The Dance of Relationships — Most things in life (at least at first glance) follow a linear, developmental pattern. It should come as no surprise, then, that relationships typically follow a linear model.
There will be three more articles in December—this one, the concluding section next week, and a “year end” post on December 21.
We’ll resume publishing January 4th.
The following two articles are the “Readers’ Digest Version” of a longer piece I just wrote. I think the final product will become an e‐book in the New Year!
I’m also writing from a male, heterosexual perspective, to simplify language. All of this is equally true for females, and for people of any sexual orientation!
Most things in life (at least at first glance) follow a linear, developmental pattern. It should come as no surprise, then, that relationships typically follow a linear model.
Now, remember, linear is real, but is not the only choice!
It is typical for the “first time through” — each stage is a part of growing up. That people continue to follow this model into adulthood is a serious problem!
Learning follows a Linear Pattern
It’s the norm. Let’s use Mathematics as our illustration.
In school, there is a linear learning curve—a step‐by‐step plan, something like this:
addition > subtraction > multiplication > division > algebra > calculus, > etc.
Each builds on what came before and mastery or each is necessary to get to the next level.
An excellent mathematician at some point shifts from linear to dynamic learning, which involves intuitively “knowing” what to do next. There is an easy flow to this, and there is no apparent step‐by‐step linearity.
As I just wrote, the “first time through,” we tend to learn everything linearly. It’s all steps and stages. For most people, areas of personal development stay this way— rigid, boxed off, operating under rules and rights and wrongs.
Perhaps 5% of the population actually breaks free from linearity to dynamic relating. Reason?
Check out the chart, above. I’ve suggested some steps in the linear development of most people’s relating. (It’s an adverb, as relating is a process, not a thing.)
Let me walk you through this. I’m not saying this is true, the only way to look at things, etc. It’s just a story I want to tell you.
F — Friendship — once we old enough to “play,” we form friendships. We hang out. We do stuff. We goof around. We talk, imagine, tell stories, play games. We learn to differentiate between relating to members of our own sex, and the opposite sex.
“Just friends” is a stage and a state, as is “best friends, or “BFFs”.” You have experienced all levels of this basic, friendship state. There is trust, security, and an ease about the communication, and it doesn’t seem to be “about” anything, yet concerns everything.
FWB — Friend with Benefits — this is the next stage in sexual development, of course, and is often also the next stage in relating as adults. You meet someone, become friends, and sometimes this “blossoms” into sexual attraction. Of course, this coincides with the teen years, and so the “friendship” part might get the short shrift, as hormones take over, leading to the push for the “benefits” part.
Now, here is something you need to “get.” Sexual attraction is a mile wide and an inch deep. It does not mean anything, other than that my hormones are aroused. It seems important because our societies have such a love/hate relationship with sex. Sex sells everything, and yet we try not to talk about it.
Off to the bedroom we go, to have sex. Many refuse to say. “We’re bonking!” So, a simple act becomes the breathless cry. “We must be in love!”
If we are honest, and can separate our lust from our desire to be “in love,” we will notice the FWB stage. FWBs are people they like hanging out with, and with whom they have sex. This is altogether too threatening and chargy for most people, so they leap to the “love” stage, often way, way too early.
In other words, 75% of the people I know who are in relational difficulty got there by “settling.” Instead of enjoying being “in lust,” they leaped to the next stage, and formed a Committed Relationship (CR) for no reason other than that they were bonking someone.
If you can get your head around having FWBs, it’s amazing how the drama dials back. Deciding to move to the next stage becomes about something significant, like mutuality, respect, integrity, and curiosity.
Most, however, “religiously” follow the linear approach.
You meet someone. You become friends. You decide to have sex. You freak out—and pretend that having sex equals “being in love.” You leap from fun and friendship to the infamous “Committed Relationship.”
