31 July 2011

First date: getting to know me, in the present.

It seems customary that getting to know someone means hearing something about their life before it crossed paths with yours. Where are you from, what's your family like, questions like that. These questions can be extended to "...and if we ever get married, what am I getting myself into?" Even on a first date, you're wondering if this is the one you're going to spend the rest of your life with...

I went to a wedding recently, and the bride made it a point to say she knew the groom was the one she'd marry at the end of their first date. Love at first sight, as it's called.

It also seems customary that there are pictures, a film, or a slideshow that offers a glimpse of the early life of both the bride and the groom. Family vacations, sports, swimming lessons... snapshots that say something about them both before they knew each other, and often while they were dating.

My family album is almost empty. I never really knew my Dad's side of my family all that well. My Mom's side includes the relative that abused me when I was a kid. Most of the time I was married, happiness was either not there at all or was a false happy. In the end, I don't have many pictures to share-- either because I really don't have them, or because they represent memories I do not want to revisit.

My last relationship (now over), I was honest about my life up until now-- the good, the bad, the ugly. I thought that by sharing all of that, I might explain why I do some of the things I do, or react a certain way to certain things. I thought that finding someone who could understand all of that would be a good thing for me.

I've been spending the majority of my time around college students for a while now. Most college (age) students haven't been to war, nor have they been through being married and divorced. Very few have declared bankruptcy. Some have been working through therapy and medications for a while-- some start while they're in college, and some won't do either until later in life, if at all.

When I talk to people in my age group, it's all about marriage and divorce and kids and career. A house, a minivan, Home Depot. A steady job, benefits. Often, upon hearing that I'm in college, people say "I wish I could do that" or "I should have done that". Others are not quite sure how to relate-- college for them is something that was far in the past, or something that never happened. College life is an even hazier memory. They've grown up, past that stuff.

For a long time, I've believed that all of the events in my past, both good and bad, added together have made me what I am today. I've begun to look at the idea differently lately.  The person I am today isn't that old-- it was in 2003 that my father passed away, and later that year, my marriage (for all intents and purposes-- it wasn't final until 2005) ended. Recovering from that year, and starting basically from scratch, has made me who I am today.

There are the events from farther back-- my childhood abuse, my parents divorce, Desert Shield and Desert Storm-- that I've had to examine and try to come to terms with. Those events are becoming like old photographs that fade when exposed to sunlight.

The medications and therapy have a lot to do with that. The good effects are starting to add up.

I still need to talk (and write) about the Desert, and I still have the PTSD symptoms. They still affect my life on a day to day basis, and I still struggle with them every day. I'm learning that my response to them can be different. As a consequence, I am also learning that my life today doesn't depend on those things from the past.

So, on a first date, and on any future date, I'll stick to telling you about the present. Portions of my life will be a closed book to you. There will be some things about my life before you that do not belong in the present. It's not that I have anything to hide from you. Rather, there are many things that have happened, that I'm dealing (or have dealt) with, and these things do not matter to a future between you and I.

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