(About a 7 minute read)
Like most sensible people worldwide, I tend to uncontrollably froth at the mouth over certain concepts and notions that most people find reasonable, even innocuous.
Concepts and notions like “higher consciousness” (needs to be replaced by “higher awareness”), “love” (needs to be split into several words, one for each kind of love), and “small children” (need to be duct-taped in place). Of course, I do not for a moment believe that any crusade I might go on against any of my pet peeves would have the decent chance of success that two teens alone in the backseat of a car on prom night have of retaining their virginity.
No, I am a staunch realist and fully aware of the fact that the mere thought he or she might die today, then come back a hundred years from now only to find things haven’t changed even one bit is what causes so many of us sensible men and women worldwide to now and then drop our pants on randomly selected public sidewalks in order to wave our fannies at all of humanity.
At least, that’s why I have always thought I do it.
Thinking inside cultural boxes about things is far too deeply ingrained in most of us for my side on these issues to ever win out. But least you think that thinking inside boxes is necessarily a bad thing, think for a moment how unstable our societies would be if most people thought outside them.
Things would change so fast and so often that you wouldn’t even be able to stuff a stripper’s g-string full of dollar bills before the government had been overthrown and the new powers-that-be had changed the currency — rendering to nothing all your charitable attempts to provide a clothing allowance for your favorite stripper.
So while I’m not optimistic that one of my biggest — and perhaps in some ways, one of my most significant — pet peeves will ever garner much support, I’m willing to pass it along to your today in the hope it might provoke a thought or two in people who enjoy new and possibly unusual thoughts.
Reduced to the size of something that will fit nicely into a g-string, my notion is this: The emphasis that just about everyone and everything in the world places on “relationships” is almost wholly misplaced, and even dangerous.
I think you must know what I mean by “emphasis”. You see it everywhere from the “Relationships” aisle in some bookstores to the tabloid headlines besides the checkout lanes in supermarkets. Headlines screaming, “Sixteen Ways to Improve Your Relationship!” Or you hear it from cheap TV talk shows to expensive therapists, “Is Your Relationship on Solid Ground?”
I would submit to you
a five dollar bill for your g-string that something is missing from those headlines, questions, and comments about relationships. Namely, the other person. In other words, it should not be, “Sixteen Ways to Improve Your Relationship”. It should be, “Sixteen Ways to Improve How You Treat Him (or Her).”
But you might ask, “Does that make any real difference, Paul? Or is this like your last Big Idea? The one that had to be cleaned up by the Hazmat crew after I tried to apply it to my life, and that cost me 30 hours of therapy over the next six months just to forget I had ever trusted you?”
I completely agree that I must apologize for that, but then how was I to know common industrial weed-killers should not be used to defoliate pubic hair? I was under pressure to publish and had no time to actually test my theory on a population of mice and/or high school sophomores. But no worries here. My thoughts about relationships do NOT this time involve the use of innocent looking chemicals.
So, yes, I do believe it makes a difference whether someone is thinking primarily about improving a relationship, or primarily about improving how they treat someone. A big difference, actually.
The reason is not philosophical, but psychological. To the extent we focus on the relationship we have with someone, we are not focused on them. To see that, consider this: There are things you could do to make your relationship with someone stronger that would also make that person more likely to be, or to become, miserable.
For instance, you could take measures that would amount to “caging” them. To controlling them. Plenty of people do — especially young and relatively inexperienced people. In my experience, the notion of giving each other room to meet the human need to grow and thrive simply isn’t a priority with people whose priority is having a strong and forever enduring relationship.
Even worse (in a way), relationships can easily become sources of friction and trouble. Before you became lovers, you felt happy for him that he spent so much time with his impressive collection of antique pencil erasers. You even encouraged him to finish cataloging them so they could be loaned to the Smithsonian, to be displayed next to the fossilized dinosaur dung. But now you feel that the time he spends with his collection not only subtracts from the time he spends with you, but also that it weakens your relationship.
Or, some years ago, before you thought of yourself as in a relationship with him, you didn’t mind that he looked at other women, older girls, and especially fetching barnyard animals. But now you do, and it’s not just because you feel threatened you might lose him — it’s also because you have come to expect your relationship with him will last forever. You emotionally rely on that thought now — that it will last forever.
Furthermore, emphasizing the relationship complicates things. It’s like having a marriage with three important people in it, rather than two. Should you let her go out with the girls tonight or would you prefer to attempt to persuade her to stay home? What will she herself be happier going out? How will it affect your relationship if you persuade her to stay home?
But let’s take a closer look at what’s really going on there. A much closer look. As close as we’d look at a child with a big grin and a firecracker who was trying to circle around to our backside.
Why would anyone focus more on their relationship with someone than on that someone? It doesn’t make sense, does it? After all, they didn’t “marry” the relationship, they married the person. They didn’t promise to love the relationship, they promised to love the person. So what drives them, motivates them, to emphasize their relationship — often enough at the expense of the other person’s happiness or best interests?
I think it’s ego, the psychological self. Humans are a curious species of animal, and one of the most curious things about us is that our notion of who and what we are — our psychological self — includes not just “us”, but in some very significant and important ways, many things that are not properly us.
For instance, is there not a sense in which we think that our new car is “us”, or that our house is “us”, or that our partner is “us”? Don’t we self-identify with those things, such that, say, we might take personally any insult or threat to them – just as if it was an insult or threat to us?
But if that’s so, then the relationship we have with those things can easily become just as important to us — or even more important to us — than those things themselves.
Can I believe my partner is in some way “me” if my relationship to him or her dramatically changes? I wish I had a few bucks for each time in my life I’ve heard some perceptive person say, “My partner has begun ignoring me, and so now I have begun questioning who I am as a person. Who I am without him.”
To me, the focus on relationships in our culture is both deeply troubling and just as unnecessary as it is troubling. It’s sole purpose seems to be to prop up a problematic notion of who we are. But we live in a world where all things are impermanent. How is it wise to define ourselves by something that simply cannot, for one reason or another, last forever?
Beyond that, when we ignore the wise advice of sage internet bloggers such as myself not to define ourselves in that way,
we are far better off than when we take their allegedly wise advice, Paul, you idiot weed kill monger we merely set ourselves up for all sorts of mischief that I’ve hinted at above. Everything from making our relationship more important than the person we’re in a relationship with, to provoking negative feelings and behaviors when something in our relationship changes.
Of course, there are plenty of times when it is perfectly ok to think about being in a relationship with someone. But I am not speaking of merely thinking about being in a relationship. I am speaking about emphasizing the relationship more than the other person.
Naturally, I am under no illusions that anything I say about over-emphasizing relationships is going to have a major impact on what people think and do in our culture. But I do hope this post has achieve the goal of provoking thought for those of us who enjoy thinking. If it has not, then I’m going to suck my thumb and worry about my relationship with my readers.
Questions? Comments? Tasty recipes for preparing a Christmas feast from roadkill? Meaningless rants about the impropriety of using industrial weed killer as a pubic hair defoliant? Law suits for PTSD commonly suffered by my long-term readers?