This observation was a timely one, as many of my tidily compartmentalized worlds have come crashing together of late, leaving me reeling and wondering if all that compartmentalization was such a great idea after all.
What the heck am I talking about? Well. Right now I have about four lives running simultaneously. There is the "mother" life, which is just as it sounds, me taking care of my children and not really doing much else. I do not visit with friends in this role, I do not date in this role, I do not work in this role. Then there is my "girlfriend" life-- a relatively new one in which I travel, hike, go out to dinner, wear frilly underthings, and skew everything positively. My children, past, and darker emotions are not allowed to surface in this life. Then there is my "career" life---the articles I write, the tutoring I do, the pen names (see? secret lives within secret lives!), the scholarly pursuits. No boyfriend here. No kids. And definitely no frilly underthings. Lots of friends though, and socializing. Finally, there is my "real" life. That's what I call it to myself, though oddly it hasn't had much to do in the past 10 years or so. This is the me that runs around in the wilderness, travels the world, plays guitar, doesn't care what others think, and is vitally, intrinsically sure of herself and her place in the world.
Each of these lives has a different wardrobe, a different vocabulary, a different set of friends, even a different ethical system. I dress for the day depending on which role I will be playing. When everything is tripping along smoothly, my chameleon system works great. I can utterly devote myself to my children's needs without resentment because I know my "girlfriend" time will be coming up. I can write coldblooded articles about the necessity of not having children in an overpopulated world because the "mother" is nowhere to be seen in my "career" role. And whenever I feel emptiness or sorrow or a lack of fulfillment I can simply shift gears and put off dealing with it for a while. Or infinitely.
The thing is, lately it has begun to feel a lot like lying. I can sense that my boyfriend knows there is more to me than what I allow him to see, and that it makes him uncomfortable. I have found my life as a mother seeping into my writing, and my "real" life knocking constantly at the door, wanting to be let back in to my current life. If there were only room for her.
But isn't there? Other people seem to manage it. It seems so simple for them. They just ARE--their full selves, everything integrated--and that's all there is to it. Their children and their old friends and their careers are seamlessly united into one cohesive, coherent life. They never have to stop and think about what to say, or how much to reveal.
I suspect that my rampant compartmentalization is a kind of coping mechanism; a looong, baaaad relationship will do that. Naturally I want to forget that this looong baaad relationship ever took place, and so it gets tucked away. And so does the girl who made the decision to be in it.
In the end, though, when I do that I am complicit in the denigration of that girl. It is tantamount to a declaration of my embarrassment that she ever existed. So I am left with a lurking feeling of shame, and secrecy. Hardly the way to kick a bad relationship to the curb, is it?
So I am embarking on a quest for cohesiveness. This is not going to be easy. I am REALLY good at playing roles and I suspect that pretty soon the search-for-cohesiveness is going to end up as yet another role I step into from time to time. But the thought of not having secrets from anyone--of being able to speak openly about anything, in any situation--is a luminously magnetic one. And I suspect that I am not as opaque as I think. I suspect that, when I finally get past my fear and take off the masks, my children and friends and coworkers will simply shrug and say "Damn. It was about time."