Relationships are hard, and yet many of us eagerly seek them. No one plans to get a divorce, yet many people do. Are we idiots? No, we’re just trapped in a reality which entails a nature that is paradoxical, ironic, and self-hiding. The last characteristic is the one I want to focus on, because I think a reason marriage is hard is because we go from a state of “radical concealment” (which is when we are alone in ourselves and with ourselves) that is inconsequential to a state where our “radical concealment” is very consequential.
If I spend most my life never learning to communicate how I feel, I likely don’t even realize I can’t communicate how I feel, because I know how I feel in my solitude, and thus never need to communicate it (because I think I do, to myself). But then I get married and receive a double revelation: first, I practically experience that I am “radically concealed,” and second I realize I have little idea how “to disclose” myself. I may have also spent a lot of my life coming to believe that “telling people how I feel” is weak, wrong, or inappropriate, so I might also receive a third revelation that my “moral system” isn’t universally shared and could also be totally mistaken. That’s a lot to taken in, but it’s really only in the context of relationships that I can personally experience this reality. Up to the point of “a committed relationship” like marriage, at best all I can do is “know” this is the case, but “ideas are not experiences.”
Most people don’t get married until they are least twenty, and increasingly more people wait until they are thirty, which means that we have decades to live according to some system that “works.” This system entails various values, practices, methods of communication, and the like, all of which must work to some degree, for otherwise we wouldn’t live them out. This is to say we create “givens” for ourselves, principles and methods of operations that we are “thoughtless” regarding, which is to say “we don’t think about them” (not that we are stupid). Because of this, they don’t make us feel existentially anxious and in fact reduce our existential anxiety: they help us “just know what to do.” But the very fact we do this for ourselves is also “hidden from us,” as can be the reality that we are bad at communicating our feelings, of balancing work and family, and so on. When something is truly hidden, we don’t know it is hidden — and then we get married.
For most of our lives, we are like a river flowing along smoothly. When we rush along a bend in the landscape, because we “are” the river, we don’t even realize we are bending: we just keep flowing. But then someone comes along and says from the shore, “You are bending,” and for the first time in our lives we realize many things at once:
1. There is a landscape which is influencing and organizing the direction in which we flow.
2. We change directions.
3. Someone can stand outside the river.
4. There are people with whom we need to learn to communicate.
This is a lot to take in and realize, especially if the person on the shore is our best friend or someone we thought we really knew (after years of dating). This is a strange metaphor — do forgive — but the point is that in marriage we suddenly realize we were hiding things about ourselves to ourselves all while we tried to hide nothing. This is very difficult to accept, especially all at once, and who is the source of this burden? Our loved one. The person we thought we would be “one” with, not share destabilization or tension. This is not what we expected, and when expectations are disappointed, we feel like our trust has been violated.
What can be done? Well, work — a work for which I think philosophy, epistemology, and the like are invaluable resources. Negating “the dream of wholeness” (A/A) is a good start, but many mental models and changes in thinking will prove needed, none of which any of us “naturally” think we require. But there is hope, and the life that is possible if we rise to the occasion is indeed magnificent. After all, there is a reason we seek relationships, even if it can seem at first like we’ve lost our minds.
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Love this. So lucid. Thank you.