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conflicted couple

If You Need Relationship Advice You’re Probably In the Wrong Relationship

(Image Credit)

“They slipped briskly into an intimacy from which they never recovered.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you really need relationship advice I tend to think that’s probably a sign that you’re in the wrong relationship.

Says the woman who spends about a third of her blog pontificating about ways to have better relationships.

But most of the relationship advice I’ve ever received or read hasn’t been even remotely relevent to my life. Heck, most of it barely even makes sense.

Like how there seems to be this received wisdom that if you’re dating a man you need to ‘take control of the situation’, ‘make him work for it’ and ‘make him come to you’.

I don’t understand how ‘making him come to me’, leaving the ball in his court and the whole situation festering in the background is ‘taking control of the situation’. I couldn’t do that if I tried. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a terrible control freak, the waiting to see if I was actually waiting for anything would just about drive me out of my mind.

In terms of how much it annoys me this is closely followed by ‘you need space’.

If one or both of you needs to calm down then sure, take the time to do that, but beyond that space is the enemy of intimacy.

Absence seldom makes the heart grow fonder, it more often hardens the heart due to the fear of getting hurt that stems from not having a frikkin clue what’s going on. So your partner removes themselves from the situation entirely and leaves you deal with the mess by yourself.

And what’s with the umpteen articles I see on a daily basis telling me ‘how to get my partner to do x, y and z’?

Why is anybody reading those things?

I’m not interested in emotionally manipulating anyone. I want to create a connection that’s real. I want to know that I really see my partner and that they see me. That we’re both present in the relationship and that we’re doing the things that we do because that’s us and that’s how we want it. Not because we’re playing by someone else’s lousy rules; doing an impression of a real relationship.

You need to treat him this way because he’s ‘A Man’. You need to treat her this way because she’s ‘A Woman’.

They’re also individual human beings.

And I’m going to find a way to treat my partner that works for them. And for me. And if that doesn’t work out and I end up getting hurt then so be it, because that’s so much better than getting into that box all this so called advice is trying to fit us into. It’s just too cold and detached in there for me.

I think part of my aversion to relationship advice is that control freak thing kicking in again. If something is really important to me I don’t want other people who don’t truly understand it barging in and messing it up for me. If I’m going to screw it up I at least want to know that I did it on my own terms.

Partly it’s because the picture the advice is based on of what a relationship is supposed to look like just isn’t something I aspire to. It assumes that all successful relationships look the same, based on the assumption that everyone defines success in terms of their relationship in the same way. It also tends to assign either party a role within the relationship and then expects them to proceed within the confines of that role.

I know who I am; and I know what I need from a partner and want out of a relationship. I don’t need to play a part; and I don’t feel like my relationship needs to look like everyone else’s in order to be healthy.

But mostly it’s because I really think that if anyone else knows more about your relationship, or has a better idea how best for you to negotiate, improve, or mend it than you, you probably shouldn’t be in it.

Honestly, if you can’t ask the person you’re with “why did you do this?”; or say to them “you hurt me”, or “I don’t understand why you are doing this”, or “I need blah blah”. You probably shouldn’t be with them. You’d be better of just ending it and finding someone who you feel like you can be yourself with.

Communication is the only way to build a relationship and to create and sustain any level of intimacy. If you have intimacy you shouldn’t really need to seek guidance from anyone but your partner on what’s best for you relationship.

If you don’t have intimacy I don’t really see the point of being a relationship.

sunset over the flord

Everyone You Ever Love Is Going To Hurt You

“Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other. But this is the very condition of existence. To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter. To become presence, means accepting the risk of absence.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Everyone you ever love will hurt you.

And you have to decide that you’re going to be okay with that.

A good friend recently asked me how he was supposed to get over his fear of falling in love again. His last relationship ended very painfully and he wanted me to tell him how to stop believing that he would get hurt if he let someone else in.

While it’s perfectly natural and understandable that he’s scared, the truth is that if you decide you’re going to love someone you have to accept that at some point that love is going to be a source of pain. Because anyone you get close to, however much they mean to avoid it, is going to hurt you at some point.

They’re going to screw up. They’re going to let you down. They’re going to do things that you don’t like.

They’re going to say something hurtful in the heat of an argument. They’re going to happen upon a raw nerve. There’s going to be an unfortunate misunderstanding. There will be issues with conflicting loyalties – maybe between you and their family. They’re going to forget something important. There will be times when they aren’t there for you or they make you feel neglected. They’ll get scared and lash out. They’ll do or say things that will make you feel scared and insecure.

They might leave you.

