Find Her or Him

I wonder if we need to think in terms of a minimum threshold we need to attain before dating. It wouldn’t be a tricky thing: a useful way to make a living, some money, physical health, mental health, freedom from addiction, established probity in one’s affairs.

As a list of low-level requirements, it doesn’t challenge mainstream ideas. If you want to become and remain a member of almost any society, these are close to being the least the rest of us can ask.

But reasonableness does not apply to dating and romance. Nor sex. Unspoken and unwritten, the unstated assumption is that the price of entry to the world of making a union with another – no matter the length – is only that we can breathe. Living for the moment is almost the assumed position from which we begin relationships, a kind of human rights assumption without reference to what it means to be a human, let alone how rights are issued.

Which is a long way around to say that the responsibility for the success of any relationship begins with us. You and me. My relationship with you depends upon who I am, how I present, my foundation, the way I make my way; in an oddly isolating way, you begin with me.

Let’s stipulate that we’re looking for something who is additive to our life, not a net withdrawal. Finding the person who will make 1 + 1 = >2 therefore begins with having our heads above water. We don’t build lighthouses underwater. Let’s not shine our own light until we’ve found a solid headland from which to beam.

Home and Away

Is dating the same as living together?

“No” is the answer, in case you are in doubt. And yet the mixing of the two continues, a circumstance that will continue to cause problems until we figure out the difference.

Romance is not domesticity. When put as plainly as that, no-one denies the difference. And yet the idea:

Let’s move in together…

…will be asked millions of times in the coming month.

What won’t be asked is:

You know, we get along on a romantic and fun level, how would we get along being together 24/7?

The answer, in case you haven’t guessed, is not to shack up. Shacking up is never a path to anything other than uncertainty. It is an experiment with utterly unknowable outcomes, except that if it fails, both participants will be diminished. Sometimes irreparably.

Being boyfriend/girlfriend is a game of home and away. This is not the same as home games only.

Marathon for Success

Aviation is one field in which management of objectives is taught.

Flying is a business in which prioritization is proven to be a critical part of survival, with plenty of lives lost to underline the point. When circumstances turn against the pilot, hoping and ignoring do not work; he or she must consider what must be done to – in the worst case – survive.

The skill is figuring what we must do now, what comes next, and then what we’ll do. There are must-dos and nice-to-dos. Continual reassessment and possible re-prioritization is key.

Flight simulators allow for safe creation of stressful situations. Interestingly, these machines were the first widely used virtual reality, brilliant at allowing practice in rarely seen procedures.

In a crew, clear communication can mean the difference between life and death. Following set procedures (together), reading checklists (in concert) and keeping two or three priorities in focus (simultaneously) becomes habitual after a few simulator sessions. When matters turn against a flight, one need only recall the lessons learned in the simulator to reach a successful end of flight.

Can we approach relationships in the same way? Sure, we can. Do we spend time examining how to act and think when we’re faced with difficulties?

Yeah, that question answers itself. And here’s a point worth considering: in a flight simulator, success often means landing at an airport distant from the destination, and that is the successful outcome the instructor sought. Plans are great, but flexibility is invaluable.

Save Yourself

It was the love of money that ancients considered the root of all evil, not money itself. Modernists interpret that to mean that avarice and greed are the culprits here, but we’re loafing around in the same neighbourhood.

A more clear-cut case reveals itself in relationships. Some significant proportion of marriages end over disputes and stress concerning family finances, and we can intuit that many more are thusly tested. I’d go further and say that almost all marriages and a big majority of other relationships find themselves in a sticky puddle with respect to money at some point.

It’s huge.

Can we prevent or mitigate any or some of this misery? Yes, but as with any personal change, we must want it and then make it a priority. Avarice is another word for wanting, or acqusitiveness. Curbing our desire for more things is a natural start, as is creating a mindset of living (well) within our means. Dickens’ Mr Micawber:

“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.” – (Chapter 12 of David Copperfield)

For our purposes, let’s equate “happiness” with a greater chance of calm and steadily maturing relations with our spouse or boyfriend/girlfriend. If we’re yet to meet someone, it naturally follows that if money isn’t a concern, we’ll behave more serenely and apply better judgement.

Easy, right? Not so fast. The question remains why we all find ourselves in a race for better houses, smarter cars, fancier phones (Good Lord! really?) and more time eating in restaurants. Partially it is our nature and partially I think we’re subject to enormous pressure to be seen as successful by our peers. And anyone else who might be looking at us.

That looks to me to be a big obstacle to spending less, saving more and creating a surplus in our money supply. Keeping our own counsel requires strength and a willingness to be different. Sticking to a plan is a test of discipline.

The question then pops up again: What is more important to you? A new/ish car? A bigger house? Another meal out? Or would you forgo these things to be more in control of your money and therefore your life? Oh, and maintain or start a more complete and satisfying relationship?

Don’t Change The World

Somehow the idea that the greatest goal in life is to head out there into the world and change it, presumably for the better, has taken root.

Well intended notions like this survive because the underlying motive is pure. What’s left unexamined is whether the world needs the change I want to make, or if it’s possible.

I like to invert these ideas. Why do we think the world needs to change in the first place? And, more usefully, why isn’t it already close to where we think it needs to be? Mostly people talk about the big picture, like food security, access to water, education and all that stuff at the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid. Relationships feature somewhere down the list, but people want to change all that too.

The alternative to the frankly impossible challenge of changing others is to take care of our own corner of the universe. The need for change is obviated if you and I and all our neighbours and everyone else make sure our lives don’t require outside intervention. If we’re financially stable, if we don’t break the law, if we don’t seek to drain our community – all of these conscious acts mean we’re both an example and not targets for outside-imposed alteration.

Relationships are a subtle and yet still useful element of this idea that leading by example actually changes the world from the bottom up. Self-examination starts the process, by giving us the starting point from which to find the right person. Clarity of motive and understanding the work a solid and lasting relationship and, hopefully, marriage requires is next. Even the smallest introspection and honesty about our place in this process will improve our odds of being the best half of a whole we can be.

And if everyone did the same, how much less need there’d be for all kinds of expensive remediation. Fewer divorce attorneys, fewer psychotherapists, children more able to stand up straight and look life square in the face, much less waste of emotion as a result of shitty behaviour; all of this goes on, and yet few seek to take the steps towards changing these things for the better.

Bring it home. Let’s make ourselves better first.