Hang in there, I am still in finals. I wanted to write something relating to this blog post on relationships that I saw a while back. I appreciated it a lot, largely because it came before my eyes right when I needed it. Back then I still thought my entire worth and sense of self was about someone else, when the way I looked at the mirror depended on someone else. I want to talk about how we are taught a very unhealthy version of romance and relationships.
First, read this: The Whole Point of Every Relationship (is probably not what you think it is), from the blog Elephant Journal.
It is a pretty nice piece with a few thoughts on what relationships should be like. It is by no means exhaustive or a rulebook, but I found it to be very neat.
I want to address a couple of these thoughts because although I tend to talk mostly about sexual politics and feminism here, a great deal of what feminism is (at least to me) is about accepting oneself in all of our worth, refusing to accept others’ definitions of what we ought to be, questioning what we are taught, and realising our own potential as human beings. It is true that relationships can help us in that direction, but only healthy ones. And it is up to us – this is important to remember and SO easy to forget – and not up to them to make relationships healthy for ourselves.
Holding each other accountable.
We forget we are not their journey, or their goal, or their gift. They have their own journey and goals and gifts to give to the world, and we are there to support each other in making the most of them. Understanding that their life does not revolve around us: we are part of it, and we are there to try our best to make it better and more enjoyable, in whatever their journey is about. Blaming is not what it is about, but understanding where both come from and where they want to go, and cheering them in that direction.
Again, their life is not about you. When journeys go separate ways, it is important to let that happen. They should not change their journey because of you. Understand that loving is also about wanting them to reach their potential, in whatever way they need to. Do not change your journey either: a person who loves you will understand that you should not have to.
Remember that your job is not to make him happy (but to allow him/her the space to find their own happiness).
Cheesus, how I wish someone had told me this (not because it is rocket science, but I could have used a reminder) a couple of months ago. What this means is that you are not responsible for her, and she is not responsible for you. Supporting each other and being able to count on each other is one thing, but the relationship should be about two people who can walk on their own two feet, but decide to walk alongside each other, not two people limping and holding the other’s arms because if not they’ll fall.
We are taught that it is romantic to say or think “I depend on you” or “my heart is in your hands” or “you hold the keys to my happiness” (I have been studying a lot, so my grasp on what people actually say is a bit off right now, but you get my point I think). There is a difference between being able to depend on someone and actually depending on someone, between trusting someone with your heart and actually making it their responsibility, between being happier thanks to her and being happier because of her. It should not be romantic to engage in codependent relationship in which the world absolutely shatters when the other is not there. Relationships (any kind, not just romantic) should be about encouraging the best in the other, allowing the space for them to be their own happy person, being happy for the other’s journey being realized. Again, a cheer-leader, not a coach. The hand that is there in case you need it, not an arm into which you always lean.
With this, another lesson I have learned comes to mind as well. We must work on ourselves before going into a relationship, we must be whole on our own. The notion of “your other half” bothers me because to me it sounds like such an unhealthy thing. You are literally making up for your insecurities by leaning on someone else, by filling up that space with someone else. As I have talked about before, we are taught to search for that special person to complete our journey, and I feel like that logic is all wrong. Our journey should include many people, not just the couple (insert my video on coupledom here). Moreover, our journey should be first about ourselves and our own sense of self being where it belongs and then comes whoever else, and we should not be shamed for thinking we come first. We should come first, it is our own life. And we should take care of ourselves, because if we cannot do that, how can we help someone else take care of themselves too?
I was completely dishonest once. Not to someone else, but to myself. Even today, I keep catching myself starting to be dishonest, and I have to correct it. And this has to do with thinking that the 100% of who we are could never find a partner or a friend or a lover or a whatever, which is a very flawed way to think. If we are all being dishonest, of course we are never going to find it, because we are looking in the wrong places. The only way is to throw ourselves out there with all of who we are, and trusting that we are worth it, that our personal journey is worth it, because we fucking are.
Oh how everyone I know needs to remember this. We need to think of problems and obstacles and misunderstandings and bad feelings as something external to us, because they are. They are the space between us and our partners. I like to think of them as a fire that is standing between the two (or three, or however many partners there are), a fire that everyone involved is responsible for grabbing an extinguisher and fight it. The fire, not each other over who started it, who fueled it, who was the last person to do something to it. Once the problem, the fire, is gone, you can talk about it to make sure it does not light up again.
