Copyright 2010 Ben S. Pollock
The occasional, amateur anthropologist in me has been studying the spouse for 19 1/2 years. Occasional discoveries have been made during the field work, but a revelation has occupied the study recently: There’s two of her. I’m pretty sure of this because there’s two of me.
My Beloved has the usual pairs, the confident and the timid, the girl and the woman etc. What’s of interest are the person she is and the person she’d like to be. Same deal in me. This is not quite self-actualization. Until I find the psychological school or philosophy with its official terms, let’s go with: the Real Self and the Imagined Self. The Real Self is what’s out there, simply enough. It’s the person that other people see. The Imagined Self is an ideal, the person I almost am but for this that and the other, the person I should be, or the person whom if I had the guts somehow I would be.
Out in the field, which usually is in the home or traveling the rain forests of Fayetteville and occasional ventures much farther out, this anthropologist learned through observation and interviews who MB would be if she could. She sometimes believes she is that Imagined Self now. But I see the circumstances, analyze and conclude, “She’s not that. Who does she think she’s fooling? Why does she persist?”
The Real Self she is, is remarkable enough. The anthropologist drops his objective distance and tells her this. His statement does not worry her, another wonderful thing about her.
The anthropologist — a guy trying to understand his wife (join the club, bro’, it’s a big one) — realizes the same is true in himself: there is the real me and the fellow I’d like to be, the one I am sometimes, the me I’d have been with better breaks in life. Like My Beloved, some hours I believe I am my Imagined Self.
The field history shows these aren’t vague fantasies but concrete descriptions. MB and I can list attributes of ourselves handily, even if they’re sides of us no one else has observed. They’re how we see ourselves, and believe me we’ve been looking. We reflect to try to ensure we’re getting everything from life we can and that we’re giving out what we genuinely have available to give.
MB’s selves are nobody’s business, but to elaborate I’ll chance it and reveal mine. After all, I am in the jungle, encamped with a water bottle and towel as well as a pen and notebook (not the overrated Moleskin), to conduct more field work.
- My Real Self is an Arkansawyer expatriate who returned years ago with no plan to leave, though it’s possible. (The “possible” belongs to the realm of the Imagined Self). The Real Self spends half of his waking life as an editor in an office and squeezes into the other half his home life with MB and the main hobby. That avocation is writing. Maintaining friendships outside of MB seems impractical. He looks months and years into the future, ever planning and predicting. The Real Self sees in himself his late father’s sometimes bleak outlook.
- My Imagined Self is an American who can fit in most anywhere. My Imagined Self is not a columnist (as once self-conceived) but rather a writer who writes a column, published as a blog. For the Imagined Self, editing is just the job. A career (series of related jobs) is not an end to itself. The Imagined Self skips alongside that of his wife, looking to see what’s next. The Imagined Self has friends and wishes he had more time for them. The future comes one day at a time. The Imagined Self realizes his optimistic idealism comes from his late mother.
Mom discussed her Imagined Self within the family; Dad did not reveal his Imagined Self to me, unless it consisted of being just about anything other than the way life turned out. I don’t know my two sibling’s Imagined Selves. It appears that one is happy with the Real Self and the other not so much.
When this anthropologist returns from his field study to his imaginary desk in academe, he ponders family and friends. I don’t know their Imagined Selves. When we were young we talked about goals and progress toward aspirations, but now that doesn’t come up often. If it does, we hedge, a vulnerability. So the anthropologist dons his field vest with lots of great pockets, tries to blend in and observes.
With the discovery of the duality, the anthropologist believes adults’ Real Selves generally are fine. He observes people as they are, as they behave and speak, their Real Selves. He can’t witness the Imagined Selves, which is their inner dialogue. He might theorize that if the Imagined Self is strong and too different from the Real Self, the person would be unhappy.
MB’s Real Self is hard-won and fine. I see other people I have known a long time, the ones with whom ambitions once were shared. In my mind’s eye, they point to the latest plans of their Imagined Selves, and I want to say, “Get a grip, you’re deluding yourself, that’s never going to happen.” I keep quiet. None of my business. But also, maybe they can start that nonprofit, build a small business, conquer the ill health, fall in love. We aim for success because in truth we’ve seen it’s actually not too rare.
Yet usually I ignore my own advice, which I do give myself, to “Get real.” I believe I spend time almost every day living as my Imagined Self. I don’t know if I have as much curiosity and hope as when a teenager, but they remain strong.
The Real and Imagined Selves use curiosity and hope differently, which remain to be explored. Thus, the field study continues so we’ll all have to wait for the report to be submitted to the anthropology journal.