Pondering Amber Benson’s Relationship Question

On her blog, Amber Benson asks, Why Are Relationships So Hard? Scrolling down to the post’s comment section, you see that simple question generated a flood of comments in a very short amount of time. Apparently, this is a subject very much on people’s minds. And yes—mine, too.

The difference I’ve found between successful vs unsuccessful relationships is teamwork vs narcissism. The successes are about both parties agreeing, explicitly or tacitly, that they are “in this together”. Too often, I’ve found, people want a relationship because of how the other person makes em feel; it’s less about a partnership and more about self-gratification. Once that pleasure dissipates, so does interest in the “relationship”.

I’m reminded of a story I read about a year ago (I’d cite it, but I don’t remember the source) about an Indian arranged marriage. They were both resentful about having been joined with a stranger. They agreed to essentially lead private lives while sharing an apartment. After about a year, they realized that they had some common ground: refusing to let one family or the other speak or treat ill their spouse. From there they forged a strong bond that continued. They’d decided they were a team, looking out for each other of their own free will.

So…if relationships are so hard, if they are little more than a roll of the dice, then why do people pursue them so persistently? Of course, the biological drive is a major factor. Aside from that? It may be as simple as wanting that friend who always has your back, who will keep your confidences, and who will look out for you even if that causes you feel momentarily betrayed. We are social animals, and that’s part of what our survival depends on: trust and partnership…of the desire and need to not be alone.

Why are relationships so hard? We’ve been losing the understanding that it’s a mutual partnership about what’s best for the partnership. It doesn’t mean you always get your way or that you always have to give in. It’s about the team. When it’s about the “me”, then you aren’t really trying to have a relationship, you are trying to have a fandom. Too many people want fandoms…and that’s why it’s hard.

Contextual disclosure: I found the relationship-forging thing so stressful that I stepped away from the circus of it all back in 1985. I’d discovered that, for me, the pursuit wasn’t worth everything else that came with it. I would say that I’ve never looked back on that decision, but I can’t. I’ve looked…but the universe has (helpfully?) managed to throw up detour signs whenever I thought about taking a U-turn. As a result, I live sort of simply and economically, and I engage in work-like pursuits a lot. I’ve also observed—a plus of being a relationship outsider is that it allows me to have about as neutral an opinion on relationships as a person is likely to get. .

A major factor in my long-term monk-like existence is that I realized early on that I am probably more emotionally selfish than would be wise for a healthy relationship. Some of that comes with being a bit Asperger-y. Some of it is from the same sort of life-baggage we all carry about. I like to think that I was kind enough, and had personal insight enough, to not want to scar others unnecessarily. To all the women of the world: you’re welcome.

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