Funny thing about relationships. We think we want the person we see in front of us.
Wrong. What we want is parts of the person we see in front of us, plus some other stuff we’ve always dreamed about and a number of wish-list items that we reckon the other person can implement if they really want to.
Here’s where a deep breath is useful. Singlehood allows time for imaginations to roam free. Imagination is a wonderful resource, but fails us when introduced to the real world. People are flawed and imperfect in a universe of frustrating ways, so the less we dream the better.
Facing the discomfort of real people feels like disappointment until we turn the lens on ourselves. We are not perfect (when we’re being honest, in the dark of the very early morning) so where do we get off expecting others to be better than us?
Here’s a way to think: revel in the flaws. A thicker skin, more acceptance of dopiness, less taking things seriously, and, as I learned at the feet of a very wise man, don’t let anything bother you.
There. A recipe for calm quizzicality, and likely better relationships.
Logic should triumph emotion.
That only works in a mythical universe, which leaves us figuring out some hybrid way to figure out stuff.
Relationships figure high in the table of arenas in which we need to use both our smarts and our guts, but there are few guides as to how to do this. Relying too heavily on one side or the other likely leads to dissatisfaction, mostly because we need to accommodate the other person’s needs.
Which might be the key. If we know that we’re linearly driven, consciousness of the other person’s, say, more non-linear nature will go a long way towards creating a niche for both of us.
I’m of the music video generation, which is to say that much of my late pubescence and early adulthood is tinged with the memory of music on television.
Australia in the late seventies and early eighties saw the tipping point from English influence to American. Until, say, the end of the Vietnam War, our social organization (note the “Z”) reflected British mores – not a surprise considering the number of Poms around the place, all escaping the nuthouse they’d all created in Europe. From that point our rituals gradually took on a more American tone.
So it is with fondness and regret that I look back on how dating changed accordingly. My home town of Adelaide was defiantly and aspirationally upper-class British, despite the waves of German, Italian and Greek immigrants who added piquancy if not steering input. That meant my generation was raised with some curiously mannered habits. Correct use of English. Standing when a lady entered the room. Assumption that any woman entering the room WAS a lady. A reserved distance mimicking what we thought was civilized behaviour.
This was all nonsense of course, a kind of homage to a cult that had no basis in the way people actually relate to each other, nor the best way to – as they say – get close to someone. It was a case of maintaining a social order for its own end.
And that is the end. The way we think about relationships is so different now, that the modeling of my generation is all but useless, like so much ballast in a yacht. But losing the imprints of one’s early emotional life – including those damned music videos – is difficult, if not impossible.
Still, we work with what we have, right?
Animals live in a moment-to-moment world of surviving. Right now.
We, on the other hand, mildly live in that world, but we also live in a future world. We can look forward and visualize what we’ll need to survive (and thrive) three days, three weeks and three years from now.
That raises the tricky question of trade-offs. Sometimes we must sacrifice something in the present in order to make a more certain future.
Relationships, – especially marriage – are an example of this. Male nature is to satisfy sexual hunger with less than perfect discrimination. To forgo that drive in the interest of creating something valuable is a choice to trust that higher goals are worthy of giving up short term pleasure.
That choice also pushes back the chaos, the chaos of unrestricted gratification. It also demonstrates faith in our ability to maintain those long-term advantages, but like any investment in the future it requires conscious maintenance. That’s the hard part.
It’s the fault of McDonalds. The fast food “restaurant” people taught us that we can have the same food – precisely the same food – no matter where we are and irrespective of the time of day. Everything that comes out of that place will look, feel, smell and taste the same, reliably and at an acceptable cost.
Even the downside of the whole experience doesn’t matter that much. Pink slime, underpaid staff and questionable ice machine cleanliness are realities we all accept because food is only the vehicle for what they sell. Their real game is safety and an anchorage. When everything else is changing, THIS remains the same.
Finding couplehood is at least in part about the same thing. A best friend, a lover, a confidante: the ideal yin to our yang is – or should be – a safe port and refuge from a world where change is unavoidable. We accept some of the downsides of relationships to gain the repose of certainty in at least one person.
Trouble is that unlike your favourite drive-thru burger joint, people do change. Like a ship’s captain sleeping soundly in his or her cabin, content in the knowledge that the anchor is holding firm, we merrily carry on. But what is really happening on the sea floor? Is the anchor hooked tight or one big wave away from slipping?
The question becomes: Can we ever think that we’re in a safe harbour, or will we always be steaming?