It's not you, it's me.
Updated: Apr 19, 2019
Whether you're the one saying or hearing it, we all know what that really means - 'it's you, not me'. And it's hard not to believe it; fear of inadequacy always lurks close to the surface, its emergence showing the failure to prove 'I am good enough, aren't I?' Yet, leaving this measure of adequacy to the judgement of others, whether bosses, peers or lovers, can make it hard to work out what 'good enough' might mean to us.
We all have our 'less desirable' character traits which are often so successfully buried under our 'better' attributes that we risk paradoxically rendering ourselves incapable of being loved for our 'whole self' (1). Or else the love potion dropped into the eye of the beholder has immobilised the ability to see anything other than the 'flawless' beauty we seek. Much like Titania, Queen of the Fairies waking up to Bottom the Ass (2), during my fifteen years of serial monogamy, I've woken up from many a Midsummer Night's Dream, albeit after a few months, with the same terrible hangover.
Once the 'magic' has finished 'pickling our tiny brains in hormones, raising our dopamine, noradrenaline and cortisol levels and lowering our supplies of sensible and calming serotonin' (3), it's always easier to blame the original source of ecstasy for the awful come-down, rather than ourselves for getting blind drunk on it. Once again, it's clear to see what we do have but don't want, and what we don't have but think we want, simplistically referred to as 'the grass always being greener'. But I think we're in the the midst of an epidemic of greener grass, insidiously and inescapably everywhere in this era of social media.
A serious case of greener grass has erupted into the political soap opera that is Brexit. The seemingly easiest solution to solving the domestic within the Conservative party was to blame Brussels, that bastard, for complex socio-economic problems at home, products of almost 10 years of austerity: a 49% cut in local authority funding, 19 000 fewer police officers on the beat, £950 million less spent on legal aid and the doubling of demand for food banks (4).
They call it the 'divorce bill' - the side being served the papers recognises it's not perfect but wants to keep working at the relationship, whilst recent indicative votes revealed this side's total lack of commitment to anything, as MPs have reduced themselves to 'unthinking representatives' rather than 'trusted delegates' (5). The only clear 'agreement' was 'No' to 'No deal', after days of hearing from Mr Speaker that the 'No's have it'.
Rebellions seek to destroy existing structures, rallying the voiceless in a resounding call for 'NO', whereas revolutions involve an evolutionary idea that seeks to replace the old with the new, which requires vision and creativity... much more tricky than simple destruction. The highest number of indicative votes was for a second referendum (6), to acknowledge the very thing that seems to be so hard for many to admit, that we are more than capable of, and democratically endowed to, changing our minds - especially when we find out what we might end up with instead.
Whilst Great Britain refuses to take a look in the mirror, I'm reminded of an ex-boyfriend who was convinced, and convinced me, that it was my fault I couldn't reach orgasm. Once I tried so hard, just to please him, that I accidentally peed, which wasn't very pleasing in this case. I believed him for years, and a later boyfriend had also, along the way, developed a similarly deprecating self-belief... We'd been getting together over a couple of weeks when, on a walk in the park, he asked me to be his girlfriend, to which I agreed, and after a kiss to consummate, he announced; "Oh no, now I'm going to get really boring" - oh no! And he did.
The thing about new things is that they are exciting, until the desire for a different new thing is discovered. In my recent experience of dating apps I've had a taste of the the insatiable appetite for newness. Before a first date I anticipate total disappointment, but instead manage to find anything to like at first encounter. It's only on the rare second date, in the face of an actual relationship prospect, that I look for everything I could possibly dislike.
The advertising industry has run on and fed our desire to constantly look for more, along with the endless possibility of what that might be; 'advertising is based on one thing - happiness. And do you know what happiness is? Happiness is the smell of a new car' according to Don Draper (7). Capitalisation of emotions has helped to make that ultimate destination, 'happiness', ever more elusive; 'like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder', Thoreau (8).
In most day-to-day aspects of life we allow for a continuous flux of feelings - what we feel like eating, drinking, watching, reading or doing. Yet when it comes to love, and often work, we talk about 'knowing' - knowing if they're 'the one' for you, or what we 'want to do' (only with the rest of our entire lives, no biggy). In these cases, feeling and knowing can get very tangled up as we desperately look for certainty in an existence that is ever anything but certain. It's one thing knowing how you feel, and it's another skill altogether to understand why... Usually we just feel how we feel, and reflect it into fact.
Feelings about a person, job, place, or even a holiday (9), are as likely to change from one moment to the next as what snack we fancy, depending on circumstance and therefore mood. Yet, since the Age of Enlightenment we've prided ourselves on being cerebral, rational beings, not animals (10). But we are both; our brains haven't changed for 50 000 years (11), so disregarding our animal nature is to deny the adaptable, instinctual and carnal forces that drive us. Unless we recognise, understand and respect those, I worry that we'll continue to destroy things unconsciously.
There'll always be things we don't like about the people, jobs and places that we love, it doesn't mean we should sack it all in. But when it comes to being 'in love', the expectation is that we should love every little annoying thing about someone. Anyone who's been in a long term relationship or truly loves themselves knows that it's about bearing the bits you don't like and loving someone anyway, in all our glorious imperfection (else we'll end up with robots that we can programme to behave the way we feel like them behaving, which sounds a bit like an episode of Black Mirror, so probably wouldn't be a good thing).
To have healthy relationships with ourselves, others and our lives (another word for this I guess is 'society'?) I think we need more tolerance, recognition and distinction of feelings, their inconsistency, and what they can show us when we want to be impulsive, reactive, destructive, creative or passionate. Maya Angelou said 'people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel'. So if we hear or say the words 'it's not you, it's me', as unbelievable as it might sound, it actually isn't you, it's always me.
(1) Brené Brown, 2010, The Power of Vulnerability, TED Talk
(2) A Midsummer Night's Dream, 1595/96, William Shakespeare
(3) Sam Leith, 2019, Love Factually by Laura Mucha – the 'science' of who and how we love', The Guardian
(4) Patrick Maguire & Anoosh Chakelin, 2018, The deepest cuts: austerity measured, New Statesman
(5) David Lammy, 2019, Brexit Speech, Facebook
(6) 2019, Brexit: No majority for any options after MPs' votes, BBC News
(7) Matthew Weiner, 2007-2015, Mad Men
(8) Henry David Thoreau > Quotes, Good Reads
(9) Alain De Botton, 2002, The Art of Travel (book)
(10) Jessie Szalay, 2016, What Was the Enlightenment?, Live Science
(11) Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks, 2011, Surviving Progress (film)