I love watching a species evolve. As I mentioned in my last post about natural selection, sufficient technology will tend to weed out the undesirables and create categorizations and groups within a species. There are the “oblivious to their surroundings” groups and the “conscious of everything around them” groups. I am delighted to see a similar evolution going on in relationships as well.
It used to be that the most common relationship advice you could find was somewhere along the lines of “find someone who likes what you like, don’t compromise yourself for anything”. And this is not bad advice, really, but it doesn’t really tell you how to have a good relationship, just how to hedge your bets by picking someone likely.
Before I get too far into this, I have a confession to make: up until recently, I had absolutely no idea why it was a good idea to have (committed) relationships at all. One of the more awkward conversations I had many, many years ago was when I was lying in bed with a lover and said, “What’s really the point of a relationship, as such?” And he said, “To stand together against the world.” And I said, “What if the world isn’t out to get you?” He didn’t have an answer for that.
So, the question has vexed me for a very long time. Being happy with yourself is pretty easy, but being happy with someone else… is also easy (depending on the person), especially if you took the advice on how to make good choices in a partner. But how is that different from friends-with-benefits or the average garden-variety fun-while-it-lasts arrangements?
In other words, what is the spark that turns a successful relationship into a still-holding-hands-at 90-years-old kind of relationship?
Now, I’m not just talking about permanence, because you can have a successful relationship that doesn’t last forever. And you can be with someone for the rest of your life and still not have a successful relationship. There is that magical spark that takes a relationship of comfortable to amazing, and if you can’t have that, it never made sense to me to be in a relationship at all. (That’s not to say I didn’t try. I believe in having significant data to draw from, and it eluded me for years and years despite building a sufficient sample base. )
Yes, it has so much to do with the person you’re with, with the compatibility that you have between you, but there’s more to it. Seth Adam Smith gets the closest I’ve ever seen to someone explaining it well when he said marriage isn’t for you, that the reason you marry someone is not because “you’re ready” or because “you’re happy when you’re with them” but because you want to spend the rest of your life making that other person happy.
Marriage has its selfish perks: never having to worry about if you’re going to get laid again (ideally), not having to look for a date to a Friday night movie (most of the time), having a sense of security and stability that cohabitation doesn’t really provide… but the real determination of whether or not you’re in a successful marriage-level relationship is how much effort you put into making your partner happy. Reading these words validated what I felt and made me realize that I wasn’t just being an “Arty the Smarty” when I told the Saint that I wanted to spend the rest of my life finding new and exciting happies to shower him with.
Yes, yes, we know all that (and I’d invoke a planet-wide case of diafeelies if I let myself go on about my favorite topic), but that’s not what I’m finding so remarkable.
The lines are being drawn more and more around the social strata where the old standards of “normal relationships” are more neatly delineated, which is to say, rampant codependency as we were instructed was the Holy Grail as kids and teens (and even before that from the 40s and 50s) is no longer en vogue.
Thank the gods.
You can tell a lot about a culture based on what kind of love their love songs talk about – and how people react to them. Just because Rhianna did a song about BDSM (that was, incidentally, almost as boring as the book and songs that Madonna did on the same topic) doesn’t mean it’s the cultural norm, although the fact that it played on mainstream radio at all indicates that we’ve matured to where it doesn’t leave us in girlish titters at the mention of it. Its presence lets us know that we’re culturally prepared to deal with the wider breadth of sexuality as a real topic and not just a taboo giggle-fest.
No, there are more songs that tell us that love isn’t blind (Brad Paisley’s “Little Moments”), though it may be willfully stupid (Fun.’s “We Are Young”), but at least it knows this. There are songs that point out the blatant hypocrisy in some romantic relationships (Gotye’s “Somebody I Used To Know”), and we’re seeing a whole new imperfect side of relationships in media across the board. Why does “Twilight” still get air time? Because the favorite pastime is pointing out how bloody ridiculous and abusive and stupid the whole thing is. (And, yes, Edward and Bella are in an abusive relationship. Hey, look, a popular example!)
This awareness is refreshing, brilliant, wonderful… and I hope to see more of it. I’m looking forward to the days when we can see movies and hear songs and read books about relationships where there are clothes on the floor and the toilet seat is left up, and even though there isn’t a single excuse for it, it’s still handled like grown-ups and doesn’t interfere with romance.
And with that… I need to go straighten up my room.