a backward glance

After finally seeing The Life if Pi last night, I was left with the haunting image of the bengal tiger, Richard Parker finally leaving the lifeboat and walking into the Mexican jungle – without a backward glance or the slightest acknowledgement of Pi’s painstaking, incomprehensible attempt to save his life. As Pi is rescued by some fisherman, he weeps not for the nightmare he has just endured alone for months with Richard Parker in the Pacific Ocean, but for the tiger’s complete lack of recognition or appreciation for their astonishing shared journey. The tiger simply walks away as if the connection and journey they shared was completely meaningless.

Pi struggles with this moment of disconnection and abandonment by Richard Parker, convincing himself that he did share something incredulous with the tiger and that even though the animal walked away with no backward glance, the feelings they possessed for one another and the experience they endured did have deep meaning and significance.

In my consulting room, I have contemplated this lack of connection and meaning in relationships. All couples are floating in a lifeboat together, oftentimes experiencing their partner as the bengal tiger. In this lifeboat, they can either choose to connect or disconnect, to acknowledge their own issues or defend against them and run away. It appears that it is the overall desire of all couples to connect however, when this idealistic desire of absolute connection is not fulfilled, the wish for connections turns into frustration, blame and anger. “When I try and talk to my husband, he is emotionally unavailable.” “He stares at his smartphone as if he doesn’t even hear me.” “She looks away from me and only focuses on the kids.” “He has unrealistic expectations of me.” “She doesn’t appreciate all the things I do for her.” There is a constant jumping ship, a walking away from one another with little acknowledgement of one’s own deeper issues. Yet this walking away only deepens our wounds for as much as we long to taste freedom like the bengal tiger, in the end we are human, always hungering for connection.

We all want to “matter” to another person. We want to know that the things we have done and the feelings we have shared are being well-received and greatly appreciated. Yet oftentimes, we give almost no feedback to our partners, very little recognition and only sporadic appreciation. What is left are pools of silence and the feeling that we are sleepwalking throughout our day without truly connecting to each other. Thus, we begin to crave our “aliveness”, our freedom, walking away from our loved ones toward the wild, untamed jungle, toward new careers, new relationships that offer unrealistic promises. Instead of running into the wilderness like wild animals, we must encourage ourselves to look backward, turn around, face our partners and acknowledge their humanness. When we do this, we recognize a part of ourselves – our own vulnerability and fragility. We acknowledge that unlike the tiger who has the ability to move forward with little acknowledgement of the past, we experience and feel things on a deep level, retaining past memories of our shared experiences.

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