This is my submission for the January 2018 Carnival of Aces, on the subject of “Identity”. The roundup of entries is here. The call for submissions can be found here. The masterpost explaining what the carnival is is here. I was rushing to finish this post, below, by the deadline so please tell me if you notice errors.
If you were to ask who I am, you might get an answer that copies other people’s bio blurbs on blogging websites or something. You’d get a different answer if I were to write a cover letter addressed to you as I tried to get hired by you. There are different parts of me that are relevant to reveal at different times.
There’s this lyric I love in the Marianas Trench song Who Do You Love?. The second line especially, but it’s both of the initial lines in the first verse, and they are:
God, it’s been so long wide awake that I feel like someone else. / I miss the way that you saw me, or maybe the way I saw myself.
Feeling like “someone else” than they were when with their (presumably romantic) partner – these are lines about a person’s sense of identity! This is a breakup (and hoping to get back together?) song, by the way.
After my queerplatonic partner broke up with me – really, after both times he did (because yes we were on-again, off-again) – I could feel this.
I didn’t only miss tangible things about our relationship, but at times I also felt my entire perception of myself shifting. There were all sorts of levels to this. It was like external validation that I’m logical if he thought what I said made sense and little things like that, which I also get from friends and family in my day-to-day life but which I got a higher degree of from him.
But it was also… Knowing someone else thinks you’re worth talking to more often than anyone else, knowing they want to build a future with you – it can be a powerful thing, and for me it boosted my self esteem, my sense of how “likable” a person I am, and all sorts of hard-to-quantify things.
Feeling secure in that relationship also shifted what I saw as possible in my future, and there’s some sense that “me” – who I see myself to actually, in full, be – is some combination of my past, my present, and my future.
The second time Robert* broke up with me, he all but ghosted me – while he did tell me he “couldn’t do this relationship anymore” and made it clear he was breaking up with me, he didn’t offer any real explanation and suddenly was completely gone from my life despite a promise to explain more the next day. He went silent, no proper goodbye, nothing.
*Robert was/is his chosen pseudonym for my blog
I really like this article on Psychology Today about ghosting:
Especially this part:
One of the most insidious aspects of ghosting is that it doesn’t just cause you to question the validity of the relationship you had, it causes you to question yourself. Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I have been such a poor judge of character? What did I do to cause this? How do I protect myself from this ever happening again? This self-questioning is the result of basic psychological systems that are in place to monitor one’s social standing and relay that information back to the person via feelings of self-worth and self-esteem.
How does this relate back to identity? I think things like “clearly, I’m an unreliable judge of character” is kind of about your sense of identity, core parts of your skills/abilities/instincts in ways that at least feel unchanging and just the way you are, for better or worse (and you’re thinking, at this point, it’s the “for worse”). Maybe it’s not true that you even are bad at that, and even if you are, maybe it’s not true that it’s unchangeable. But planning to raise kids with a person who ultimately leaves you without a goodbye makes you doubt yourself, “who you are”, how you could’ve ended up in this situation. How much of it was your own fault?
My feelings back when I was still happily in a queerplatonic partnership with him also shifted what I felt my own self capable of feeling – like being “in love” and realizing my capacity to have sensual desire for touch/hugs occasionally but in a demisensual way. I still feel those as lasting effects on my sense of identity, even with Robert gone from life.
What I’m “capable” of feeling, generally speaking, is a big part of why I identify as a non-libidoist sex-averse asexual. It is defining what I like to see as immutable parts of me. It’s not just with one particular person that I feel the need to run away/push the person away if sexual-anything seems potentially on the table. No, instead I possess, knowing these identities of mine, the ultimate “it’s not you, it’s me” card, a description of a core part of who I am and expect to always be, in all relevant circumstances as an adult. It’s just a stable set of facts about me.
immutable: adj. Not susceptible to change.
Anything immutable is a pretty good starting point for identity, I think.
susceptible: adj. Easily influenced or affected.
There are tons of parts of me that technically could change, given certain extreme circumstances, but are quite unlikely to change.
In general, the way I conceptualize it, an identity is only an identity once you already realize you’re basically “past the point of no return” – this is who you are by now, whether it was choice that started you on this path or not? Things that are so embedded in your sense of self. Things that even if they change, you’ll say it’s who you used to be in a “I was __ back in those years” sense rather than just what you did.