Relating — it takes two to tango — relating is an individual game played in pairs. No relationships — just relating
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I want to say a bit about relating, the fallacy of romance, and about what I see as the point of relating.
Tom Robbins, in an odd, handwritten ending to Still Life With Woodpecker,
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 writes that mystery is 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 explaining 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.
So all we can say, really, is that the mysterious is unknown and therefore a bit (or a lot) fear-inducing. And the mystery of “me” — of myself — is the greatest mystery of all — but only 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 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 Darbella, and that’s after 34 years. It just doesn’t mean anything — other than 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 that would erroneously lead to my expectation that she needs to do something to “fix me.”
Once I “get” that I choose how I feel about Darbella,
I can take responsibility for those choices and feelings.
Simple as that.
One aspect of the mysterious nature of life is that, even in a crowd, we are alone, and therefore many people form relationships not for their intrinsic value, but rather so as not to feel alone. But… being alone is our natural (if uncomfortable) state — so 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 relating is about “being alone together,” or being alone but not lonely.
Another part of the mystery is that relating does not create a new thing. Someone might say, “We really need to communicate better.” I, tongue in cheek, will ask him/her/them to show me the “we.” They fidget, and then accuse me of splitting hairs. I’m not.
There is no we. There are just two people, relating (either well or poorly). There are not two people AND a relationship. This is important, and beyond semantics.
“We really need to communicate better,” is a “mom and apple pie, universal statement.” I mean, who could disagree? And yet, like all universal statements, no one has committed to taking responsibility for actually doing anything. Why? Because there is no “we” that can communicate better.
Now, if one says, “I’m unhappy with how I am communicating, and here’s what I’m going to do differently,” we begin to see the possibility of change.
Another untrue universal is that people in relationship should be selfless. Even when practiced perfectly, the wheels are a little flat on this car.
I once worked with a couple; the wife was very ill, and was going to die soon. He told me he was being strong for her, and she said she was continuing medical interventions because he wanted her to.
I asked them about their 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.
As he expressed some of his sadness, she rubbed his shoulder, smiled and said, “I know. It’s OK.”
When both started to think of and express themselves, the relationship between them deepened. They then shared themselves with intimacy and vulnerability.
Another strange thing — 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 and also 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. Darbella accepts this shifting in me — 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.
And of course Dar has her quirks, and is quite good at snapping herself out of them.
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 know 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.”
Relating is a game of choosing someone to live with in the here and now . 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 this 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. relating — what you want and what you are willing to commit to.
Relating is 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.