They lived in New Orleans for a stretch. She didn’t want her husband getting into trouble on Mardi Gras. So she drew a bubble bath, handed him a bottle of bourbon, and started season one of Star Trek: Next Gen. She also gave him a gorgeous hand job.
All of his favorite things.
And yet he still found his way onto the street, screwing around. She didn’t get upset. Instead, she just fetched him from trouble and put him to bed. This is a weird story, but it speaks to me. It’s the kind of tale you only hear when you’re drunk at a party.
Here’s a wife who not only understands herself, but because she understands herself, she understands her husband.
Maybe one day she’ll get tired of his emotional immaturity. But if that ever happens, she’ll be okay.
You’re the strangest person you’ll ever meet. Most of us will never understand ourselves completely, but we try.
Our identity comes down to concrete details. A portrait emerges from those. To see the portrait, you have to make the brush strokes. Figuring yourself out doesn’t always require backpacking trips or guided meditation. It can help, but it’s bonus material.
We turn everywhere looking for answers about ourselves. But good answers require good questions. Here’s mine.
What do you want?
Don’t roll your eyes. You can start anywhere with this one, like wine or whiskey? I used to sip Merlot because it made me look sophisticated, but now I only drink bourbon because it’s what I truly enjoy, and I don’t waste my precious brain cells on anything else. You can learn a lot about yourself just by thinking about little likes and dislikes. It scales up. We all want similar stuff, but the preference settings matter. Yet stuff only matters so much. Almost everyone wants to make a difference in the world. You have to discover some sense of how you’ll make yours. My answers to this question have changed over time, which is why I keep asking.
What turns you on?
Now things are getting interesting. Your kinks matter to your identity and overall happiness more than you think. Whatever they are, you have to understand your sexuality, fetishes and all. Too many people spend half their lives hiding in the closet from themselves, and it makes them miserable. The world doesn’t need to know or approve of what happens in your bedroom. Only you do, and maybe a few other willing partners.
What makes you laugh?
There’s always a handful of jokes or memes that crack you up harder than the rest of your friends. Those aren’t just random moments. A pattern strings them together. They’re clues to who you are.
What ticks you off?
Everyone gets pissed, but a self-aware person understands their triggers. There’s the stuff that irritates everyone, and then there’s the handful of things that send you personally into a rage that nobody else can quite grasp, even if they try. It might be someone leaving the toilet seat up, or the sound of someone munching chips. If you want to find yourself, you have to look there too. Go one step even further, and find ways to manage it.
How do you take your people?
An introvert can do anything an extrovert can, and vice versa. What matters is how you go about it. Someone who knows they’re an introvert can survive an all night drink fest, just in a different way. And maybe not quite as often. Some of us spend years struggling through social situations before finding out how we deal with people best. Knowing doesn’t mean you have to succumb to a stereotype, just helps you defy them better.
What are you best at?
If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you know why this question matters. What you dream about at night has to align with your skills, at least on some level. You might be good at a lot of things, but you only kick ass at a small handful. That’s where you should put your energy. That doesn’t mean you hang up your banjo forever, but maybe just play it on the weekends for a while, until you’ve reached a certain peace in your life.
What do other people say about you?
What everyone else thinks matters, but not because they’re right. Even if someone hates you, they do it for a reason. Sure, it hurts. But if you want to learn something about yourself, you’ll listen and then process that information. You might as well understand why someone can’t stand you, and go from there. It might be a worthless troll, something your were faking, a trait you need to change, or something you actually like about yourself. You’ll never know if you don’t pay attention.
Are you neurotypical?
Most people wonder if they’re “crazy” at some point. Instead of staying up at night surfing Web MD, consider talking to a therapist. Or at least a few friends. A mental or emotional condition can serve as an asset or a liability. Often, both. It might involve medication, or just education and management. I’m not a therapist, and I can’t guarantee you’ll even get the right diagnosis. I’m on the spectrum, and I wish I’d known a long time ago. Even just entertaining the possibility opens up, well, possibilities…
What do you admire about others?
Sure, every snow flake is unique. But only a microscope can tell the difference. They all look pretty much the same from an inch away. You’re not that unique, just an amalgam of traits with a slightly different signature. What you see and appreciate about other people makes you, both the good and the bad. This idea applies to a friend you look up to, a character from a show you like, or the biography of someone who died a hundred years ago.
What do you expect from life?
Wanting is one thing, expecting is something else. It’s way more dangerous, because the floor can crumble beneath you. We all expect for certain events to take place in our lives. Our expectations might involve marriage, a kid, a promotion, or just a simple acceptance letter. You might carry yourself with a lot of grace in public when bad news happens. That’s not what I’m talking about. What I mean is how deep, shattering disappointment effects you behind closed doors, and how you move forward.
Who are you jealous of?
We think about envy in the simplest of terms. “It’s bad.” Well, duh. But this emotion contains valuable intel. We don’t envy every single person who’s doing better than us. We only feel jealousy for specific individuals. Hundreds of other artists, writers, or photographers are probably doing “better” than you are. But you’re only jealous of one or two. Why? Figuring that out helps you understand what you want even more, with the side benefit of saving your soul. Maybe I’m weird, but I’ve found that when I root out the cause to an emotion, it becomes manageable.
What kind of music do you like?
Some of us can remember the early 2000s, when you used to exchange a mixed CD with your boyfriend or girlfriend in the early stages of a relationship. I still have a couple of them. The reasons why we like a specific genre, or a particular singer, hint at other aspects of our lives. There’s a reason why heavy metal fans don’t care for Ariana Grande, and vice versa. And if you’re a heavy metal fan who also rocks out to Ariana Grande, that also says something about you. Music is never a matter of objective quality. Something about your tastes speak to your disposition.
What do you like to do?
Not everything has to contribute directly to our life plan. Somewhere along the line, we all abandoned something we enjoyed. Or we enjoy something on the sly. A string pulls together all the things you like doing, a common theme across all your little hobbies and side hustles. When you find the line, you can use it to cast yourself out further.
What are you willing to do?
Let’s go deeper than “anything,” because maybe you don’t have any friend who work as nurses. The real point of this question is what stuff you don’t hate. If I lost my cush job tomorrow, I know I could live with cooking food in a restaurant again — even dealing with a jerk off for a boss. But waiting tables? No, thanks. And yet I know some people think the opposite. What matters is that you know what you can stomach.
What do you regret so far?
Almost everyone can find some moment where they wish they’d kissed someone a second earlier, or used a different word at the end of a phone call. Don’t save this question for your death bed. By then, there’s not much of a point. You can’t beat yourself up about the past, but you can replay those moments to understand what made you do something. You just might be able to avoid the same mistake later.
No single list of questions will change your life. They’re just prompts. The bigger point here is to start thinking about who you are in concrete ways. You’ll never nail it down in a single sentence, no matter how pithy. Maybe your essence exists in some ethereal realm, with wispy angel tendrils. But you also live here and now, and that matters.