I was in a memoir writing class my sophomore year of college when was first introduced to the concept of having a “witness” to one’s life. My Anglo-Irish professor, who had a tendency to be rather uptight, opened up to us about her relationship with her sister and how much more important it became after their parents died. She talked about how valuable it was just to have someone to turn to and say, “Remember when…?”
I’m an only child, though if I had my way I wouldn’t have been. Both my parents were one of three and I always wanted brothers or sisters of my own. By the time I turned 13, I’d let go of that dream, but now as an adult I’m experiencing the desire all over again as my friends becomes Aunts and Uncles. Not to mention that there are events I only half-remember that I would love someone to cross-recollect with.
But I have no such witness. My parents were there when they were, but the experiences aren’t the same as having a peer or sibling to relate to. It’s not too late to find a witness, as it were, but that would mean finding a partner.
The partner bond is a step further than that, though. Blood kin are the people you’re thrown together with whether you like it or not, and you make the best of it. But your partner is part of your chosen family, and that person is choosing to be with you each day. In an article on co-narcissism I was reading, the author described the benfits for a patient new to therapy thusly:
“It was very beneficial to him to have someone who was interested in listening to him and who enjoyed learning about him and sharing his life.”
While I do think therapy is a great thing (if nothing else, it’s someone you can talk to and it will have no social ramifications for you), I think this same statement can describe an important aspect to a friendship or finding a long-term committed partner. That you find someone who doesn’t just tolerate you, but is genuinely interested in learning about you and hearing about your life.
As an introvert and a former quiet, shy kid, the idea that someone would be actively interested in what I have to say is still a little new to me. I have a tendency to assume that all conversation is disingenuous like “How are you?” is in the US, where we say it out of politeness, but never listen for a response. I try to combat this by being sincere myself, but sometimes this befuddles folks.
What can I say? It would be nice to have someone to share the triumphs with, as well as the missteps. Someone I can turn to one day and say “Remember when…?” Someone to whom my existence makes a difference, because I share in their joys and sorrows too. Not to say I don’t have friends, and that they aren’t important, but I’m watching them not-so-slowly pair off themselves, and it’s becoming clear to me that they aren’t going to be the witnesses I hoped they might be.