Duality in the Sun

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.

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