any moment, we can change. That’s the positive side of the fragility of life — we can tip it for the better.