Life is change.
I worry about how I get on with others.
From time to time, therefore, I wonder about how I would get along with myself if I were to meet me. And sometimes, I wonder about meeting my past self and what I might say to him. (I also wonder about meeting my future self, but I don’t know what’s going to happen to me and what changes might happen, so it’s harder to answer that question).
I suspect that if I met someone who was just like me, I would find them quite annoying. I believe that, even though we agreed on everything, we would each find the other’s stubbornness (for example) to be irritating. That’s just my guess.
But thinking of meeting my younger self and wondering how I would find him, and he would find me, is trickier. Life is change, so it would in many ways be like meeting a different person. Depending on when I met myself, there would be distinct ways in which my opinions have changed since then, depending on certain events or experiences that I’ve had.
Wrapped up in that is the question of just when in my lifetime I meet myself. Is it the happy-go-lucky science-loving kid who learned to fold paper aeroplanes on glorious summer afternoons from the big kid next door, read books about space and the planets practically before he started school, cowered behind the sofa while watching Doctor Who, and believed that a monster lived in the field out the back? Perhaps the young teenager who couldn’t fit in and never really tried after that, writing dodgy song lyrics, learning to play guitar, and struggling with an emerging sexuality of sadomasochism and D/s that seemed to be portrayed as inherently evil by the sources available to him? Maybe the university student full of big-headed ideas about changing the world, going through a period of undiagnosed depression, who ardently wanted to “respect” women, but was actually a clueless Nice Guy about it? What about the young guy struggling to make it in the world, still living with his parents, looking in vain for a job, still conflicted about his BDSM sexuality, and finally admitting to himself that the other side of the coin (be that gay, feminine self-expression, or masochism/submission) is also part of his identity but also wondering if he’ll ever meet anyone who wants him?
I think a lot of people think of that uni student self as the barometer of whether they have stayed true to their ideals or not. The question of “becoming someone I hate” often seems to be considered in terms of the youthful idealism that that character represents, and the dreams that one has for one’s life.
Is it true, then, that my 19 year old self would despise my 35 year old self? Would I be able to impart wisdom to myself,or perhaps learn something about who I “really” am from meeting him?
In terms of values, I have learned an awful lot since those days. While still retaining the same labels, I know a lot more about what Marx really said (and why I prefer Engels) and have a stratospherically better understanding of what feminism is about. I’ve made progress on understanding other people, but that’s still very much a work in progress. I’ve also accepted myself as bi, come to a positive understanding of what it means to be a BDSM sadist and Dom, and changed my body acceptance.
Remembering what I was like back then, I believe I would not do very well explaining feminism to my younger self – Lord knows, the feminists around at the time didn’t get through (although a lot of that was blurred and fuzzled by misconceptions previously received from mainstream media). I might do better on the whole Marxism thing, and I am confident that my fervour for changing the world remains strong enough that my hotheaded younger self would recognise that we are the same on that front. What change would mean and look like, in terms of socialism/communism and feminism, is where we might to see perfectly eye-to-eye.
The methods, too, might be a bone of contention. My idealistic younger self was vehemently opposed to violent protest. I still find it distasteful, but I remember the words of the other SWP and SWSS members at the time when I objected and as I have grown older and seen what happens to peaceful protests (it seems that either they are ignored, or brutalised by the forces of “Law and Order”) my willingness to contemplate direct responses and occasionally need to meet force with force, has grown. I believe that my younger self would not be ready to accept these lessons and might encourage me to be less accepting of them myself. I don’t know.
My younger self, influenced by his (mis) understanding of feminism, was contemptuous of the pick-up artist culture, just as I am (though for somewhat different criticisms). He was also eager to learn how to talk to girls his own age and “get a date”. Just as I still am! Yet, I have learned more than he has, and had more experiences. I might have some useful tips and could certainly hope to correct some of his misconceptions. Without doubt, I would talk to him at length about BDSM and what it means, and its relationship to feminism. I would encourage him to talk to that girl in second year philosophy class that he was cautious about. He never did, so I don’t know what would have happened, but it would be better to find out.
Above all, I would advise him to get that depression diagnosed. I know without doubt that he would not agree to take medication for it, but having it diagnosed and maybe having access to talk therapies that much sooner would make a big difference. I believe I could convince him of the importance, because he was okay with other people having a serious illness, but dismissive of the idea that he might have one, when he considered it. I feel confident I could talk him into at least having an official diagnosis.
I think that I could do quite well with meeting my younger self. Here’s my top tips for your journey into the past to meet yourself:
- Don’t have a list of “things I wish I’d known” and try to impart it. Yes, you wish now that someone had told you, but would you have listened, or would you have been royally pissed off that someone seemed to think they knew your life better than you and were telling you how to live it?
- Do have a list of things you wanted to know back then, that you might be able to help with – most of them may be things that turned out to be inconsequential, but focus on the ones that could make a difference.
- Remember that your values may have changed – sometimes because you’ve learned more about a topic, sometimes because of a pragmatic or life-experience driven shift. Just as with meeting anyone else, listen more than you speak, at least at first, and try to be flexible.
- Don’t try to turn them into you. Because of your unusual level of identification with the person you meet (because you know it’s you, and maybe you feel guilty about some of the bad things they might say or do) it may be tempting to try to shape them into an image of yourself as you are now and “correct” all their flaws. As with anyone else, this is not going to go over very well.
- Remember that you win – if you wait long enough, this person turns into you anyway! This is linked with the previous tip. You don’t need to win every argument because given time, they will realise that you are right. Give them the right to make their own mistakes, and forgive yourself for the mistakes you made when you were them.
- Take the opportunity to listen to them. While you’ve obviously learned and experienced more than they have, they still have a valid perspective on life, and specifically on your life. Viewing your achievements through the eyes of an earlier and perhaps more idealistic you may inspire something new, or reveal where things have gone astray. And there may well be things that you’ve forgotten, just as there are things you’ve learned. They may know more about some things than you.
- Don’t expect anything of your younger self, but respect their boundaries even if you’ve forgotten what those were. As special as that connection feels to you, they don’t know you yet.
And yes – most of these tips are pretty good for meeting people other than your past self, too. You don’t need to be right all the time, you don’t need to “fix” them, you should respect their boundaries (even if they are different from yours), and understand that their values may be different from yours. And it’s a good idea to listen to what they say, because it may just be useful.