A Word About “Projecting”

Folks, today–possibly for the very first time–I think I have finally comprehended the meaning of the term “projection.”

Allow me to explain.

You see, I was sitting at home, intently focused–now that 36 hours remain until school starts–on planning my courses. I walked Bonita briefly this morning, but hadn’t taken her to the dog park or on a longer journey such as our long summer mornings have often included.

And out she came from her bedroom chair: ears pressed back, tail wagging and giving me those brutal “I’m soooo bored” eyes that, daily, prompt me to take her to the dog-park-to-which-we-have-to-drive or on long-walks-that-it-is-too-hot-to- take.

I bent down and gave her my most enthusiastic nuzzle, and then, friends, this is what I thought.

I thought: she probably misses him. I thought: here I am thinking how difficult it is for me to go through one disappointment of a man after another, and what of her? How horrible it must be for her to meet an ongoing parade of men who coddle her, play with her, allow her to chew their various extremities–only for them to so quickly and abruptly disappear, just as she’s begun to get attached?

(I wish I were kidding, but I’m not.)

The reality: the “him” in this scenario is a current (highly nascent) interest who Bonita has met all of two times. (Finally, I must share, girlfriend came through and got me a date.) As of this morning I felt certain that I was never going to hear from him again because it had been approximately two hours since his last text message. Clearly, I was the one feeling irrationally disappointed and anticipating the letdown that occurs when I allow myself to get excited about someone and then quickly learn exactly why, this time, I should not have. Also, Bonita is a dog.

In other words, I was projecting.

This term has been on my mind quite a bit lately. First, because someone (okay fine, said current highly nascent interest) recently told me that their aversion to marriage has to do with the way that long-term partners get to know you in ways you don’t even know yourself–and sometimes ways that you don’t want to know yourself.

Good relationship-idealizing conversationalist that I am, I told him this was true of all serious partnerships and that he should consider it among the many inevitable challenges of being in a relationship–not a reason to avoid them. (Easy for someone to say, you might note, who has spent the better part of her several most recent years single.)

I was reminded of his observation a few days later, when I finally went to see “The Kids Are All Right,” the Lisa Cholodenko film in which Julianne Moore and Annette Bening play a lesbian couple whose teenage children–and then Moore’s character, herself–pursue a relationship with the kids’ sperm donor.

I won’t get into my general response to the film. And I’ll try not to ruin it for anyone still interested in seeing it (briefly, you should be). But the line that resonated on this comes at the end, when Moore’s character delivers a somewhat melodramatic monologue about how enormously difficult it is to be married.

I won’t use quotes cause I don’t have the exact wording, but basically she says that after a while when you look at your partner you don’t even see the other person: instead, you see a projection of all your own crap.

Which struck me, frankly, as pretty darn brilliant and true.

It is a scary thing to be so intimate with someone, so intimate that you probably can’t hide from them the parts that you’ve long managed to keep hidden from yourself. The ugly parts, the vulnerable parts, the parts that we want to ignore so extremely that we’re not even aware we do.

It’s scary to think that someone else might see those things: and it makes sense that, instead of processing that reality, we project our anxiety through hostility and frustration.

And it makes sense that we got to a point where we just look at them and–instead of recognizing a person–recognize the threat to our own stability and sense of self that they represent.

Which, fortunately, is harder to do when this “person” has a vigorously active two-foot tail and will always be willing to lick your face regardless of how poorly you exercise judgment or manage your neuroses when it comes to most men.

And which, in sum, is why everyone should have a dog.

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