Cartoons of Significant Others

You know how cartoonists draw a picture of a prominent figure (usually a politician) that seems to typify them or characterize them in some way (usually exaggerating certain features)? I’m starting to get the sneaky feeling that we do that in our heads for our significant others.

I did a drawing course a couple of years ago when I decided I needed to exercise my right brain a bit and we did an interesting exercise called “blind drawing” which of course has nothing to do with drawing a blind person, as you would a naked person if you were doing a nude drawing (which I think would be enjoyable depending on the model).

Rather, blind drawing is where you look at an object, and draw off to one side, without looking at your paper, or removing your pen from the page. There’s a bunch of reasons why it exercises the right brain which I won’t go into, but we were asked to first up, draw our hand.

Now of course we all know what our hands look like don’t we? After all they’ve been attached to the ends of our arms for some time. And drawing hands are easy. We’ve done it before, so it should be a piece of cake. Everyone knows you draw a hand like this! But blind drawing forces you to really look at your hand without taking your eyes off it. You begin to study it and notice veins, textures, flaws, nails, blemishes, knuckles, wrinkles, colors and shades and the way the light falls on it casting shadows. Take a look at your hand right now and really look at it, and you’ll see what I mean. It really looks nothing like the way we would draw it.

The brain basically likes to take snapshots of things and turn them into cartoons, capturing the main elements and ignoring the subtleties and detail because it’s easier. Seen one hand – seen them all. No need to look anymore or think about it. It’s basically an approximation of the actual object. It stops the brain from going into sensory overload and allows it to focus on what you need it to, rather than noticing everything everyday afresh.

But this causes problems for our relationships with significant others because we cartoon them as well.

I’ve been married for ummm seventeen, no eighteen years now (maths isn’t so good anymore) and sadly, I think my wife and I are entrenched in the way we see each other. Over a period of time, I think we “characterise” our experience of the other person – their actions, behaviors, words, cobbled together with our own assumptions, ideals, values and expectations and we draw a mental cartoon of them (exaggerating certain features, approximating or ignoring others), and then have a relationship with the cartoon.

So I have come to see my wife as being fun-loving, spontaneous, extroverted, slightly disorganised, but at the same time insecure, fearful, lacking in self esteem and clingy. She on the other hand has come to see me as domineering, driven, goal oriented, uncaring, unsympathetic, over bearing, critical, negative, unfeeling, analytical, and unloving.

The problem is, that I worry that she may be more or less of those things than I perceive. And I definitely have softened particularly in the last few years, but her cartoon of me remains the same. I think when it comes to significant others, having caricatures of them is counter productive. Everyone is on a journey, and everyone is changing. It’s unfair to relate to them according to our mental-historical cartoon of them and not only unfair, but dishonoring and it leads to a static relationship, not a dynamic one – which is what we’re all longing for. Not only do people need to be on a journey to become the best they can be, but our relationships have to be free of cartoons, to be the best it can be.

For the fans of James Cameron’s blockbuster Avatar out there, the Na’vi greet one another with “I see you” which is the direct translation of the Sanskrit Namaste. Which doesn’t just mean I can physically see you, it literally means “the God in me sees the God in you.”

I wonder how we can really begin to “see” our significant others again, and not just a dodgy, approximated, static, exaggerated cartoon of them.

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3 Responses

  1. The problem with perception is that it IS our reality! My spouse not only sees me through the lens of her perceptions of me as her ‘significnat other’ but through the filter of her expereince of her first ‘significnat others’, namely her parents. Her dad has concreted certian perceptions in her soul long before you came along! The good is your gain – the bad is your deficit! Thatis not to suggest my behaviour has no impact – it does sugest however, that a good percentage of the down side may not be about you at all!

  2. Yeah, you’re right reddirt. I hadn’t even thought of prior experiences with significant others.. that’s a biggie. And yes, perception IS reality. The cartoons are real.

    Maybe the only way is to make a conscious effort to forget yesterday and live in the present and really try and “see” our loved ones for who they are today….

  3. caricature – not characterise (or not so much)…

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