Whose Reality Is It Anyway?

I had a fascinating and cathartic conversation with an old friend this morning. Joni and I met in Seward, Alaska many years ago. I’d just moved there to be with my (then) fiancé, and she was the first girlfriend I made in Alaska. We formed an instant bond because we’re both Italian girls, we’re both Leos, and (at the time) we both cared deeply for the guy I intended to marry. He and Joni had been friends for years, and I believed I was in love with him.

As it turned out, it wasn’t love. Karl and I disengaged about three months after I moved to Alaska, and my life spun off on a strange and wondrous Alaskan adventure that lasted eleven years. Joni was along for the scariest and most dangerous part of that ride—the shock of learning that the man I intended to marry was cheating on me with another woman and the immediate aftermath of the explosive breakup that followed. I had a hard time letting go because I was convinced that I loved him. An even bigger delusion, I believed he loved me.

In the years that followed, I gradually realized that I was simply afraid to let go because I didn’t believe I could survive on my own. I never learned his side of the story, and I’ve long since stopped caring to hear it. Now that I’m happily married (but dealing with a dreadful ex-wife), I am just tremendously grateful that we didn’t get married and have children. That relationship would never have worked, so had we gotten that far, my husband and I would likely be dealing with two dreadful exes today rather than one. Or worse, I may never have met my husband at all because I would have been bound to Alaska by children, just as Matt and I are bound to Colorado today. Had that relationship not ended so quickly, I might not have returned to my hometown in Colorado, which is where I met the only man I was ever truly meant to marry.

Life is funny. We make a million choices (most of them seemingly inconsequential), and we often don’t realize until many years later how those choices affected us or our friends and family. Sometimes we never really know the consequences of our choices, but today Joni and I had the opportunity to see the impact we had on one another. She remembered certain events that I’d forgotten, and I had the opportunity to view those tumultuous years from her perspective and see them in an entirely new light. It was at once painful and heartwarming. We both cried. We both shared secrets from our past that shed more light on certain events and our respective reactions to them. Most importantly, we came away from that conversation with a renewed appreciation for one another and a stronger friendship.

We all talk about reality as if it’s a singular thing. As if there’s only one reality that we share collectively. The truth, though, is that no two people can possibly share the same reality because our individual perceptions are shaped by past experiences, our family and cultural backgrounds, and our own unique personalities. No two people share the exact same past or the same upbringing—not even siblings raised in the same household. Although cultural influence and personality types can be categorized to some degree, no two of those are exactly alike either. So, whose reality are we ever really talking about anyway? It’s a wonder we humans manage to communicate at all, given how wide the gulf can be between your reality and mine.

The lesson I came away with today is that sometimes the only way to fully understand our own past is to review it from the unique perspectives of those who were there to witness it.

Thank you, Joni. I’m so glad we had that talk, and I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate your friendship—both then and now.

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