Who are we, really?

I’ve heard it in movies, and I’m sure it’s based on real life: Why can’t you love me for who I am? or You don’t really love me for me.

Who is me? Who are we as people? Let me give you an example. Let’s say I’m single and really into a dyed hair phase. I’m digging red. I also happen to be a smoker at that time. I start dating someone who says she can’t date me because I dye my hair and smoke. Very likely, I would throw back those hackneyed Hollywood lines at her: “You don’t really love me for who I am!”

I’d probably have a point, but is that who I really am? What if it all was just a phase? What if I stopped dyeing my hair red and smoking after five months. Would it matter to me that much?

The truth is that we all change. We are different things at different times. We all go through phases. Some of those phases, even if they’re phases we regret, still feel a part of us years or decades later. I used to love G.I.Joe as a kid. Don’t really care that much for those war toys now. If someone said she hated war toys, would I take offense? I’m not sure. I do feel in some vague way as if those war toys were part of my growing up process, but I’m also not that attached to them.

So do people have to put up with our current phases in order to really love us “for who we really are”? What makes us us? What exactly are they loving? The fact that we can change? The fact that we go through phases? Sticking by through thick and thin, smart and stupid? And if so, isn’t it pretty arbitrary whom you love? Couldn’t you love anyone romantically?

I don’t have any simple answers for this. Of course, on one level, yes, you could love just about anyone romantically if you were open-minded enough about it. A lot of arranged marriages are successful because the arrange couple has low expectations and realizes they’ve grown to appreciate each other over the years. At the same time, I’m not going to fall in love with Stalin or Pinochet in the hopes that mass slaughter and torture will be just a phase I will embrace later as being formative in creating a wonderful person later.

It’s complicated. You are what you do. But sometimes you aren’t.


  1. This kind of has a Taoist line of reasoning to it. A Taoist would say that the you who can be known is not the true you.

    I think that everyone has to love a compatible partner at the time, regardless of whether it’s a “phase” or not. If you can’t like them in that phase, there’s no point in going forward. If that phase is going to end and they would become someone you don’t like, then one or both of you have to grow, or end the relationship. Just as no one person stays the same, you can’t expect the relationship to remain the same regardless of individual changes. Each has to grow with the other for love to continue. It’s compromise at it’s greatest

  2. Likewise a Bhuddist would probably say the “I” we like to cling to, in ourselves or others, is an illusion and that the only reality is the Bhudda-nature…

    (Having said that, I feel that the person I married 20 odd years ago is still the same person.)

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