The What, Why, Who, When and How of Relationships
Relationships. We all seem to seek
them, covet them, invest time and energy into them, mourn their ending.
But what are they? Why do we intrinsically seek them out? When do we enter
into them? How do we build them up (and why up?)? And who do we pursue
Too often I think we drift through Relationships without stepping back often enough, if ever, to ask these questions. The thoughts found below are not meant to answer the questions, but rather ask them. Only you can answer them for yourself.
What is a Relationship, Anyway
Possible definitions of a relationship:
The condition or fact of being related; connection or association.
Connection by blood or marriage; kinship. A particular type of connection existing between people related to or having dealings with each other A romantic or sexual involvement.
That's a pretty wide definition. Heck, just having an association with someone can be as simple as your relationship with your hairdresser, or the barista at Starbucks. So, let's not focus on those types of relationship, they're pretty easy to define and they have a pretty clear purpose and intention. And that would make for a fairly short post, and we just couldn't have that now could we?
For simplicity sake, I'm going to use the big "R" word... Relationship... to mean an intimate relationship that is committed on some form between two people. Even within polyamory, Relationships are between two people... just that you might have multiple of those Relationships.
But still.. what is that really? What differs between a partnership/spousal type of relationship... and say... a best friend sort of relationship? Or dating and a Relationship? They all have an emotional involvement. They all have a level of commitment to each other, and an invested level of intimacy with each other.
What elements create a defining moment for you between a friendship/dating with someone and a Relationship? Is it sharing a kiss? Is it when you can't stop thinking about a person? Is it when you exchange vows of some sort? Is it when you exchange those three little words... 'I Love You'? Is it when you start consciously including the person in your schedule? Or is it when you actually *gasp* talk about it?
Have you ever really stopped to think... What the heck is a Relationship, afterall? What defines it for you?
Last year, Fritz and I gave a presentation at PolyLiving called 'Balancing Individuality within Partnership'. Since we had the 9am (egads, who makes these schedules?) slot.. and people were dragging in to join us, we started the presentation off with a little audience participation. We asked a question that we quickly learned didn't get asked very often. The question was: Why Relationship? What do you get out of relationship? What drives us as individuals to seek them out? Why do you continue to put time/energy into them?
The blank stares on people's faces was priceless. You would think we asked them to compute the half life of plutonium or something. It seems like a simple question, but relationships and the pursuit of them are something a lot of us do blindly. We pursue them without ever even examining 'Why?'. We'll jump from one relationship to the next (or in some cases, pursue multiples of them at once) without ever stopping and asking ourselves 'What the heck to do I get out of this anyway?'
After a few minutes, Fritz and I started throwing some examples out. You know, the basics: Companionship. Sex. People started chiming in. The list grew and grew. Security. Emotional support. Financial support. Care in old age. As people threw out things, we put them on the white board. Best friend. Activity partner. Confidant. You could see some partners in the audience surprised by what their partner was saying. Self-identity. Raising Kids. Splitting the bills.
By the end of the exercise, we had a damn long list of expectations that people have when they come into a relationship. And you could see light bulbs going off in the room. People, for the first time realized, these were expectations they had in their partners and their partners might have in them... and they had never talked about it.
Have you ever really asked yourself, why it is you seek out relationships? Have you ever talked with your partner(s) about what they expect out of a relationship? You might be surprised by the answers to both.
When you buy something that needs assembling, usually an instruction book comes along with it. In multiple languages even. Bonus if it comes in a language you speak. There are step-by-step instructions on how to get from a pile of nuts, bolts and particle board into a bookcase. And you just hope that when you're done you don't have too many extra parts.
It's interesting, folks tend to treat Relationships like they are ready to assemble. We assume there's an end-product, a goal that we will achieve with Relationship. It's like we have an imaginary instruction booklet in our mind that shows what the end result should be. Well, actually, I would gander that the end result a lot of folks strive for an image due in part to mass media, TV Sitcoms and relationship tool books ala "Dr." John Gray. We try to follow the directions - insert tab A into slot B. We try to locate all of the parts to make up our Relationship - the nuts, the bolts and even those little sticky papers died to match the veneer to cover up the blemishes.
So what's the problem with this? Relationships are not like ready to assemble furniture. You don't start with a pile of things that if only you assemble in the correct order you'll have a long lasting supportive piece of ... err... Relationship. What happens when you have extra parts? Do you throw them out, save them for later, or scrap the Relationship because it's not solid enough without all parts being used? What if you don't have enough parts to build your dream bookcase? Do you go try to find more parts to fill in the missing pieces? And what if some parts just don't fit quite right? Do you try to make them fit by bending one of the pieces?
Suffice it to say, people are not a collection of parts that will fit with your parts to create a whole unit.
So why is it that we hold up an ideal of what the end product of our Relationship should look like? Why not get away from ready-to-assemble furniture and build from the parts you have available? Make something unique, instead of trying to mimic a model you saw somewhere else. Just because what you build doesn't look like something you imagined doesn't make it any less valuable.
Have you questioned the instruction booklet you're using to build your relationships lately? Why not try writing your own.
As is often said, timing is everything. Sometimes people come into our lives, they capture our attention, but the timing just isn't right for a Relationship to work. Or, we may feel we're ready for a Relationship, but there ain't no one there to join us (or, are we really not ready for a relationship, and using lack of interested parties as the excuse that we're not in one?) Or, you may not realize you're open for a Relationship until one presents itself.
Do we sometimes grasp onto Relationships for fear that time will slip us by? Maybe the opportunity won't present itself again.
Time is often quoted as being a limited resource. What's the saying 'Love is infinite, but time is not' ? I often see folks overload themselves with relationships, and quickly realize they've overcommitted themselves for their available resources.
Do we use limited time as an excuse for masking lack of real interest, or lack of motivation? Is it really such a compliment to hear 'I'd really like to pursue a Relationship with you, but I just don't have the time'? And then see the person go on to pursue other relationships anyway. Is that really true? Is time all that limited? I know from my personal experience... if I want to make the time, I will make it.
Why do we choose the partners for Relationship that we do? Is it a physical attraction? An emotional one? An intellectual one? Or is there something deeper driving us to make the selections we do? Perhaps a base biological connection, our genes and immune systems seeking its mate, even if procreation is not our personal goal?
Can you pursue a Relationship with someone you find fascinating, but you're just not feeling the 'umph' to drive it? What provides that umph anyway? How much are we a slave to something outside of our control?
So.. there you have it. More questions, no answers provided.
Written: 11/9/2005 on my LiveJournal.