I. On Relationships
It makes me uncomfortable to write about this topic here, and I am sharing because this is on my mind with Valentine's Day approaching.
On Facebook, I asked friends what they felt had been grossly misrepresented in childhood media.
The first response someone gave was: Love.
From a woman's perspective, I was certainly entranced by the Disney stories of princesses. They are beautiful, but alone; if they could only find love. With a little bit of luck, or a fairy godmother, she is discovered, rescued, or otherwise plucked up by a handsome, albeit vapid, prince.
Of course, media wasn't the only source of bad advice and ill-placed relationship expectations.
Though I have avoided marriage, I have been in several long-term relationships. And I can honestly say, I feel that I've gotten better at my part of the deal over time. Here are some things I've learned...
A Dating Lesson
Dating someone or entering a relationship with the idea in mind that the other person will change, or thinking"I can change her/him," ends in disaster every single time. Every time. There are no exceptions.
This one is so important I will reiterate it twice because I've watched people do this over and over, sometimes more than once...
If those "honeymoon" hormones wear off, and you suddenly find yourself really annoyed, disgusted, or otherwise frequently frustrated with this person that you just adored for several months prior - run away. They will not change. And, honestly, it's a bit rude to try to make them change, especially if they are happy with themselves. Make the hard choice for yourself sooner than later and cut your lost time.
The Relationship Work
People have quirky habits. It will benefit you (and your partner) if these are things you find charming or, at minimum, can place in the quirky category rather than the annoying category.
Acts of kindness are critical. And they are certainly important more than once per year. Three categories come to mind: 1) There are day to day things, like doing the chore your partner doesn't like doing. 2) There are tokens of affection; these might be intentional physical affection, or it might be the gesture of a small gift, like flowers. 3) And the third is the specific way(s) your partner wants and needs to receive your loving kindness - not a one-size fits all thing.
Now before I go further, I need to say that I'm envisioning healthy coupled relationships here - two individuals who love and care about one another, both of whom have made equal commitments to the relationship and the values that have been established, and who have a deep respect and show unyielding support for the other human involved. I make no qualms about this: if you read those previous lines and had an inkling that this is not your relationship, perhaps it's time to consider why you stay.
Finally, when you live with a partner (dare I say especially during a pandemic), it's important to acknowledge to yourself that it can be difficult. There will be tough days. Your partner will do things that will get on your nerves. And though I know you're fabulous... you will get on their nerves too.
Here's something I heard Jon Kabat-Zinn say:
"At times we want to get to an end result and we'll drive through whatever is between us and that end result. And so we're kind of forcing ourselves to get out of the present moment because we're anticipating some better present moment in the future.
And this is, in some sense unwise, and creates damage, sometimes, because other people have to live with your impatience, and it has an aggressive element to it sometimes. The victims, let's say, of our impatience are often the people that we live with and love the most. Or people that we work with, and might actually feel that a steady diet of my impatience is in some sense really disregarding, if not abusive.
So impatience isn't just something you benefit from recognizing and then cultivating patience in yourself, but other people will benefit tremendously as well."
Relationships require attention. They require work.
If we're committed, our partner deserves respect. They deserve attention. They deserve patience.
In kind, you also deserve these things.
These are things that both people must choose to do, separately, of their own volition. What I mean is, as an individual, you have to make the choice that you want be in a relationship, and that you're willing to do the cultivating work to respect, cherish, and love your partner for the duration. It's a choice. You don't "fall into" these things. And as an individual human soul, your partner has to choose to do the same.
It takes two.
And no matter where you are today, if you know in your heart of hearts that you're in a relationship where you will never get the respect, the cherishing, the love you need and deserve, then know that you are not a failure. And it is OK to make the choice to leave.
I'm no relationship expert, but the great people at the Gottman Institute are. You should read their books. Here are just a few + 1 by Zinn.