Who Am I? Who Are We? Friendship, Relationships, and the Roles We Play

Michelle (skippingstones) recently posted an essay on honesty and openness.  Her post got me thinking about how my relationships with friends differ so much, why some friends know some things about me while others know entirely different things, and why I don’t feel like the same me all the time.  Then it occurred to me: it happens organically.  When I first meet a person, of course I’m consciously making some decisions about what to share with them and what to conceal, but mostly I’m going on autopilot.  My habits are making decisions for me.  Past experience is determining my present interactions with people who are at first strangers.  All of the subtle cues I get from them about who they are also influence how I behave around them.  I think carefully about some of these things, but most of my behavior arises from somewhere deeper, beneath my intellect.  Emotions drive much of what I do.

Then, one day, I pause, and I wonder why I feel like either a slightly or a wholly different person depending on whom I’m with and my relationship with them.  At first I’m inclined to think that over time I’ve chosen to hide certain things from certain people and reveal other things to other people and that these were rational choices, made so methodically that if I had perfect memory I might follow them one by one back to my first encounter with each person I know, as if it were a question of Newtonian physics: reconstruct the entire chain of causes and effects and I might arrive at the creation event itself, the beginning, moment one.

But then I see the truth: It just happened.  At first we were strangers, then, over time, we became friends.  We grew together and we changed together.  None of us knew what was happening until it had already happened.  We didn’t choose to be one way or another with each other.  We didn’t choose to hide this and reveal that.  It just happened.  Our identities and lives became entangled, and out of the complexity of this entanglement relationships formed, all of them different, all of them special, none of them perfect.  Only in hindsight does it seem that I chose to be open with this friend and a little more reserved around that friend.  The fact is that each of these relationships is different because the people involved are different.  I can’t be the same me around everyone I know because everyone I know is different, which means that my relationship, my entanglement, with each of them must also be different.

Dishonesty, openness, concealment certainly have a place in the formation of relationships.  I concede that.  But now I see that what I thought of as “roles” I was playing depending on whom I was with were actually manifestations of mutual relationships that were all unique.  I’m not the same around everyone, but I’m still me.  WE, however, are different when we’re around each other.  Together we’re something more, though we can’t be everything to each other.  And that’s OK.

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About atomsofthought
Teacher. Traveler. Writer. Reader.

17 Responses to Who Am I? Who Are We? Friendship, Relationships, and the Roles We Play

  1. “We grew together and we changed together. None of us knew what was happening until it had already happened. We didn’t choose to be one way or another with each other. We didn’t choose to hide this and reveal that. It just happened. Our identities and lives became entangled, and out of the complexity of this entanglement relationships formed, all of them different, all of them special, none of them perfect.”

    Of course you’re right – it’s just natural. You’re making me think more clearly (it’s nice when someone does your thinking for you, especially when you’re feeling pretty fuzzy headed). We have certain interests and mindsets that we share with one person, and other interests and opinions we share with someone different. It only makes sense. The weirdest part is that my mom and I were just having this discussion and trying to explain that to my dad about a month ago. I made your same arguments that it’s all us, it’s just that different parts of our personality come out with different people. Also, like you said, we read their cues (or have learned enough about them) and censor ourselves accordingly. Mostly that’s just being courteous or polite – you don’t curse around your mother’s friends or your kid’s teachers, for example.

    I was thinking about a friend who seems to always just be herself. There was a time anyway, when she would curse in front of someone I thought was inappropriate because she gave no thought to any of that stuff. She lived her life wide open. Sometimes I wish that for myself, but I don’t know if that is really better. It’s great to be confident, but I think I prefer to keep my cursing under wraps in certain situations.

    • Well, we did each other a favor, because as you can see your post inspired mine! I know a bit about the difficulty of explaining things like this to loved ones. I’ve been through that, too 🙂

      And I have friends like your friend. I guess here’s the thing for me: It would probably feel great to be uninhibited, not worrying about how your words or actions affect others (by which I don’t mean to imply that someone who behaves this way is necessarily a jerk). But I just can’t do it. And if everyone was like that, I can’t see how society would function. It’s already messed up enough. I like your way.

      • 🙂 You’re right. I can’t think of another example other than the cursing, lol. But we girls would be in line at Walmart or somewhere, with people all around us, a mom and kid in line behind us, and she’d be dropping the F-bomb left and right. One of us would tell her to watch her language and she’d reply, “What did I say?” And mean it – totally oblivious, just being herself.
        I don’t want to be like that, just less inhibited. But society needs all the polite and F-bomb free people it can get.

  2. pattisj says:

    I’ve found this to be true in my relationships, as well. There are some we can tell anything, they tend to pull it out of us, and there are others that work the other way. It’s all about who we are, together.

  3. Barb Bromley says:

    Interesting insights! Ironically the rarest of my friends (soul mates if you will) allow me to show all the different facets of who I am. These are the people I turn to in both the glorious & devastating moments.

    • That’s a good point. When you find that one person, or those couple of people, with whom you really can share anything, you have to hang onto them and preserve that relationship.

  4. Patti Ross says:

    Very thoughtful comments and insights. I agree that each friend is unique in what we share–from experiences and likes to what we reveal. It is just part of the complexity, as you indicate.

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  8. This is so true…different people bring out different facets of ourselves. You’ve found a way to articulate a common experience. Great job!

  9. anda says:

    I like this–the whole idea of things happening so spontaneously more than we think they do. Interesting!

  10. Great post. I find that playing a role to others is not necessarily manipulative; it can often be a sort of a ‘blending in’ by appeal to what both you and they commonly admire. Then the relationship can take off from there, either stay at that level or become multi-faceted.

  11. Hi Nick! I know you’re taking a little break and I hope you’re enjoying the new place and school. Still, I gave you the Versatile Blogger Award. Here is the link: http://steadilyskippingstones.wordpress.com/2011/08/22/you-like-me-you-really-like-me/

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