You’ll feel different when…
When I was in my late teens, I once got into a peculiar argument with a slightly older friend. I had made a comment to the effect that I could never see myself being happy living in a city. It had taken me a few years to get used to living in a town that was big enough to require more than one high school, after spending most of my life living in very small towns.
He was attending college in a nearby city at the time. He said he had felt the same way just a few years before. “You haven’t actually lived in a city,” he pointed out. “You’ll feel differently after you do.”
At least, that’s what I heard. It is quite possible that he actually said, “You may feel differently,” but I heard the firm assertion that he knew exactly how I would feel, and it activated my obstinate streak. I pointed out that I had been visiting a couple of cities fairly regularly, and I had a pretty good idea what they were like. Except I probably said it a bit meaner. I know I made a lot of disparaging observations about cities during the course of it.
A year or so later, I was attending college in a city. By the time I finished college, I had some good job prospects, and I had become quite enamored with several aspects of city life. So I stayed. And the longer I stayed, the more I liked living here. When I visit my mom in the town where I went to high school, I find I feel a lot differently about several aspects of living there which I used to think of as advantages.
My friend was right, and I was wrong.
Another time another friend and I had gotten into a discussion about my dismal love life. Most of the time there had been no love life at all. The few exceptions had failed spectacularly, though each in a different way. I trusted this friend more than I had ever trusted anyone, so I told him that I suspected I was bisexual, and I thought that perhaps that might be playing into my difficulties.
He immediately asserted that 1) I could not possibly be bi, and 2) once I stop doubting myself I would find the perfect girl for me. He argued his point with such emphatic certainty, that I doubted my own feelings and experiences.
Of course, I wasn’t being entirely honest. I didn’t merely suspect that I was not heterosexual. I had quite incontrovertible evidence. My friend was also operating under the same societal brainwashing that was responsible for the megaton of internalized homophobia I was carrying around at the time.
Eventually, I worked through that baggage (though it got more than a bit messy) and came to understand that my friend was wrong. I had only been half-right in understanding myself and my future, but the half I was wrong about was part and parcel of the parts he was wrong about.
Of course, one could argue that my friend was partially correct. Because eventually I did find the right person for me—a guy who made me so happy, who I couldn’t imagine living without, and who made me brave enough to stop living the lie of being closeted.
Our fairytale ending didn’t last as long as I hoped—Ray died a bit over six years after we moved in together. I had to figure out how to have a life that no longer had him in it. I have since been lucky enough to fall in love with another wonderful man, who has stuck with me for 15 years, so far, and even said “I do” when we finally could do so, legally, a few months ago.
The two friends who were adamantly convinced that I would feel differently one day were correct that my perspective changed, but their certainty about the way my perspective would change was at best guess work. It was also a bit of projection. Like people who insist that another person saying they don’t want to have kids “will feel different when you have your own,” they’re unable to conceive of anyone being happy and fulfilled living differently than themselves.
Just like I was when arguing with my first friend that I’d never be happy in the city.
Because we all do it. At one time or another everyone has either offered advice along that line. Or we’ve complained to a mutual friend, wondering why the person doesn’t see the obvious solution and do things this way. We may be right that there’s a better way, but it isn’t our life. No matter how smart or sympathetic we think we are, we don’t know what it’s like to be them.