Living a defensive and a defended life. This is what leads to conflict and unhappiness.
It’s a paradox. To protect yourself is to incite violence against it. It seems counterintuitive. And yet again and again it seems to be true.
This will be a strange amalgam of a post.
— § —
/ One /
There cannot be a team, nor can there be love or goodwill in a relationship, when one defends oneself. The primacy of the self is incompatible with the openness and intimacy of true mutuality.
This is the story of my marriage, and now is the evolving story of my love for my wife, from whom (or rather, I prefer to say with whom) I am separated.
Again and again we defend ourselves from each other. We love each other. And yet, with every act of defense, we lose each other.
I do it, and I struggle to stop doing it. We each have our issues; that’s not the point of this section. The point of this section is the story I’ve been living.
It’s a roller coaster of love and injury. I love her. I feel love for her. She often is not and can not be on the “same page.” It is tempting to try to understand the reasons for this, but the point is that the reasons are immaterial. As soon as I begin to think about them, and about the injury that I feel as a result, I begin to lose sight of the love. To be incapable of it. To withdraw.
And our time together in therapy tells me that the same is true for her. Self-defense is antithetical to love.
Over and over again I find that if I allow myself to be vulnerable, that if I retreat from the act of trying to see and to affect how she will affect me, I rediscover the love. I love her, but that love can only thrive when I do not protect myself.
I have rediscovered it again tonight. It is painful to be at risk, and to love without the promise of reciprocation. It is more painful to lose love, or to risk having a hand in destroying it. If it is destined to die, let it not be by my own hand!
I love her. So, I must not protect myself from her, and must simply accept that what she will do is what she will do. What she will feel is what she feels, and is no more valid or invalid than what I feel at any moment.
I must, no doubt, love her without expectation, without reservation, and without concern for myself. Or I cease to love her once again. And that is how we got where we are. I suspect, though it is ultimately none of my business and can’t ever be, that she will find or is finding the same thing.
— § —
/ Two /
For years I have struggled to build a career and fortune, despite having stellar experience in a great variety of areas.
In fact, I have fought the strange and wearisome battle of trying to hide that experience. Why?
If you’ve arrived here on a lark by searching for my name, I’ll answer truthfully. Yes, I am the Aron Hsiao that:
– Is a Linux and open source expert, and that spent years in the public eye as such
– Is an eBay seller and eBay business expert, and that spent years in the public eye as such
– Holds a Ph.D. in sociology, has taught at top-tier universities, and worked to build an academic career
– Is a copywriter, editor, and commentator, with long product, publication, and press credits
– Is a stock photographer specializing in travel, location, and concept/scene shoots
– Writes and has previously published often rather adult poetry
– Blogs here in very personal, often offensive or immature ways, and has done since 1999
I don’t think I’ve ever blatantly said as much until today. Because in each of these areas, there is a kind of presumption that a skilled one of the above can only actually be skilled if he or she has devoted his or her entire life to the pursuit.
And because I have wanted to be successful at all of them, I have defended my position and success in each by hiding, within each area of my my life, my activity in the others. The academics could never know that I wrote thousands of popular articles about independent eBay businesses. The eBay readers and community could never know that I actually spent most of my time reading academic works and had most of my formal training in computer science and social science. Neither group could know that I blogged in intensely personal and often immature ways about my own thoughts, issues, and relationships. And so on.
In each case, to succeed at first required that I defend my specialization and dedication by eradicating and hiding other aspects of myself and my history.
Being now 40 years old and counting however, I find that “at first” has given way to “at last,” and that at last, I now live a fragmented life as a fragmented self with a fragmented and repressed trajectory. I have in each case simply traded integrity and potential at the upper limit for an easier time as a novice and journeyman at the outset.
It is time to acknowledge publicly that all of these are me. Without the defenses, I will no doubt experience some difficulties early on. But without them there is also some hope of progression in each area after long years of my progress being hindered by the time dedicated to and the compromises made during the maintenance of multiple mutually exclusive identities, well defended through tiresome obfuscation against all possibility of criticism or scrutiny.
— § —
/ Three /
Honesty and openness make one a prime candidate for attack. They expose; they may invite destruction; they eliminate control.
And yet what my mother once told me is true. It was the old adage: a small lie soon requires additional lies for its sustenance. Each of these, too, requires others. Each is a new tentacle added to a growing monster, or a new length added to a growing snake. At length, such creatures become unmanageable, require all of your attention and time lest they consume you entirely.
What she didn’t say, but that deserves to be said, is that the same applies to lies of omission, and to the kind of dishonesty and omissive lie that is closed-ness.
To not tell the whole truth is something of a defense, making individual moments apparently more manageable. But even if it is painful, honesty, truth, and openness are preferable to the incredible structure of mismatched life and being that you can find around yourself, years later, once they emerge by way of your having not started with the simple truth about yourself, your needs, your preferences, and your biography.
Both well-meaning and ill-meaning others have to work with only what you give them as they participate in your life. To not be honest is to invite participation in such a way that in the end, your entire life will be a fraud. Your friends aren’t actually yours, your enemies are no more yours than your friends are, and your day-to-day belongs to someone else that you aren’t and have never been.
An inauthentic life isn’t worth living. It is far less worth living through than the pain, however excruciating it may seem in the moment, that comes from simple honesty. Those pains are of limited duration. The slow and accumulating pain of inauthenticity lasts forever, builds on itself, can grow to tower above you and leave you, the actual tiny, whimpering self, in the shadows of an existence that is neither familiar nor inviting to you, its occupant.
— § —
I have read much since my separation from my wife in July. There has been a great deal to learn.
There has been a great deal of introspection.
The three words that seem to me to be of the greatest import after all of this?
Despite appearances (and such misapprehensions are particularly easy when you are young), these are not in tension with one another.
Empathy: I feel you, your humanity, and your needs and pain.
Honesty: I am and feel as I do.
Action: Here is what I am compelled by conscience to do, given these things.
Without any one of these, all of the others are worthless in staving off that greatest of tragedies, the wasted, inauthentic, and as such unbearable life.
— § —
I began this season in my life knowing that I had to make changes.
Now I know the sorts of changes that I need to make. It’s not likely to be easy; these things themselves invite suffering in many cases. But the fear of the suffering that they’ll cause is likely greater than the suffering. As is the suffering that is caused by not embracing and living them.
So it will be hard. But it is time.
The most important steps for me at the moment?
First, loving my wife as a person, and as she is, and leaving it at that, even if she doesn’t love me back, never does, and ultimately goes her own way and is not my wife any longer. There can be no personal healing without these steps. I will fall again and again. Each time, I need to regroup and return to this place.
Second, owning the entirety of my professional history, and admitting and owning my ambitions, as disparate and as lofty as they are. There can be no more professional progress or success without these steps. I may experience setbacks, even many of them and for a long time, at first. Through it all, I need to persevere, be who I am, and pursue my goals despite obstacles of convention and others’ conventional beliefs about them.
— § —
It is up to me to be me. I must do this without defense; to pre-emptively defend myself is to destroy myself. That is the crux of what I have learned.
It is up to others to be themselves. This I cannot control. To try to influence them is to waste my limited years and energy building themselves and their lives, rather than myself and my life. Self-sacrifice of this kind is not a winning proposition; the others will not appreciate or embrace it any more than you ultimately do.