So Frank’s last day at work was Friday. He starts his new job next Thursday, and I predict that it will be a much better fit. He’d been at the old place for three years, and for various reasons was never really happy there. Before that he hated his job and before that he hated his job even more. And before that was before I knew him.
Frank is a man with a lot of anxiety in his constitution, and lately much of that has been stemming from the job situation. I’ve never known the guy when he didn’t dread going into work. It’s a big part of his personality, really, hating his job. Of course there’s the possibility that he’ll end up hating this new place just as much, but at least for a little bit, he will presumably be a very different person.
Or will he? I have a theory that most people in their routines have a set amount of nervousness and anger and anxiety (and conversely happiness and optimism) so that if a source of worry (or of pleasure) is removed, they eventually find something else to fill that void. But maybe I’m wrong. Hopefully I am. Maybe this means that from here on out I’ll be living with a partner in a significantly better mood all the time.
It’s strange to think what that would mean. Our whole way of relating to one another could change. In this case it would be for the better, obviously. And it’s not like Frank’s entire personality would change, it would just mean that there were fewer times when he was grumpy or worried or moody or bickery.
That got me thinking, though. You assume when you’ve been with someone for a decent amount of time—in my case five years or so—that you know them pretty well. I definitely think that I can predict how Frank is going to react to a given situation with 90% accuracy (and vice-versa, I think.) But really I know how he is going to react within the given framework of our current lives.
What changes could change the two of us so fundamentally that we would be unrecognizable? A new setting? We’ve never lived together outside of the city. What if we moved to the country and found out that we hate each other? Or moved to Europe and realized that one of us is fundamentally more willing to take risks and deal with challenging situations than the other? How about a different financial situation? Or a serious illness? Or a disfiguring accident?
It’s not like I’m worrying about the future or anything. It’s more of a thought exercise. I’m just amazed at how something that feels so set in stone could actually be very fragile. And it’s strange what parts of your personality—things that are essential to who you are—aren’t necessarily visible in the day-to-day.
How people react to emergency situations, for example. Whether they fall apart in crisis or stay cool. Their ability to deal with the death of a loved one. How they react to a serious and unwanted change to their living situation. It’s just weird, is what I’m saying. Not just between partners, but between friends and other people you think you know really well.
With a partner, though, there’s a particular potential for unforeseen disaster, relationship-wise, that consists of those hidden personality traits combined with untested assumptions about what the other would do in a situation that hasn’t come up (Of course he would help me nurse my ailing parent! Of course she would stand by me if I had to declare bankruptcy!)
Who knows if I will wake up to a completely different Frank on Thursday morning. It’s very strange to think about the external forces of the world and how much they can affect the seemingly-weatherproof bubble of a relationship. I guess most humans just tend to normalize whatever situation they are in, and underestimate the fragility of their current positions. Otherwise we’d probably have trouble functioning in the world.
Anyway. Here’s hoping none of us have to find out how we or our partners would react to any of the various and possible apocalyptic scenarios (climate change, food shortages, economic collapse, zombies) breathing down our necks lately. And let’s all wish Frank luck at the new job. Luck!