Embrace attraction to others.
Why do people not understand that it is a fact of life? We have eyes, we have body parts that tingle when we see something good looking, and we have hormones that run rampant when we find something attractive (hormones that actually make us happy, a micro-teeny-tiny orgasm kind of happy). This has everything to do with jealousy, which has everything to do with insecurity, within ourselves (but we’ll get to that in the following point). I find people attractive all the time – I live in Montreal, so literally all the time – which does not mean I jump on people all the time, and this is true whether I am with someone or not. Jeez, I find every dessert incredibly attractive and I do not eat them all, now, do I? Attraction is a natural thing to have for humans, which does not obey the social construct and laws of monogamy which are not natural (not saying they are necessarily wrong or any less real, but they are not natural). The more you embrace it and communicate clearly and honestly about it, the more trust you’ll have.
Personally, I love it when the person I am with tells me about someone they see that is attractive. It means they are comfortable saying that, it means they know I trust them. The same way, when I say I find someone attractive, it means I am comfortable doing so, it means I feel like they trust me. We can communicate about it freely because it means nothing more than “hey, my serotonin levels just had a bit of a boost with that passing stranger over there”. Serotonin is good, and we should feel good about what makes our partner feel good, whether it is for a split second or for a day or for three years. Bitching about jealousy issues increases stress, attraction decreases stress. So really, what is healthier?
Do your work.
This has a lot to do with the previous one sometimes. If you are jealous, it is first and foremost about you, not him. If you are stressed out, it is first and foremost about you, not her. What I mean by this is that what YOU are feeling, YOU should work on. Communicating about jealousy is good, blaming because of jealousy is not good.
We are often taught, informally, that jealousy means they love you. To me, jealousy means they do not trust me, which itself means they don’t love me enough to trust me and to not try to control me. We are also taught that we are responsible of making sure the other is not feeling hurt, or jealous, or unheard, or whatever. It isn’t. Can we help them in not feeling that way? Sure. But through communication, not through not doing certain things or not acting certain ways. This has a lot to do with being honest about who we are and what we want and recognizing when our journey does not fit another’s. It isn’t true that love is about becoming one, but about becoming two stronger separate ones. Not about belonging to one another (I hate all those songs that allude to partners as property like “I’m Your Man”, “Sweet Child O’Mine”, “Are you gonna be my girl?”, “Be Mine”, “The boy is mine”), but about wanting to be with each other, and in case of monogamous relationships, wanting to be with each other – as opposed to only being with each other because you’re “taken” (insert imagery of a butt imprinted on a seat, signifying that it is taken).
There are healthy ways to communicate feelings of jealousy. “Hey, I felt a bit weird with the way you talked to that person. I just wanted to let you know so you can help me figure the root of this feeling of insecurity.” Not “Hey, I feel jealous about the way you talk to this person so YOU figure out how to make me feel better about it”.
Remember that you’re a mirror too.
I find it is so much better and more effective to actively seek to compliment the other and let them know what you see in them. I find asking “do you think I am smart/good looking/sexy/good in bed” so problematic and inherently unhealthy. It is much nicer to go up and say “I think you are gorgeous/super smart/sexy as heck/such a turn-on” first. They obviously find you smart and interesting and attractive, hence the being with you, silly. But reassuring that as opposed to asking for it makes everything more enjoyable.
Enjoy the ride, man!
Yes, yes, ABSOLUTELY YES. Just like a road trip, when the ride is no longer enjoyable, one must be willing to admit it and stop. Maybe it is just a pause to talk about why we feel dizzy and wrong, maybe it is a stop to get some fresh air, walk around a bit and perhaps come back if it feels right, perhaps the destination is just not the same anymore for the both of you, and you should get into separate cars. Either way, it is better to stop when we feel queasy than to get into a car crash later on.
Anyway, like the writer of the original post, I am no expert, not even close. But I am constantly learning, and that blog entry definitely helped. So I thought I’d share.
Our self-worth, body image, sense of self and identity, should not depend on someone else. If someone else (anyone: friend, partner, family member, mentor) has a positive impact on our journey, on our happiness, then great, keep them in your life. If they stop making you grow and start making you shrink, if they stop making you shine and start making your light dim, know you have every right to want something better for yourself.