You will know how this story ends, once I tell you how it begins, which is me deciding to delete all the old/accidental/excess drafts in my Gmail folder.

Naturally I came across a string of correspondence with my college boyfriend, a chain triggered two years after our breakup by a misunderstanding with a mutual friend. Although the entire stream was intensely interesting to me, I imagine most of it would be pretty dull to anyone else.

Then there was this:

Did I ever know you? It’s so hard to tell now. I would accept that I wasn’t worth your time. I wish I had been. I like to think that I did know you, at least a little, although I’m quite sure I never understood you. Some few things remain: a thumb hole in a brown jumper; a copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being (never finished) which gets a space apart on whichever bookshelf it’s on. Not much of a claim to say you knew someone I suppose, but when it comes to the past I’m not particularly rational.

The “not being worth my time” is artifice; he left me for another girl, so I imagine this having been written without too much pain. (You’ll excuse reduced empathy on this one count.)

Dial back, however, to the clincher: “I like to think I did know you, at least a little, although I’m quite sure I never understood you.”

The (short) catalog of items that “remain” has the effect of doubling the hit. If I were to tell you what I wanted you to “know” about me, I’m afraid those things would not have made the list.

“I am quite sure that I never understood you.” Does this make me feel vindicated, or failed? I can’t put my finger on it. I know that I wanted him to want to “know” me; I still am left wondering if maybe he tried, maybe the unknowability was on my end.

It’s marvelous to me that this–being known, and the possibilities and impossibilities of being known–was a matter I was talking about when I was 21, something that has bothered me deeply lately about other relationships and which I thought was a product of becoming older and perpetually more mysterious to myself, never mind others. A good friend of mine also recently left a long-term relationship with a partner she had been living with, and this is something the two of us come back to frequently. “How did he know me so well about X, Y, and Z, but never know that A? Or B?” It has been 6 months since I left F, who I miss in some way every day, and in this time the thing that has not stopped hurting is that after five and a half years of living together there were mysteries of my soul–not very deep ones, in some cases–that he either never tried to tap into or even willfully ignored when I tried to share them. And to be fair, I’m sure that was a two-way street, although I hope I tried.

My friend and I are flummoxed and dismayed by this mutual experience, because we feel we “know” each other, and each of us also feels we “know” certain other people. But maybe a partner is a different matter, a person with whom you spend so much time that you must, defensively, protect some unknowable part of yourself. Is it possible to find a partner one can truly “know”? Or are we disappointed by a lack of something that would always have been impossible, anyway?

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13 Responses to knowing

  1. JES says:

    Since you’re trending towards single-word titles, here’s a possible future one for you: projection. And here’s another: Shadow. (Both used in a Jungian sense.) I think learning about them can help dispel a lot of these questions — at least, they have for me. A very good trilogy of very short books about them, especially in the context of relationships, by a (yes, Jungian) psychologist named Robert A. Johnson: He, She, and We.

    It’s amazing how many couples — relationship-type couples, but even just pairs of fast friends — have those “How could you not have known that?!?” moments. From another perspective, it’s not amazing at all: we work so hard at being incompletely knowable.

    (On re-reading: that sounds awfully, I dunno, pontifical or something. But stetI don’t want you to think I’m all neurotic and stuff. Ha!)

    • Hahaha. I had a number of other single-word titles for this one that I discarded, including “postmortem,” “knowledge,” and “remains.” I like post titles best when I can get some kind of 2nd-class pun out of them, but strokes of cleverness like my “conditioning” post (personal favorite) don’t come that often. alas.

      “Projection” is a good one. Might have to write a post just to fit that title…

  2. Wisteria789 says:

    This is a bit of a generalization, but is the friend female? I know of guy friends, who have been best friends for years, and don’t even know each others birthdays.

    • Why yes, it is a female friend. Yeah, see, although this may be a “bit of a generalization” on your part, it’s also what I would call “almost freakin’ universally applicable.”

      And apologies to gentlemen reader friends–I don’t mean to say men are incapable of close, “knowing” friendships–of course you are. I just think that because of social structures, habits, assumptions, etc it is a little more difficult for a man who yearns for that kind of friendship to find other men willing to reciprocate. Our editorial assistant (male) and I were talking about this over lunch the other day, too (like I said, it’s been kind of top-of-mind recently). He’s pretty bummed right now because he’s felt his childhood best friend (also male), the “only person who got him,” has been drifting lately and has been a little closed off emotionally.

      • Karissa says:

        A guy once told me that breakups are harder for them than they are for women. Reason being, when women breakup, they have their female friends who are their “best friends” to talk to; for men, their significant other most often *was* their best friend, and now they had no one left to talk to.

  3. Pingback: Impossible pursuits. « Karis Means Grace.

  4. cindy says:

    i just finished stephen king’s latest short stories
    antho and it’s all about how you can never truly know
    anyone, even your most closest loved ones. perhaps,
    until presented with a certain scenario, we don’t even
    truly know ourselves.

  5. Hmm, WordPress apparently doesn’t let me reply to a reply to a comment. I guess a chain can only be so long before it breaks here.

    But Karissa:on your comment on Wisteria: I think about that sadly. My college boyfriend broke up with me (broke my heart, more specifically) but in the end lost: all of our mutual friends kept in touch with me, since I’d had more of a friendship with them, where I was his only direct route to them. He left college very lonely and has completely disappeared from what was once his circle. Sad for him. I mean, I actually feel sad for him, even though he brought it all down.

    I feel much guiltier (obviously) about F, from whom I took many close friends when I left him. I wish there were some way I could have protected my life interests without hurting (even if it was only mildly) so many other people who had friendships with him. I miss him most as a friend, too, and am completely confident he feels the same way. Certainly what you said applied to our relationship: I have so many friends to call on, and I know I was his closest friend.

  6. Kountry says:

    oh this was a good post.and the comments section was really insightful too. It’s sad that we judge our relationships on how much our significant others know each other, even though it’s impossible for them to fully know us. What you said about guys and “knowing” relationships is so true. It really affects us dudes if we’re in a relationship with an average jealous girlfriend (which is okay), who doesn’t understand that because it’s impossible for one person to fully know us, that we need other people (sometimes girls) to access those unknowable areas. i just finished reading this first page of your blog. i really like the post you did for thanksgiving at the top. you’re a great storyteller. I look forward to reading your book (hopefully!).

  7. Kountry says:

    Hi! haha, i followed you here from kym pham -> karissa chen, I use to follow kym when she had her xanga. I think we had a mutual friend on xanga but I don’t know who it was. Blogging is funny that way, personal and very impersonal.

    I have a wordpress blog but I have no idea how to set it up so that my screenname links to the right address.

    I read more of your blog last night. I’m quite envious that you’re free to make emotional disclosures on your public blog. There’s something that keeps me back (professional development, social norms). I ended up making a separate blog to put all my crazy in.

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