You might leave them.

And even if by some miracle they manage to avoid all those things eventually they’re going to die.

And, y’know what, you’re going to be responsible for a few of these things as well and you’re going to hurt them in your turn.

This isn’t just true of romantic relationships. The same goes for family, friends, neighbours, co-workers – anyone who plays any significant role in your life is going to be in a position to hurt you. And they will. 

Whether they mean to or not.

And you must accept it because it is the price you must pay for having those relationships.

Now I’m not suggesting that you should let people walk all over you. Or that you should tolerate people who hurt you maliciously or behave inexcusably.

But emotional pain stems from intimacy.

The things that people say and do hurt us because we care deeply about them, and they for us, and this makes us vulnerable. And so when someone hurts you, you must consider whether the pain and the damage that has been done to your relationship negates all the positive feelings and experiences that led to you becoming close enough to hurt one another in the first place.

Because the pain will pass. Almost always. No matter how much it hurts in the moment, and however much that scares you, it will get better. But in that moment when we’re hurt and scared it’s easy to lose sight of that, and to make decisions – either to end relationships or to avoid new ones – based on our pain and fear.

And as someone wise one said, a life lived in fear is a life half lived. We need to have relationships, we need intimacy, we need to feel connected to other people. Isolation and detachment are, in the long-term, far more painful and damaging than any pain that we can expect to be caused by our caring but fallible loved ones.

So you will forgive people. You will accept that their clumsy humanity is a part and parcel of their love. Or you will find that you can’t forgive them and you will move on. You will take solace in the rest of the people in your life who you have previously managed to forgive until you feel brave enough to forge a new relationship with the attendant risk of new hurt.

But the only way to inure yourself to the pain is to accept that it is an inevitable part of life and of love, to know that you will survive it when it happens, and to decide to be okay with it.

Once you have achieved acceptance you won’t be so afraid; you can put the risk of getting hurt into its proper perspective against how much you stand to gain through loving someone and allowing them to love you in return.

And that’s how you find the courage to fall in love again.

my cat Natalie Portman

I’m Not Confident So Much As A Control Freak

“Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” ~ George Washington

I’ve been trying to counsel quite a few people lately whose problems fundamentally stem from the fact that they have crippling low self-esteem. This tends to make them obsess about what other people think about them to the point it’s almost impossible to ascertain what they think, what they want, or how they feel. It’s also led them to put up with some pretty appalling behaviour from other people.

As insecurity and lack of confidence are said to be common to those suffering trauma and/or severe depression I started wondering why I’m not similarly afflicted. I’ve experienced abuse, and judgment, and stigma but I haven’t particularly internalised any of it.

And the explanation appears to have less to do with the fact that I have a high level of confidence or self-esteem – I struggle with those things as much as anyone else I think – and more to do with the fact that I’m very unwilling to allow the locus of control of my self-image to exist externally to myself.

I don’t, as a general rule, care what other people think of the way I look, who I am, how ill I am, or the way I choose to live my life because I don’t have enough influence over their opinion to feel comfortable affording it any significant amount of weight in my decisions.

I absolutely hate to feel like I’m not in complete control of myself and my life in any waywhich is unhelpful for someone with a stress disorder.

This can be useful.

  • It means that my self-confidence is based on things that I know I’m good at and qualities about myself that I’ve decided that I like.
  • It keeps me from feeling self-conscious about the way I look or pressurised by media images.
  • It makes it difficult for other people to undermine me because they’re being competitive or trying to project their own insecurities on to me.
  • And I’m comfortable taking on responsibilities and owning my decisions.

But it also means that I’m never entirely comfortable either delegating or in accepting help; I’ve avoided going on proper dates because the point of the other person being there is for them to assess you against a whole bunch of criteria and decide whether they think you measure up; and I’ve had a tendency to view any feelings I might have for other people as unwelcome weaknesses.

I was, and still am, very proud of my independence, and used to get annoyed when people would occasionally mention it like it was a bad thing; but it took me a long time to realise that I was also hiding behind it. I was hiding because the thought of caring about anybody, getting close to anybody, needing anybody – used to terrify me.

I wasn’t willing to entertain the possibility that any degree of emotional vulnerability could ever be a desirable thing.

Vulnerability meant giving up some control – control over the relationship, control over how the other person saw me, control over my own feelings and the risk of getting hurt – and I needed to be in control.

I’ve had to learn very slowly and very painfully that creating healthier relationships is the only way to heal.

That letting someone see how broken I am and having them try to help me rather than reject me has been the only way to lessen the feeling that there’s an invisible barrier between me and the rest of the human race.

