Unrecognized, so much of our daily routine is self-automated. We drive. We shop. We order coffee. We eat. We publicize our lives.
Automation, because doing this stuff requires little active consciousness. The routines – much like computer routines – are relegated to the well-worn grooves of simply getting through the day. They’re thoughtless. Expected.
We can still do our daily routine even when we’re stressed, or completely absorbed with something else. If you have a work deadline, or an educational deadline, or some kind of family emergency, you’re still capable of getting your Instagram account updated. Operating on different levels is one of our species’ characteristics.
Relationships are different. Prevailing habit is to take up with someone as if it’s part of a simple human need. Like drinking water. Being around someone of the opposite sex – and wanting to have sex with them – is utterly normal and a big part of our life.
However, if we’re to go beyond the simple connection and bonking phase, much more is required. Merging two units of mammalian life into one big party is an enterprise that needs intelligence, planning, understanding and patience. Yes, we’re programmed to find someone. Sure, we are all better for having someone else for whom we’d lay down our own life. The question is whether the first blush of romance accommodates the rest.
My suggestion: allow some brainspace. Brainspace is that part of our thinking that’s idle, but available. Relationships need and thrive upon being deliberate. The act of being deliberate means that you have the time and willingness to put yourself in another’s place, to see what they see.
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.
If we think mimicry is a useful shortcut to success, observing successful couples is worth our time.
With the perspective of hindsight, I think I’ve figured out at least one quality that many folks have to keep their relationships moving along nicely. That quality is something akin to collegiality, or camaraderie.
We don’t often talk about the friendship or teamwork part of being with someone. Love – or as I like to call it thesedays “love” – attraction, sex and all those other gooey words take up much of the conversation. However, as two people move from strangers to boyfriend/girlfriend and then marriage, the percentage of time spent on just being together in the daily normalcy of life increases.
What do I mean by camaraderie? Well, it takes has many facets. Sharing the small stuff of life lies at the heart of the matter. Successful couples find a way into a common language. A shared sense of humour. A shortcut way of communicating. Specific signals, such as looks and words. A way to look at it is that they create a room from which they both look out at the world.
I like this way of behaving. Two people coming together to share a life is an entirely unlikely proposition. Until they commit to each other, they have two separate houses, if you like, mental spaces that remain unmeshed. If we want to create a union, manufacturing a space we both inhabit to the exclusion of everyone else is healthy and smart.
Collegiality is also a way of connecting in a way other than sexually. This is the friendship part of a successful relationship, the innocence of which makes it both an antidote to the stresses of being with one person and a simple link to his or her essence.
Given the choice between comfort and pain, our tendency is toward comfort. It’s natural; why endure suffering, torment or pain when there’s another choice?
Not as natural is the uncomfortable learned truth that effort and discomfort are the ways to somewhere better. We see this all over our history as a species and in individual lives. Someone had to set sail over the horizon to find what lay beyond. We had to dismember human cadavers to learn about our own bodies, and we have to push ourselves in exercise, business and relationships to make them succeed too.
The latter is of interest, because a kind of sluggish fug lies over how to behave in relationships. Weddings appear to signal some kind of end-point, which I believe is the opposite of the truth. Routine and ruts typify many couples who share a life but gradually revert to being individuals without the elastic glue couplehood requires.
Meshing is work. It means facing up to yourself in the light of another’s wellbeing. It often means extending yourself beyond the point at which you thought you might stop. The irony is that if we want comfortable relationships, accepting – or even seeking – the painful recesses of ourselves is the necessary route. No pain, no gain.
The current fashion for proceeding through life seems to revolve around floating along on a cloud of shared trivia and shiftless experience. We’re completely up-to-date on everyone else and they’re likewise up to speed with us, no matter the depth or value of our experiences.
As someone else (I forgot) said (and I’m paraphrasing), never have lives so unlived been so well recorded.
I think it’s true with coupling, too. Linking with another person is not simply about choosing to link with them, as per online social networks. If we’re to give ourselves a chance of lasting, we need structures, both individually and as a meshed unit. Discipline implies self-control, which leads to being the best we can, which eventually leads to freedom.
By freedom, I mean the kind of joyous interaction rooted in an accurate knowledge of ourselves and our nature. Without the strictures implicit in gaining a solid grip on our place, feckless coupling and its consequences are our destiny, and our children’s, too.
This is what I call personal geolocation; locating our place on biological, intellectual and spiritual planes. Think of it as a kind of 4-D map. (Time is the 4th plane.)
Where are you? Only when we find – and maintain – a known position should we think of co-locating with another. This doesn’t mean our place is fixed. Far from it. Change is inevitable and should always be anticipated and planned for. In life and relationships, those who know how to deal with change put themselves that much closer to success.
One thing I’ve learned this process is that we’ll never precisely share the same space on the planes as another. The best we can work towards is keeping relatively close…which is where the discipline and self-control comes in.