I’m a bit of a perfectionist by nature. School was the ideal distraction for me as a kid: I could dive into it completely and dedicate myself to learning all the rules, reading all the books, getting the highest scores on tests, etc. Unsurprisingly, math was my favorite subject. (Or maybe surprisingly, since math is always getting a bad rap and I am, after all, A GIRL. GASP!) There’s more than one way to arrive at an answer in mathematics, but ultimately there’s only one correct answer (or set of correct answers). There’s something comforting and definitive about math that the other subjects lack, and math doesn’t even have to sacrifice any creativity for it.
Direct, decisive, but creative. In a nutshell, what I aspire to be.
But math doesn’t stop there. Because you have to show all your work (or, at least, we did when I was in school; I don’t know how the state of calculator use has advanced), you can always go back and find your mistake. Find your mistake, fix it, recalculate and we’re back in business! If only determining and remedying our mistakes in the rest of life were so easy.
I was called “wise,” tonight. It’s not the first time I’ve been described that way, but frankly I don’t think I possess any special skills or insight others lack. Truthfully, if I’m wise it’s because I make a lot of mistakes. I make mistakes, I reflect on them, and I try to make different and/or better choices the next time. It seems simple because it is, this is how we learn. But as I grow older I am honestly floored by how many supposed “adults” I’ve met that are afraid to make mistakes or, worse yet, learn from them! Even my closest friends warn me against taking risks. I know they mean well, I know they don’t want to see me hurt, but the size of the reward is generally directly proportional to the size of the risk. You dream big? You’ll have to take big risks to get it.
So let me propose that the idea that mistakes are in any way, shape or form “bad” is completely ludicrous. Mistakes are a blessing. For one, we’re not actually required to be perfect, even if we insist on putting that pressure on ourselves. (I’m utterly convinced perfect would be boring anyway. The Twilight Zone fans out there know what I’m talking about.) More importantly, mistakes open the door for new knowledge and insight. Some of history’s best inventions began as “mistakes.”
If mistakes are inherently good things (which seems oxymoronic to say, I know), the best mistakes are the one you learn the most from. Which, unfortunately, often correlates with the size of the mistake… There have been times in my life where getting my heartbroken, saying the wrong thing to the new boss, utterly embarrassing myself, etc.–the things that sting so damn much in the moment–where the best things that could’ve happened to me.
Relationship mistakes are perhaps the most interesting because we don’t learn what’s necessary “right” or “wrong,” we learn about ourselves. We learn who we are, how we love, how we cope, what we want, want we can give and what we’re willing to give. And those are some of the most important things to know about oneself. So was dating my coworker dumb? Sure. Did dating someone twice my age present more challenges than I anticipated? Absolutely. Will co-dependency gnaw at your sense of self like a hungry rat? Of course. But I don’t regret a single one of these mistakes. Perhaps I wish I’d know better sooner, but I know better now. And that’s what matters.
So what exactly have I learned through my various relationship follies? Well, it sounds cliche, but I’ve certainly learned that the most important relationship I have is with myself and that self-care is not optional or self-indulgent, it’s a matter of survival. I’ve learned that while relating is important, I never want to be the most important or *biggest* thing in someone’s life or vise versa. I’ve learned that relationships are supposed to enhance your life, not become your life, not engulf your life. I’ve learned that you don’t give to get, and, at the same time, if you’re consistently giving and not getting anything in return, it’s time to move on. Often the act of giving gives back to ourselves, but if that’s not happening there’s a problem. I’ve learned that jealousy is an extremely silly emotion that usually arises from not speaking your peace. I’ve learned to speak up. I’ve learned that sex is better when you’re loud.
I’ve learned that Love is not always enough.
I’ve learned that while I cannot control the actions or reactions of others, I can make informed choices and be in control of my own emotions and reactions, which is actually quite a lot. I’ve learned that I don’t have to catch what others are throwing at me. I’ve learned that making and keeping boundaries is hard work, but well worth the effort. I’ve learned that love is meant to be shared–inclusive, not exclusive. I’ve learned that 99% of the time it’s not personal. I’ve learned to trust the person who shows me they love me without saying it, over the person who says it without showing it. I’ve learned that my heart will heal and grow back, and being bitter just keeps the wounds from healing. I’ve learned that if I love myself first, I have more to give others as a result. I’ve learned that dating co-workers is about as good an idea as living with friends (i.e. not very). I’ve learned some people will take as much as you let them. I’ve learned that you are not obligated to anyone, even if they love you. I’ve learned that communication is crucial. I’ve learned that genuine love means letting go, even when it’s the last thing in the world you want to do.
I’ve learned that there’s more than one right way to Love.
This is an incomplete list, by far, and I know I still have much to learn. The things I’ve learned are not necessarily universal truths, though some might be. They’re what’s true for me, what I want in and out of my life. I think that’s why there are so many mistakes we have to make for ourselves. Not because we’re stubborn and won’t listen, but because we’re all unique people, so we’ll learn different things through our mistakes. We’ll learn what we value, what we love, and what hurts the deepest.
