Monday, September 25, 2006

Facing It

Hard work, fear, grief, ambiguity and joy: that's my life right now. Once again I realize that I have it pretty good.

Jeff and I had dinner at Cafe Europa the other night. It's one of our old haunts — we used to meet there for lunch on Fridays when I was a student here and he was driving buses. (Of course, now I'm a student again and he's driving buses again. But a lot has changed in the interim.) I got my old favorite meal, tomato basil soup with a chunk of bread and Greek salad. I talked a mile a minute for most of the hour or so that we were there. Jeff got to hear my argument on why, as a religious person, I believe that separation of church and state is essential to preserve the significance of religious observance, as well as the rights of those whose beliefs differ from those of the majority. He also got to hear about the Webb for Senate campaign, in which I've been pretty involved. And he got to hear a lot about my personal life, which is confusing, scary, and yet, a lot of fun.

I got married in November of 2003 and divorced in April of 2005. Out of respect for my ex-husband and his friends and family, I won't share any details about the marriage, but I think it's my place to say that I shouldn't have entered into it. I'm still struggling with that decision. It's easy for me to brush it off as something I did because I was young and foolish, or because I wasn't as socially well-adjusted as I am now, or because I was depressed. All of those things are true, but they don't help me figure out how not to make a decision like that again. And so I tend, now, to get scared when I let people too far into my life. I assume that everyone to whom I give the power to hurt me will use it. It takes me a long time to learn to trust people.

In the intense social atmosphere of the law school, everything happens at warp speed. I met most of my best friends here on August 16th or 17th, and let them into my life completely within a couple of weeks. Part of that, I think, is that the workload is heavy, and the material is sometimes difficult, and there's almost a complete lack of feedback from our professors. So, we gravitate towards each other for reassurance. We want to be part of a team. I have a team here, and I love them. But in my darker moments, I wonder how I can trust people so fully whom I've only known for a few weeks. On the other hand, there's no way I could get through this alone.

James and I met and started dating immediately after my ex-husband and I split up. I was more than a little bit skittish, but I knew I wanted to give being with James a shot. One afternoon in October, he was driving us through Schenley Park, where the leaves were turning and the sky was a brilliant blue. He turned to me and said, "I'm sorry."

"Sorry for what?" I asked, my stomach tightening, worried that he'd done something awful and this was the beginning of a confession.

"I'm apologizing now because I know that eventually I'm going to hurt you. It's impossible not to hurt people you love, and I'm not very good at relationships, so I'm sure I'll hurt you somehow. And when it happens, I want you to know that it's not on purpose."

I'm pretty sure I laughed, and of course I accepted his apology-in-advance. I thought it was silly at the time, but now I don't. James and I dated for two years or so, and it was wonderful — certainly the most comfortable relationship that I've ever had — but he did hurt me at times, and I hurt him too.

Maybe it's learning to write legal proofs that's leading me to think about feelings this way, but I feel like since pain is always a possibility when entering into close relationships, there's almost no point in worrying about it. To borrow terminology from Torts, I've been thinking of relationships as operating under a strict liability regime. If something bad happens, I'm liable. So I might as well just not get close with anyone, since the pain that might result will then be my fault. But as we've seen in Torts, strict liability only makes sense in particular circumstances. I'm going to try to operate in more of a negligence world instead. If I get close to you, and you hurt me, I'll only hold you liable if you fail to take the care that a reasonably prudent person would take under the circumstances, or if you intend to hurt me. Some pain is inevitable. It's one of the costs of participating in the system, like the fact that if I drive my brand new car, after a little while it's not going to look so brand new anymore. But if all I do is keep it in the garage and gaze at it, what's the point of having it?

So I'm going to try to get comfortable with vulnerability again. I was living a very safe life before I started law school. I had a job that I was good at, a boyfriend who was unfailingly nice to me, a cheap place to live, a church where I knew people, places to go to get coffee where the baristas knew how I liked my espresso. Most of the time, I was content. But now I feel like I have a shot at actual happiness. And even though it isn't a safe bet, I have to go for it.


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