05 May 2010

The Intimate Lives of Germans

Well, reader, I have been thinking about a broad array of things. This weekend was the Cambridge Tango Festival, which draws tango dancers from near and far, and as the weekend progressed I noticed that a number of the men I asked to dance, or who asked me to dance, were German. I didn't know this about them before we started dancing, but discovered it while we were dancing (in the pauses between songs, when we chatted).

About two months ago, I said to my friend C., "At the moment, I have a little space free in my heart for Germans," and she replied thoughtfully, "You always have a little space in your heart for Germans." At the time I laughed, but also thought that it was true, and now I think to myself that I may, in fact, have a lot of space in my heart for Germans.

In one way, this is surprising. Dr. Higher was German, and he brought with him many, if not all, of the most unpleasant aspects of Germanity: he was rigid in his beliefs and convictions; he was convinced of his own superiority; he scheduled everything (and I mean EVERYTHING); he did and believed everyone should do "the done thing," and he believed that it was absolutely clear what "the done thing" was (when I tried to friend him on facebook two years after we broke up, he sent me an e-mail telling me that "everyone knows" exes don't friend each other on facebook. Indeed, "everyone knows" was one of his favourite phrases). I did not like any of these things about him, and they weren't any nicer in real life than they sound on blog.

Yet I stayed with him, and even now I miss him when I want someone to speak German to, or our weird version of German to (who else can I tell that I'm going to das Gym, or that I've had a Nachtpferd?), or when I want to talk about German politics - or I miss being able to understand German politics through him. And Mr. Heaven was/is German, and there's another nice boy here, vastly too young for me but likeable as a friend, and I know part of the reason I like him is because he's German.

In another way, though, this liking of Germans is not surprising at all. I by no means grew up in a German milieu, but for the first seven years of my life there was a lot of Germanity in my background: we would go visit my grandparents, where if German wasn't spoken the German accent was thick, and we celebrated a German Christmas there, and ate zwieback when we were little, and I certainly heard my mother and grandparents speaking German to each other (indeed, a couple of weeks ago when Mr. Heaven tried to shut me out of a conversation on the couch while we watching football by carrying on said conversation in murmured German
with a mutual friend, I was struck and puzzled by how soothing that sound was, then surmised that it must be because murmured German would have been a background to a fair number of fallings-asleep at my grandparents. Too bad you can't ask someone to shut you out MORE, or I would have asked him to speak that way all the time). And now I'm stuck with the German football team, too, after that World Cup in Whateverthatcitywaswithallthehills. And, of course, I'm terribly German myself: stubborn as the day is long - yes, rigid - given to fits of rage if things don't happen on time, a fine complainer, and filled with the conviction that I know how to do everything right.

So perhaps it's no surprise that I have a space in my heart for Germans. Although whether I want a German to fill that space and more is a different issue.

And thus we come - as everyone knows we should - to intimacy. BF recently got tenure (hurrah!), and for some reason I was thinking yesterday about her job, and about how we make job choices generally. BF is very shy, and she's ended up being a laboratory scientist: I couldn't help feeling that the result might have been dictated by psychological desires. Forgive me if this is wrong, BF, but don't worry, because what I really want to talk about is what I did next, which is (unsurprisingly) turned the torch on myself. If her career choice says things about her psychological desires and fears, mine must do the same about me; what does my career choice say about me?

I love my job, but the part of it I love best of all is the teaching. Well, what do you get in teaching? Here is where these thoughts took a not-so-pleasant turn, because I realised that what you get from teaching is a forum in which, although you stand revealed in front of a group of people, you get to control that act of revelation. In teaching you choose what you'll show and what you won't - and if you do it right you get enormous love with very little revelation. What's more, in teaching the intimacy is all one way: I learn immense amounts about my students, but unless they are keen amateur psychologists and highly observant, they learn very little about me except what I choose to tell them.

Later in the day, I was reading an article on the internet that said we tend to mock or push away in others things we fear in ourselves. I already knew that, but this time I thought about the possible inverse of that: does that mean that we embrace in others those things we like in ourselves, or that we embrace others who mirror what we like in ourselves? I think it does mean that, and I think it also means we embrace those who allow us to continue to do those things in ourselves that we like. And I had a bit of a think about the men I'd been involved with, and all of a sudden I thought to myself, I think I'm afraid of intimacy.

I know: I spill my guts on this blog. But that's anonymous, isn't it? And even leaving that aside, let's have a look back. I loved Irishboyfriend, and in many ways we were intimate with each other, but he was sarcastic, and critical, and both those things tend to make one hesitant to confide and reluctant to show weakness (both of which I was). Dr. Higher was extremely critical, but what's more important is that I never really loved him, and for almost all our relationship I knew with confidence that I was superior to him: hardly a recipe for intimacy, either. As for Mr. Heaven, if you look back at the first entry I ever wrote about him, you can see that I was aware he was not a candidate for intimacy. And didn't he prove it with gusto in the end!

The only exception here is Mr. Fallen, with whom I made a real effort to be intimate, and whom I really loved. But he lived in England, and I in the States, so how intimate did I really have to be? Plus, the therapist before this one told me once that people find it incredibly hard to break their pyschological patterns, no matter how unpleasant those patterns may be - we prefer the devil we know. So perhaps I attempted to break my pattern with Mr. Fallen, then lapsed back.

I performed the litmus test and imagined telling this theory to the therapist. I didn't want to tell her so strongly that I think there must be at least something to it.

So, in the end, here is the conclusion I draw: at least in part, like most sneaky subconsciouses, my sneaky subconscious has devised a way to get what it wants while still looking good. I think I pick people who are not designed to give me intimacy, because that way I can avoid having intimacy whilst claiming it's not my fault. I look as if I don't have an intimacy problem, but I do.

No that I think that's the only reason I choose the people I do. I'm attracted to people physically, or intellectually, or they make me laugh (the bastards! that's how they really get me). But I do keep quite tight control of my public self, and even my private self, and it's true that I'm a very private person, and quite unforthcoming about the things that really matter to me. So, yes, I do think I have some intimacy problems.

On a more cheerful to end with, here's a photo of a tiny car that M. took for me in Holland. Look at how tiny it is! It's tiny!

God, I love tiny cars.


B said...

Nachtpferd? Ist das ein "charlie horse?"

Vespertina said...

No, a nightmare! ("nighthorse," get it?)

B said...

Wow, yeah, I don't think I would've gotten that on my own... those bilingual puns can be so damn tricky, haha! I guess my first thought was charlie horse because I sometimes get them at night, and once that was stuck in my head, I don't think I stood a chance. Thanks for the explanation.