As long as you’re willing to take a risk, the rest will follow.
Starin’ down the stars
Jealous of the moon
You wish you could fly
Just being where you are
There’s nothin’ you can do
If you’re too scared to try…
I’m starting to wonder if the trouble with relationships isn’t simply, well, relationships. Or, to put it another way, becoming too comfortable with another person.
Right now I’m learning a new language, and even in just the first three class sessions we’ve spent a considerable amount of time talking about the difference between addressing someone formally versus informally. All languages and societies that I’m aware of have these rules of decorum and politeness. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re suppose to speak formally to them, usually until they give you permission to do otherwise or you two become close.
But it feels like once we get close to someone, that’s when we start taking them for granted.
Think about how you act when you’re in a brand new relationship. I don’t mean the butterflies and the almost constant sex, there’s that too, but I mean how you treat the other person. In the beginning, you’re much more likely to do thoughtful things for them, go out of your way just to make them smile, and even send them little notes to let them know you’re thinking about them. Now, I’m not saying these things disappear as the relationship ages, but they become much fewer and far between or are reserved for special occasions (anniversaries, birthdays, etc.).
Emotionally speaking, I think we become more careless as time goes on. A new couple hangs on each other’s every word, frequently wants to know what the other person is thinking, and is highly aware of the other’s emotional state and, perhaps more to the point, how your actions affect your partner. But with time, we seem to become less aware of how our behavior impacts the relationship. And, sadly, in some cases we outright start to abuse one another.
I can’t help thinking of my best friend. For years, we were as close as partners without the sexual element. We lived together, commuted together, took vacations together; at one point, we even started discussing what it might be like for two very close friends to raise a family together. Weird, maybe, but we loved each other dearly. For those years, there was no one in the world I trusted more, and the verse was true for him as well. We knew each other’s deepest, darkest secrets and had seen each other at our best and our worst. In other words, nothing was sacred anymore.
I never thought much about how we interacted, until he fell madly in love with someone. Sure, he suddenly didn’t have much time for me anymore, but that’s predictable new-relationship behavior. He didn’t have time for anybody but his girl. But people began to approach me and comment on how he spoke to me–namely, that he was rude and even talked down to me like a parent might to a child. I thought folks were exaggerating that they just didn’t understand our relationship, until I saw him with this girl he was nuts about.
Goodness. He hung on her every word, practically licking the ground she walked upon. It was almost embarrassing to witness. Things he would politely ask her, “Sweetie, can you bring in the dishes from the living room?” he would simply command me, “Jade, pick up your shit already!” He was softer with her, kinder, and a hell of a lot more tactful.
Familiarity, I suppose, is a double-edged sword. On the upside, you get to know someone and that can be really cool! But on the downside, we take each other for granted and sometimes forget to even be kind to one another.
Now, granted, the example I give is a friendship versus a potential relationship, and you definitely suck up to folks you want to fuck. In that way, I may be comparing apples and oranges, but I’ve had the same exact experience within romantic relationships, the example of my best friend is simply the starkest.
My current relationship is no different. In the beginning, we were careful with each other, kind and considerate. Now we seem to bulldoze each other’s emotions like it’s going out of style. No concern for how our actions might affect one another, it seems we’ve retreated into concern for our own needs and nothing more. I know we both frequently feel disrespected, and I certainly feel belittled on a regular basis. Is this how we treat people we Love? It makes no sense…
But, what my experience with my best friend taught me is something I think is true of all types of relationships, friendships, romances, family, etc.. What I learned there was that it’s often the people we Love the most that we take the most for granted. We just expect them to be there, like they always have been, with no effort on our part. But if the people we Love feel unappreciated, disrespected or, heck, even obsolete… then they won’t stick around for very long.
In all fairness, I’m basing this on personal experiences which means it could just be me. Maybe I’m just the kind of person people talk down to. Even most closest friends tell me I have a tendency to be a doormat, often for the sake of niceness, in my mind. I’m trying to usher some of that crap out of my life, but I have a hard time refusing to help someone when they ask for it I don’t have a “good” reason to turn them down. Perhaps this is why I feel taken for granted so often.
So I’d love some more anecdotal data on this one. What have been your experiences, dear reader? Does familiarity breed carelessness? Or are people only as careless as you let them be?
Let’s be transparent about it: I’m wary of relationships. Anyone who’s been alive more then 3 years probably is. After all, people hurt each other. And, as my best friend says, “A big front has a big back.” In the case relationships or love, the more you invest and the more pleasure you get from the whole experience, the greater devastation you’re risking yourself should it come to an end.
So, the person who’s toasting to his “forever love of forever” has been dating this gal for about 18 months. Year and a half… forever, same difference, right? It’s why we let 18-month-old’s drive cars. But the string of responses just amused the hell out of me. The first couple of responses are folks chiming in with their own relationship fodder–anything to talk about ourselves, right? But then my kindred spirits come out of the woodwork, and I’m comforted by the few folks gagging and making “Your Mom” jokes to combat the 40+ likes this post already got.
