Straight-up honesty, falling in love and becoming invested in someone who did not reciprocate my feelings brought about a level of excruciating pain that easily topped having a horse step on my hand with a steel-shod hoof on concrete. If I’d had a choice about physical pain or emotional pain, I would have (and would still) put my hand under that hoof again. I didn’t subsume my life to hers, but I did shape the existing space in my life and share what I loved. Therefore, I lacked the catharsis of disposing of things that reminded me of her, as they are things I still love. The things I could actually get rid of came down to some pre-cooked lasagna noodles and a pair of socks.
It’s hard to wring emotional satisfaction out of a half-empty box of lasagna noodles.
This relates to writing, character development in particular, because I’m careful with investing in people, and I totally blew it in this instance. My point of greatest astonishment over this last month has been how differently we approached the concept of a relationship and carried it out. I was treating her as if her motivations were similar to mine and interpreting her responses accordingly. And of course, all the clever analysis in the world will not save you from faulty assumptions. You can inhabit the same space and have two separate experiences, even if you are trying to be together.
People are different. I do not mean chocolate versus caramel preference different. I mean that an action that strongly symbolizes trust, commitment, and openness to deep feeling for one person can be comparatively casual to the other. It’s like the European practice of exchanging kisses. Even knowing that it is just a greeting, I squirm when people do it because it is Kissing My Face. For me, asking for distance while remaining in a relationship is asking for trust. For others, it is a step toward leaving, a more permanent establishing of distance. For me, it’s waiting for my pack to return to the den; for another, it’s wandering to the edge of our territory in consideration of leaving. We try to communicate through our actions, which only works as far as the overlap in symbolism.
These examples are merely a matter of expression. There are also need and want, and how these are prioritized. For my own part, I am ambitious. I am writing to publish. I have nothing against a memoir written for someone’s personal satisfaction, and I also have, at best, a marginal interest in such a document for its own sake, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears was poured into its writing. Emotion is lovely, but how about a plot? My priority is not the human connection; it is the quality of writing.
In terms of character and storytelling, these are points on which conflict turns. What one character delights in can be a minor issue to another, not because of malice, but because of variations in expression, desire, and priority. I knew this intellectually; the difference now is that I better understand the process, how the same gesture can have the opposite meaning and how desires can color interpretation. Or, more simply, how one person can be swearing over a pair of socks that the other just happened to forget to pack.