Unless you’re a unicorn and find yourself coupling perfectly, forever, with your first date, you have a relationships history. As we explore ourselves and our meshing skills, some people say we accumulate baggage; others call it experience. Or character. Let’s go with that.
Here’s how Kregg and I look at this murky business.
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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?
We humans are adept at many things – survival, reproduction, losing keys – and not so suave at others. The secret of compound interest escapes most people, as does the futility of casino gambling. We’re not perfect, which makes us completely adorable, right?
In a previous podcast about Authenticity and Sincerity, we canvassed the idea that expressing our every thought directly and completely might not be the path to coupling success. Nor success in any kind of interaction, for that matter, although it might help us find our keys. Social lubrication revolves around masking our unvarnished thoughts.
The mechanics of putting that filtering into practice relies in turn upon a much ignored human skill, that of self-control. Controlling what we communicate includes muting the hurtful, inartful and outright anti-social. And yet it’s so much more.
The picture created in the eyes of others by our verbal and non-verbal communication is mostly within our control. If we choose to project our best self, we actually have to be our best self. For the most part, that means doing some things (honesty, sobriety, diligence, maintaining a positive outlook, flexibility etc) and actively not doing others. That’s the control part of self-control.
Coupling has a side-effect: de-coupling. Until we find the one with whom we want to spend our lives meshing energy, emotion and mind, we’ll make false starts, and false starts inevitably lead to real ends.
Ending relationships is a rite of passage. Knowing how inept we are at the beginning is the way this journey begins. Gradually we learn what we need to know about ourselves and the nature of coupling to make them stick…at least for a while.
Or not. Kregg and I bat the breakup blues around in this week’s podcast.
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Do our exes accurately represent who we are?
Gosh, I hope not. They’re exes for a reason, so to judge me by the yardstick of people with whom I no longer have contact seems particularly unfair. It’s like assessing my palate by noting that I ate baby food at one point; it’s absurd.
On the other hand, exes are are a useful aid to figure out what didn’t work. If we’re sufficiently emotionally detached, explaining why this or that relationship failed, and what made us think it might flourish in the first place, is useful information.
Key is the phrase “emotionally detached”. The cooler a person is when talking about their past, the more logical and analytical, the better. Relationships are like enriched uranium, in that we can measure their half-life as a guide to their energy…and possible toxicity.
What we’re looking for is someone whose priors are depleted uranium, and if not quite lead, then well on the way. Dating and coupling with residual relationship nuclear activity in the vicinity is a danger to your health.
And that works the other way around. Best to find someone who can look at our past without the heat of their past affecting their view. If that person isn’t available, there’s no choice but to wait.