Oh well. I hope this friend isn’t disappointed down the road of whatever is to become of his “forever love of forever.” But I’m going to do my best to focus on what’s right here, right now. I have to let my Love fuel me. Whether I’ve convinced myself it’s the mystical “forever love” or any of the other, equally as worthy forms of showing Love towards another person, I’ve got to give all I can now and not worry about who I’ll have to Love later.
I was in a memoir writing class my sophomore year of college when was first introduced to the concept of having a “witness” to one’s life. My Anglo-Irish professor, who had a tendency to be rather uptight, opened up to us about her relationship with her sister and how much more important it became after their parents died. She talked about how valuable it was just to have someone to turn to and say, “Remember when…?”
I’m an only child, though if I had my way I wouldn’t have been. Both my parents were one of three and I always wanted brothers or sisters of my own. By the time I turned 13, I’d let go of that dream, but now as an adult I’m experiencing the desire all over again as my friends becomes Aunts and Uncles. Not to mention that there are events I only half-remember that I would love someone to cross-recollect with.
But I have no such witness. My parents were there when they were, but the experiences aren’t the same as having a peer or sibling to relate to. It’s not too late to find a witness, as it were, but that would mean finding a partner.
The partner bond is a step further than that, though. Blood kin are the people you’re thrown together with whether you like it or not, and you make the best of it. But your partner is part of your chosen family, and that person is choosing to be with you each day. In an article on co-narcissism I was reading, the author described the benfits for a patient new to therapy thusly:
“It was very beneficial to him to have someone who was interested in listening to him and who enjoyed learning about him and sharing his life.”
While I do think therapy is a great thing (if nothing else, it’s someone you can talk to and it will have no social ramifications for you), I think this same statement can describe an important aspect to a friendship or finding a long-term committed partner. That you find someone who doesn’t just tolerate you, but is genuinely interested in learning about you and hearing about your life.
As an introvert and a former quiet, shy kid, the idea that someone would be actively interested in what I have to say is still a little new to me. I have a tendency to assume that all conversation is disingenuous like “How are you?” is in the US, where we say it out of politeness, but never listen for a response. I try to combat this by being sincere myself, but sometimes this befuddles folks.
What can I say? It would be nice to have someone to share the triumphs with, as well as the missteps. Someone I can turn to one day and say “Remember when…?” Someone to whom my existence makes a difference, because I share in their joys and sorrows too. Not to say I don’t have friends, and that they aren’t important, but I’m watching them not-so-slowly pair off themselves, and it’s becoming clear to me that they aren’t going to be the witnesses I hoped they might be.
As a single gal, there’s another why I find myself asking fairly often. Namely, “Why didn’t it work out?”
I love to learn, so mistakes are fine as long as I’m learning from them. I don’t know that I always do, but I really try. Though, that might be part of the problem. I’m always trying to see what I did wrong that I can learn from. And in life, sometimes shit just doesn’t work out. I’m getting a lot more comfortable with the fact that there’s a lot in my life I can’t control, but I’m taking responsibility for the things I can.
Reasons why it hasn’t worked out in my past relationships:
I’ve definitely learned that open communication and honesty are paramount to a successful relationship. I’ve also learned that sometimes “great chemistry” can be explosive… and not in a good way. Dating someone too much like yourself? You share strengths, but weaknesses also. Better to be with someone who you compliment rather than mirror. But your heart is going to do what it wants.
And timing is everything. A good third of my relationships may have worked out if the timing had been better.
My first (and only) boyfriend lived an ocean away from me, but we were together for nearly five years. It was a strange relationship, based more on intellectual attraction than physical. Not to say that when we did see each other we didn’t fuck like bunnies– we totally did. But so much of our relationship took place via online conversations. It eventually ended when I came out, but the distance had been straining things for a long time.
Much later I did try a distance relationship again, but this was with someone only 100 miles away from me. In some ways, that was more frustrating, since they felt close by, but without a car I maybe saw them twice a month. So while I can see long distance working on a temporary basis, it’s pretty much a deal breaker for me personally.
My best friend once outlined four factors that are required for successful relationship: physical attractiveness, proximity, similarity, and reciprocity. Usually physical attractiveness and similarity aren’t my problems– reciprocity and proximity are. I like someone, but they don’t move in the same social circles I do, or even live in the same town. And often I fall for people who wouldn’t look twice in my direction (I’m open to being proven wrong).
At the end of the day, though, I think I have to let both the “Why?”s go. All relationships end for one reason or another, but that doesn’t mean that days, weeks, months, or years you had together weren’t worthwhile, or that perusing relationships in the future aren’t worthwhile. I hate when folks write off an entire relationship because it ultimately ended. People ebb and flow in our lives, some stay longer than others, but all hold a purpose. Or at least that’s what I like to think.
So I keep sailing along, following the current, eager to see what shore I end up on next.