I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Substitute People

The three posts I wrote about Elizabethtown last month are turning out to be quite popular—not because I had anything brilliant to say about the movie, but because people are googling many of the quotable lines from the movie and they are finding this blog.

If you missed the series, here are the links to help you get caught up:

The quote that most people are googling to get here is “substitute people.” Here’s the quote from the movie: “You and I have a special talent,” Claire says to Drew. “And I saw it immediately. We’re the substitute people. I’ve been the substitute person my whole life. I’m not an Ellen [a co-worker Drew was into]. I never wanted to be an Ellen. And I’m not a Cindy either … I like being alone too much. I mean, I’m with a guy who is married to his academic career. I rarely see him and I’m the substitute person there. I like it that way. It’s a lot less pressure.”

Obviously, a lot of people can relate to Claire’s character. I already explored the definition of “substitute people” in my first post in the series, so I won’t get into that again now, but I didn’t talk about how I really don’t believe Claire when she implies that she likes being a substitute person. She tries to convince Drew, and I’m sure herself, that she likes not feeling needed or in demand all the time during a relationship.

But if that were really true, she wouldn’t have spent the entire night on the phone with Drew. She wouldn’t have switched her work schedule so she could be with him as he dealt with his father’s death. She wouldn’t have shared her dreams, and fears, and insecurities with him. She wouldn’t have told him that their first kiss was more intimate than most of the sex she’d had in her life. She wouldn’t have made him the travel kit. And she wouldn’t have been willing to let him go – hoping that he’d choose to be with her at the end of his journey.

Nobody wants to be a substitute person. We just claim that the position is acceptable because we’re afraid that nobody will ever consider us an original. But along with way, most will consider us substitute people and that’s not a knock against them or us. They have an original in mind and for whatever reason – justified or not, we don’t live up to it.

The problem comes when we embrace substitute person status, like Claire did, because embracing it means that we’ll never get to see wonder in the other person’s eyes as we tell him or her about our theories, our beliefs, our hopes, and our dreams. It means we’ll never get that all-knowing, all-understanding hand-squeeze, or look from the person we love that says, “I know exactly what you are thinking or feeling and I want you to know that it means just as much to me as it does to you.”

No matter how much we try to convince ourselves that being a substitute person is better than not being in the game, the seeming cruel and mocking indifference we receive from someone who doesn’t consider us an original slowly crushes our will to live a vibrant life. I’d much rather be out living the life I choose right now because it allows me to save my experiences in an emotional place where one day I hope to invite a person who considers me to be her original.


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