CR — Committed Relationship —This is the serious dating, monogamy, moving to engagement stage. It’s also the stage where the “problems” start showing up. It’s the “I saw you looking at that woman/man!” stage. The stage of distrust, anger, noticing all the little quirks that were hidden or not evident earlier. “She lied to me! She didn’t tell me that!”
Now, wise souls expect to learn new things about their partner, all the time. This is why we stress curiosity and no judgement. But remember, this is the first trip through the linear approach. We tend to freak out, and one thought pops into our heads.
I can change her!
It might be suggestions, hints, “I’m just asking you to do this for you own good, because you love me…” It’s always based upon feeling distance growing. It’s based on thinking you’ve been lied to. Or more basically, it’s about demanding that your partner turn into the magic prince(ess) you’re carting around in your head.
Now, the mature thing to do, at this stage, would be to think,
“Hmm. I think I may have picked the wrong person to get serious with. She’s nothing like the person I want to be with. I guess I’ll end this, and move on, and be more discerning next time.”
Nope. Most people think, “Well, this isn’t what I want, but I can change her. Besides, if I let this one go, I may never meet anyone else!”
So, we stiffen our spines, put on a back pack filled with what if’s and should be’s and march resolutely into a grim, traditional, expected future. We “get married.” We commit to a “forever, ’til death do us part,’ traditional relationship.” Which at some level we hate and resent, and want to be different.
Here, the path diverges.
R/A — Romance / Affair — In France, especially, there is the “mistress” tradition. You have a “wife” to have kids with and to be traditional with, and a separate lover (or lovers) with whom you have passion and sex. Life becomes compartmentalized.
Wife = family, kids, tradition, “staidness.”
Mistress = intimacy and passion.
Now, lest you think this is about looks, sexiness, appearance, consider Charles, Diana, and Camilla. ‘Nuff said.’
For those without the “wherewithal” for affairs, romance becomes the outlet. Office spouses, passionate engagement with career, hobbies, art, music, all are things that are used to distract the people from the dismalness and lack of depth in the relationship.
These things are emotional affairs, with sex being the only missing ingredient.
The other path is “spouse‐hood.”
S — Spouse‐hood — This was the path selected by most couples prior to the late 60s. People retreated to their own space in the house, were courteous to each other, bred kids, and acted traditional. The movie “Revolutionary Road” describes this approach better than I ever can.
Now, that’s the “normal learning path” of most relationships. Today however, with divorces a dime a dozen (literally!) people do leave dysfunctional relationships. Serial monogamy is common, and people have taken to calling first marriages “starter marriages” — the place to learn and screw up, so you can “get it right” the second time.
Here’s a flash. In the USA, the first marriage failure rate is 50%. For second marriages, it’s 75%!
The problem is that people coming out of first relationships tend to blame their partners for the failure. They go into the next one with no thought about their responsibility for the failure of the relationship. They figure that if they find the right person, things will be easier.
Because they have not considered their own behaviours and ways of relating, back they go, doing the same dumb stuff.
We advocate a complete change of relating, rigorous self‐exploration, and openness, honesty and curiosity as the basis for the next relationship.
Let me go back to my mathematics example. I’m not so good at algebra. I got through it in High School and University, but never really figured it out. So, when Darbella (who is great at math) teaches algebra, I occasionally try one of the more complicated questions.
I end up endlessly trying to “simplify,” and then I spend a bit of time moving things from one side of the equals sign to the other. In other words, I do what I always do. I guess, I try a few things I’ve tried before, and I hope that this time, I’ll luck into an answer.
Dar, on the other hand, just looks at it, applies logical steps, and solves it.
Here’s the similarity. I don’t “get” algebra, and am unwilling to expend the effort to learn. This is how most people deal with relating. They learn a few “rules,” apply them, and think they’ll figure it out. Except, like me and algebra problems, if all I do is what I always do, and cross my fingers, mostly, I’ll get lousy results.
We’ll conclude this next week!