“We were in my room doing an assignment”, my friend recalled. “I had my laptop open and I was working hard on an assignment. You were sitting on the floor, at the foot of my bed and you had your blog editor open. I don’t remember whether you’d finished your assignment or not but you had your blog editor open and you were typing and hitting backspace. Typing, hitting backspace. Over and over. I was looking at you and wondering, how does she even have the mind space for this? How is she doing this when I am still working on my assignment?”
She remembered a few more things about me including a time I made her rasam and potato fry when she had a cold and fever.
Talking to my friend helped me remember who I was seven years ago and how the direction I’ve taken since is not entirely unexpected. I might have changed superficially but fundamentally, I’m the same person – loves doing a bunch of different things, makes time to cook even during finals week, blogs even when things are a little nuts, goes out of her way to help friends, has very few real friends but does manage to make one or two everywhere.
On this trip I’ve also been catching up with The Hero’s friends (who have also become my friends over the years). They had some good IIT hostel and grad school stories to share. They too were not surprised by how he’s doing these days.
Ask the Hero or me though and we’ll tell you the other has changed over the last eight years. I can rattle off a million things he used to do or say before that he doesn’t anymore. I’m sure he can do the same. So do people really change or not? That’s the million dollar question. The answer I think now is yes and no.
Our temperament – the core essence of us as progammed into our genes – cannot really change. Our personality – the way we express our temperaments – can and does evolve over time. When friends say we haven’t changed, they’re reacting to our temperament. When I tell my husband he’s changed, I’m reacting to his (current) personality. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We want our friends to be people we can connect with. We want our partner to be someone we can live with.
To connect with someone we only need to share some part of our temperament. Grad school friend and I are the type who “turn the floodlights on” when we get involved in something. Dr Occasional Giant Steps and I share three of our four MBTI indicators. P and I are both the kind who need to talk things out. So the list goes. The more my friends understand me, the closer the friendship gets. I want my ideal 3am friend to only say, “I understand”.
Being understood is not enough, though. At 3am if a bad dream disturbs me, I don’t need to be understood. I need a kind of strength I do not have. I need a partner.
According to Helen Fisher, there are three stages of love. Lust, romantic love, and attachment. Broadly speaking she says lust helps us find a mate, romantic love helps focus our energy on them, and attachment helps the couple raise a child together.
In this context, I need my partner to be sufficiently different from me and compensate for my weaknesses. That would make us a good (child-rearing) team. This third and deepest stage of love is the hardest. How do you actually go about supporting someone you don’t necessarily understand or completely agree with all the time? Complete and implicit trust.
It’s easy to fall in love with someone and erase all their flaws in our imagination. So easy to worship someone from afar. So much safer to hide behind barbed wire fence of past hurt. There is no rational or pragmatic reason to trust another flawed human being and knowingly open ourselves to a world of hurt when they do eventually screw up (as do we).
Lust isn’t worth the cost. Romantic love is unsustainable. But if you persist and risk the plunge, you find something far more real. True acceptance. And a safety net. Someone who not just makes you hot rasam and potato fy but also wraps you in a blanket and feeds you with a spoon.
People evolve and expressions of love change but attachment is what is real.