Ironically, softening that steely self-reliance and trusting other people has helped me to regain some stability and a sense of security. For the first time - possibly, (probably?), more because of myself than other people - I feel like somebody has my back, which makes life feel a little bit easier.

Although I still won’t be going on any rollercoasters any time soon.

 

 *the picture of Natalie Portman isn’t really relevant to the post, I just liked it.
whispering couple

Dating Advice For The Willfully Stupid

“There are three possible parts to a date, of which at least two must be offered: entertainment, food, and affection. It is customary to begin a series of dates with a great deal of entertainment, a moderate amount of food, and the merest suggestion of affection. As the amount of affection increases, the entertainment can be reduced proportionately. When the affection IS the entertainment, we no longer call it dating. Under no circumstances can the food be omitted.” ~ Judith Martin

This post is a sort of follow-up to one I wrote last year called Dating Advice For The Diffident

Some commentators, particularly on Reddit where they somehow mistook me for a heterosexual male ‘stud’*, felt that the advice I gave back then – which essentially boils down to ‘if you find somebody attractive you’ll need to actually talk to them if you want things to go any further’ – was too complicated to put into practice.

With that in mind I have decided to share with you the single greatest piece of dating advice that you will ever receive.

Which is this: Women are not a homogenous group. Neither are men.

‘Men’ and ‘Women’ are collective nouns for billions of disparate individuals with a myriad of different interests, desires, thoughts, and feelings.

And no-one can tell you something that will make any man and/or woman fall for you – anyone who says they can is selling you snake oil.

Dating isn’t like a computer game or Scientology; there are no cheat codes or levels.

Instead you have to put in the difficult and time-consuming work of first deciding what it is you actually want out of a relationship – as this can differ wildly from person to person.

Some people want a partner to travel and go on adventures with, others want someone they can stay home and settle down with.

Some people want to create a nuclear family in suburbia, with a dog, a white picket fence and enough rugrats to start their own soccer team; while others would prefer to be part of a glamorous, child-free power couple like House of Cards’ Frank and Claire Underwood.

And far more than either of these are seeking a happy medium between their relationship, work, and family life. 

Some people want the freedom to pursue more than one relationship, many more are only open to strict monogamy.

It’s important that you take the time to work out what sort of relationship you’re looking for because then you’re going to have to go out and find someone who thinks they might be after a similar sort of thing.

And there’s no easy way to identify them – you will only find out whether the person you think you might fancy is looking for the same things in a relationship as you are by talking with them and getting to know them.

But, y’know what? This is supposed to be the fun part – not something you look for ways to speed through or skip over.

If you don’t enjoying spending as much time with another person as it takes to learn such basic information as their name, where they went on their last vacation, and their favourite type of cake, having an entire relationship with them would only feel like purgatory.

You owe it to yourself, to your prospective partner, and to every single other person who’s going to have listen to you both complaining not to plough blindly into relationship purgatory because you think you need to level up to being in a relationship with somebody, anybody.

A lot of people seem to forget that at this stage it’s as important to focus on whether you’re into them as it is to worry about how appealing they might be finding you. If not more so. After all we already know how awesome you are.

Only once you’ve established that we’re talking about somebody you could enjoy spending a lot of time with and are feeling some chemistry around do you need to even consider the best approach to take to wooing them.

And the closest anyone has ever come to a valid universally applicable piece of advice on that matter has been to suggest that you learn how to make people laugh.

Most people claim to be attracted to people who can make them laugh.

But how to succeed in doing so can differ hugely from person to person – think of how Roy Chubby Brown, Michael McIntyre, and Eddie Izzard all manage to have lucrative careers.

And even if you can pull it off this advice bears no cast iron guarantee. I find some of the things Russell Brand says absolutely hilarious – but I wouldn’t touch the skeazy mother-fucker with someone else’s ten-foot barge pole.

In which case you’ll have to think of something else.

Something based on all those things you’ve just learned about them while you were getting to know them as an individual human being rather than a generic ‘man’ or ‘woman’.

And if that doesn’t work, well, that’s sometimes how it goes. In fact it’s what’s supposed to happen. It’s doesn’t mean that you weren’t doing it right.

Because finding somebody you can love and who will love you back isn’t something you should approach hurriedly or flippantly.

Nor is it something that I can teach you in an online article.

There are no shortcuts – you just have to give the task the care and consideration that it deserves.

____________

* which was only marginally less confusing than the time BlogHer mistook me for a born-again Christian virgin who’s saving sex for her wedding day.

 

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