The dress that broke the internet got me thinking. The age-old question, “is your red the same as my red?” applies to so much more than color perception. In some ways, it’s the true foundation of all our relationships: negotiating a dance between one’s own perception of the world and another’s. If I perceive nighttime as the time when I wake up, have breakfast, and live my life, and I have a husband for whom the same is true only of daytime, chances are we won’t get to grow old together. That’s an outlandish example, of course, but it stands in for countless subtler perceptive differences that we often don’t even notice compromising on. More importantly, it’s what illustrates the true breadth of blind faith we all must have in order to function in the world. When we hear the words I love you, for example, we have no guarantee that the word love represents the same feeling in the person professing it as it does in us. We just have to trust that it does.
This is heightened and even more extraordinary when thinking, as Kathy and I are wont to do, about adoption reunions. The meeting between, in our case, an adoptee and a birth mother, is a meeting between relatives who are strangers to one another. While we recognized each other as family the moment we set eyes on one another, that had little bearing on the kind of relationship we would have. Kathy still had no idea what kind of person I was. Just because she recognized her own children’s features in mine did not mean that she could expect her values to be in harmony with mine. Or that I was an affectionate person. Or empathetic, or kind. Because these assessments can only be made with time. For example, she may have asked me, are you an affectionate person? To which I would have responded, thinking about what affectionate meant to me, yes, and by doing so created in her an expectation of me. We lived thousands of miles apart. What are the chances that the way I expressed affection would be in keeping with the way she expected me to express it?
This is just one small factor that complicates reunions. As we research reunions for our next book (stay tuned for more information about that!) we are more and more convinced of the wisdom in slowly getting to know each other rather than jumping in headfirst, spurred on by the euphoria of the ‘honeymoon period’.
Because sometimes all it takes to break up a fledgling relationship between reunitees is, “No, you’re wrong. It’s obviously black and blue. And I can’t be around a person who insists it’s white and gold!”