4-13 Community and Identity Part One: New People

I’m not really into meeting new people these days.  I feel kind of bad about it. I used to like people.  I think.  Or maybe it was just that Jason really liked people and it rubbed off.  I’m not sure.

I still want people to feel welcome and supported.  I just don’t want to do the welcoming, or really, much of the supporting.

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about this, and about why this is happening.  I have some vague notions and theories.  So, in my continuing efforts to create a public record of the effects of grief that people won’t talk about, here’s another piece.

I have always known who I am.  I’m not sure I could have put it in words fifteen years ago like I can now.  But even when I left for college, I knew I needed to move away from my safety net so that I could line up who I was inside with the perceptions of me outside.  I couldn’t figure out how to do that within my community.  (Jason excelled at this.  The number of times he re-invented himself without ever fully leaving a community is amazing.)

Because I’ve always known who I am, I’ve always known who someone was meeting when they met me.  It was easy for me to say, “Hello.  Welcome.  This is me.  I am part of this place.  I hope you find something here you like, which might be me or it might be someone else.”  I knew who I was.  I understood that I wasn’t for everyone.  I didn’t need to change me to be for everyone.  Because I knew who I was, I could recognize people who were my kind of people.  It worked.

Now, who I am is in constant flux.  My identity is this twisty, slippery thing without proper edges.  I use to be able to count on one hand the number of times I’d cry in a year, including movies and books.  I’ve cried more times than that this week.  I used to be able to express specific future plans, dreams, and vague notions of things I might do.  Each time someone asks me what’s next after grad school, I shrug and give a non-answer.

I can’t tell you who I am right now.  I’m still me, which includes parts of me that have always been there.  I still love words and dragons and stories and creating things.  I still hate tomatoes.  I still braid my hair most days.  But I’m not the same person I was on April 29th, 2017.  I can’t be.

So when I meet new people, I don’t know who they are meeting.  I can’t authentically say, “Hello.  Welcome.  This is me.”  Because the last part of that may or may not be true.  The person they are meeting in that moment may not actually be who I am.  It may be a front I’m putting up without intending to, a front of who I was before.  (Yes, I know we all put up fronts for people.  That’s part of being human.  But sometimes the front matches the non-front (back?) and sometimes it doesn’t and they people who don’t match read as inauthentic, or turn out to be not the person you thought they were.)

In addition to that complexity of identity, when I meet new people I have to decide what to tell them.  Jason’s life and death are still part of my daily existence.  Jason is part of my daily existence.  The stories I want to tell often start with ‘we’ not with ‘I’.  So each time I meet someone, I have to make the call about whether or not I tell them my partner is dead.

There are several calculations that go into telling or not telling.  First is if I feel like dealing with it.  Each person I tell has the same emotional arc.  It always ends up in a positive place of wanting to help, which I appreciate, but I still have to hold their emotions while they process my loss.  I can’t always do that.  Second is whether this is someone I will have conversations with in which it will come up.  Because it is way more awkward when people don’t know and I have to tell them halfway through a conversation.

Third is if it matters.  This is the hardest one.  Because even though Jason’s death is my daily experience, his death was almost a year ago.  According to our society, it should be old news.  I should be over it.  It shouldn’t be relevant to this moment.  But that’s not real or true to the experience of grief.  And yet, it doesn’t matter to someone who is just meeting me and never knew him.  It isn’t relevant to their experience of me, at least not on a superficial level.

Navigating all of that each time I walk into a social situation is exhausting.  In places like circus classes and Frisbee teams, where the intent is to be social, I find myself pulling away and being stand-offish.  At work, I try not to add stories into the conversation until I know that the person I’m talking to is aware of Jason’s death(except that one #TeamAwkward moment, which was amazing).

All of this combines to make me not want to meet new people.  New people are exhausting.

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