Ever since I heard Emily’s story of the “crush conversation,” I’ve seen it as both hilarious and really important … and not just because it reveals the deep disconnections that our students negotiate when they move between “real world” and “school world.” But yesterday morning, while discussing something that seemed unrelated, I had an unexpected insight.
There’s a huge difference between crushes and real relationships. (That wasn’t the insight; I already knew that. But hang on for a paragraph or two!) And that difference, as a metaphor, helped me tremendously.
Over the past few years, I’ve had many conversations with a young friend who’s prone to crushes. As a child, N was told it would be “really hard,” even “impossible” for her to find an appropriate guy. So whenever she met (1) a male (2) with any shared interests, N followed a predictable pattern. She “got really interested” in him, developed a fantasy-version who was perfect in every possible way, and promptly “got feelings” … for the fantasy-guy. Quickly or slowly, she discovered how different the real guy was from the fantasy. Then came long, weepy post-mortem conversations; I have a trait my mother called the “scarlet ear,” a blessing-and-curse that makes us really good, patient listeners and causes people to know this and seek us out.
Talking N through several iterations of her crush cycle got me thinking about the differences between crushes and real relationships. (If you have to ask, it’s a crush! Just sayin’!) With a crush the focus is on you – your feelings, your needs, how “perfect” that other person (or the fantasy-version you constructed) would be. With a real relationship, the focus is somewhere else: on the (actual) other person or, even better, your shared endeavor. And there’s real, mutual interaction. Whether it’s a romantic relationship, a business partnership, or a friendship, knowing each other better makes you value each other more.
But with a crush, more knowledge usually destroys the special feelings. How could that “perfect” person like that one vegetable I hate, or not like my favorite kind of music? The “feelings” – which were never really about the other person, but about our own unmet needs projected onto them – die in the light of reality. Truth and reality kill crushes but build relationships … which was reaffirmed for me this morning as I talked, texted, and otherwise supported a true (and understandably panicky) friend through a potential travel nightmare before I’d had food or even coffee! The friendship survived and probably grew stronger, though I still wish I’d had coffee before I got the first call. But a crush-friendship – if such a thing exists – would have ended. Dramatically.
Are there crush-friendships? False, self-centered things we label as friendships? Yes, and I’ve been both instigator and recipient; have you? And that means there are crush-versions of other, less personal relationships. Over the years, many of my students have been totally sure they’d found the perfect college … until they actually visited the campus. That happened to me, too, a lifetime ago. A perfect-college-match crush?
That leads to my insight about the crush metaphor.
Do factory-schools have a crush on (abstract, perfect) teachers and (abstract, perfect) students? Is that why they encourage self-centered, unreal interactions – the ways of the Coaster and Student in Ginger Lewman’s terms – among teachers, students, administrators, and families? Do Powers That Be, Sources of Funds, and the General Public have a crush on the idea of the (abstract, perfect) school? Is that why schools are seen as magical places where all problems are solved, all knowledge transmitted, society itself transformed? Is that why people envision apples and chalkboards, textbooks and worksheets, freshly-sharpened pencils and freshly-scrubbed faces?
And is that why real, but complex measures of performance, like the ones in Ginger’s latest post, seem “too hard,” while simplistic and unreliable measures are enshrined? When you have a crush, you don’t want information that disproves or dispels your perfect fantasy-version.
And with a crush, when reality intervenes, you get upset, even angry at the new, discordant information. Is that why factory-schools get upset, even angry, when our students aren’t freshly-scrubbed and eager to do our bidding? Is that why Powers and Sources and the Public get upset, even angry, when teachers or students or parents point out differences between reality and fantasy?
And is that why we factory-school teachers complain of teacher bashing? Do we think the Powers, Sources, and Public are supposed to express admiration and wonder for our “noble sacrifice,” as a crush-worthy Power, Source, or Public would do? And is that why it seems like Powers, Sources, and Public want to punish factory-schools and their denizens? Because the crush is, suddenly and sickeningly, no longer crush-worthy?
To personalize things, did I have a crush on being the Heroic Teacher Making A Difference For Poor Unfortunate Souls? Is that why I sometimes get angry when students, Powers, Sources, or the Public don’t seem grateful?
But in a real relationship, the better you know your friend, business partner, significant other, or spouse, the more you value and love them. In time, you form a joyful community, and you build meaningful things together – memories, patterns, a “miniature society” in the words of a wise friend of mine. That’s why it’s painful when a real relationship ends or fades. It’s a different, more real kind of pain from the self-induced anguish (oh, the misery!) at the end of a crush.
And when you’ve built a joyful community, even a temporary, imperfect one, that’s why it’s hard to move on … even when you know in your heart that moving on is what you must do. As Debbie said on Google+ yesterday,
it’s exciting, isn’t it? Ok, so part of the process isn’t as exciting, especially when thoughts of financial stability creep into the conversation, but knowing that something bigger and better is around the corner is inspiring.
That bigger and better might be in the same physical space that you currently are or it might be someplace that you never would have imagined that you’d be … but the twists, that common thread, is begging to get richer, fuller, better understood and better utilized – and THAT is what life is about.
Understanding that common thread, the passion, the gift, is key to making the next step effective and rewarding. And I believe that it doesn’t matter where you go next, as long as you bring that passion with you.
On the surface, Thursday was an ordinary summer day for me: some writing and conversations in the morning, a haircut, bookstore time in the afternoon, standard Thursday evening events. But below the surface, things were bubbling, even boiling. A great conversation about Ginger’s blog; others about everything from kindergarten to colonialism in the OLPC Project and General Solicitation of potential investors. A late evening online conversation with friends that gave me new hope for building a joyful learning community outside of factory-model school.
Crushes disconnect – it’s just you and your perfect fantasy-person – but real relationships are webs of connections. With a crush you close your eyes, hoping not to see what’s probably there; with a real relationship, your eyes are open, and what you see together deepens the connections.
Once your eyes are open, it’s easy to tell a crush from a real relationship. With open eyes, in Who Moved My Cheese? terms, it’s easy to see the empty Cheese Station, to grasp that “they” won’t be filling it up again.
But where to go? And how to get there? And what to do on the journey? Those are harder questions, but real relationships and joyful community and open eyes definitely help.
What will you – and I – do to work towards answers today?