It Takes Two to Tango
I want to say a bit more about relationships and the fallacy of romance, and about what I see as the point of relationships.
Tom Robbins, in an odd, handwritten ending to Still Life With Woodpecker, writes (literally…)
When the mystery of the connection goes, love goes. This suggests that it isn't love that is so important to us but the mystery itself. The love connection may be merely a device to put us in contact with the mystery, and we long for the love to last so that the ecstasy of being near the mystery will last. It is contrary to the nature of mystery to stand still. Yet it's always there, somewhere, a world on the other side of the mirror... a promise in the next pair of eyes that smile at us. We glimpse it when we stand still.
The romance of new love, the romance of solitude, the romance of objecthood, the romance of ancient pyramids and distant stars are means of making contact with the mystery. When it comes to perpetuating it, however, I got no advice. But I can and will remind you of two of the most important facts I know: (1 ) Everything is part of it. (2) It's never too late to have a happy childhood. pp 274-6
Robbins introduces the concept of mystery as a key reason to be in relationship. He is quick to go on, and in his going on, to avoid describing the mystery. While this may seem unsatisfying, one can't explain a mystery, as the explanation means it's no longer mysterious. It's like watching an excellently crafted mystery movie. Once you’ve seen the ending, you may watch it again, but it will never have the impact of the first watching. I think, for example, of M. Night Shyamalan's "Sixth Sense."
So, all we can say, really, is that the mysterious is unknown and therefore a bit (or a lot) fearful. And the mystery of "me" – of myself, is the greatest mystery of all – to me. (If I'm stupid enough to think that anyone else will sufficiently value my mystery as to make it more important than their own, I deserve whatever fate I get. And this, I believe, is the stupid belief most responsible for the breakdown of relationships.)
That being said, I don't want to leave you with the idea that I am anti-romantic, anti-love, or anti-falling in love. I am fervently "pro" all of these. What I stress, again and again, is that the warm and gushy feeling of love, like horniness, is a transitory, fun state, indicative of my ability to fall in love. It's not the basis of anything, nor is it ever about the other person.
I still get all gooey inside when I see Dar, and that's after 21 years. What I'm getting at is that it doesn't mean anything --just that I tell myself all kinds of pleasant stories about Dar that continue to cause me to, in a sense, "make myself melt." If it were the other way – if it were all about Dar, then I would be justified in blaming her when I choose not to feel "melt-y." And, of course, my expectation with this thought would be that she needs to do something to relieve my distress.
Once I "get" that I choose how I feel about Dar, I can take
responsibility for those choices and feelings.
Simple as that.
Part of the mysterious nature of life is that, even in a crowd, we are alone. Often, people form relationships not for their intrinsic value, but rather so as not to feel alone. Again, as being alone is our natural (if uncomfortable) state, and if we believe it is our partner's job to "make us" feel "not alone," trouble is looming on the horizon. In a sense, wisdom comes when we accept that one thing relationships are about "being alone together," or being alone but not lonely.
Another part of the mystery is that relationship creates nothing new. A client will often say, "We really need to communicate better." I, tongue in cheek, will ask him/her/them to show me the "we." They fidget on the couch, and then accuse me of splitting hairs. I'm not.
There is no we. There are just two people, in relationship. (As opposed to two people AND a relationship.) This, again, is important, beyond semantics. To use the client line, "We really need to communicate better," what we have here is a "mom and apple pie, universal statement." I mean, who could disagree?
And yet, like all universals, no one has agreed to take responsibility for actually doing anything. Why? Because there is no "we" that can communicate better.
Now, if the client says, "I'm unhappy with how I am communicating in the relationship, and here's what I'm going to do differently," we begin to see the possibility of change.
Another illusion is that people in relationship should be selfless. Even when practiced perfectly, the wheels are a little flat on this car. I spoke yesterday with a couple. The wife is very ill, and they may well be into the last months of the relationship. He's being strong for her, and she's doing medical interventions because he wants her to. As we talked, I asked them about their own feelings of sadness and hope and despair and love. All of the "medical intervention" conversation stopped. They both expressed a desire to go away together for a while. I kept getting this hit of deep sadness from him, and encouraged him to express it. He, of course, had been holding back, as a) he's a man, and men are tough, and b) she's got enough on her plate. Amazingly, as he expressed some of his sadness, she rubbed his shoulder, smiled and said, "I know. It's OK."
Ironically, when both started to think of themselves, the relationship between them deepened. They were then capable of sharing themselves with intimacy and vulnerability.
Selflessness means I'm trying so hard to look after the other person that none of my needs are met. To forget oneself, any time in a relationship, is to lose oneself – and in dysfunctional relationships the receiving partner just may not want to give "you" back.
Another strange behaviour is that people in dysfunctional relationships berate their partners for "not accepting me just as I am." It's a strange demand, because I've never met anyone who asks for total acceptance who, similarly unconditionally accepts his or her partner the way he or she is. I mean, it's contained in the quoted statement. If the person were living up to this ridiculous idea, she would have to say, "I completely accept my partner's inability to accept me as I am, because I unconditionally accept him as he is."
No, people shovel this bilge because they don't wan to go through the bother of controlling themselves. Those of you that know me know that I can shift into "arrogant 6-year-old," and still do so semi-regularly. Dar accepts this shifting in me, as in, she knows that I do it, and she doesn't choose to get her shorts in a knot over it. However, and it's a big however, she also expects that I will notice when I am doing it, not make it about her, and get over myself as quickly as I can. If for some reason I don't notice, she'll be glad to point it out to me.
Or, Dar gets into "hyper-responsible, stressed" mode fairly regularly. Her initial stance might be to "blame" school. After 5 minutes, she gives herself a shake and figures out what to do. Or, I say, "Oh. School forced you to take that on, eh?" and she laughs and fixes herself.
Thus, you could say that I accept Dar as she is, and she me. But this is only possible because both of us agree to be self-responsible for stopping ourselves when we're acting like children or idiots. And that we accept it that our partner will point it out if we don't stop ourselves, not out of obligation or to punish, but to remind the other that they need to get themselves back under their own control, instead of whining about how "I just can't help myself."
The exercise of relationship is a game of choosing someone to live in the here and now with. Someone knows me (at least as much as I have revealed) and vice versa, and chooses to hang around anyway. I have someone to self-explore with, to have fun with, to have tears with, to live with, to love. And vice versa. Is it always mushy and gooey? No. Is my relating boring and mundane? Sometimes. (Just like me…) Is my relating electric and magic? Sometimes. (Just like me…) It is what it is. Moment by moment.
This week, look at your assumptions re. relationship – what you want and what you are willing to commit to. It's not easy, it does not cure anything, and you're still alone. But to be even partially known is bliss. And to be alone yet not lonely is a joy. In this transient life, where everything you have one day will be gone (including you!) it is enough – it is sufficient for this moment. And the next.