Relationship 1.0 2.0 3.0?

I’ve been thinking about posts, one in particular, by Deb, where she talks about her marriage. I don’t think I’m in any position to dispense advice. But thoughts, those I do have.

I don’t know what it’s like to be married a long time and not happy in that relationship. I did, however, watch my parents in that life. And I watch other people’s relationships and marriages. I’m innately curious about how other people live, and especially about the dynamics of love and of family (with the thought that two people can comprise a family).

Is there anything more important than the single person you choose to live your life with? Your partner? It just seems to me that the chosen person holds the key to everything vital. There are those people, who live together, who are married, but effectively go their own ways, and lead lives apart from one another. But most people are powerfully involved with their partner – and more importantly, most people are powerfully affected by their partner.

The other person in your life can build you up, tear you down, add to your happiness, or steal your happiness. They can make you laugh or they can make you despair. They can slowly, gradually, even imperceptibly, change who you are till you become a far greater version of yourself than you might have been alone – or conversely, a shadow of who you once were.

As I say, I’ve no long relationship to bring into the conversation. Still, I speak from my point of view. When I am involved, it is inherently my nature to become deeply invested. I am hyper-aware of the people in my life. I can’t help it. In the past, I have become more invested in some people than warranted. Like, on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being little invested and 10 being overwhelming invested, I’d invest 8 where I probably should have invested 5 or 6. That is, the person wasn’t necessarily someone I shouldn’t know or be involved with, but the DEGREE was at issue. I didn’t get that at the time. I had more of a one-size-fits-all approach.

I wasn’t naive – I didn’t let things go too far in that I felt helpless or emotionally dependent to the extent I made irrevocable decisions not in my interest. Ones I would have paid dearly for, ones I’d STILL be paying for had I let them go forward. But I look back, and I see myself trying to pound square pegs into round holes. What a fat waste of time. And really – did I have it to waste? Does anyone?

I have learned. I began, in my relationships, to dial back my investment to more appropriate levels. To look closely at someone and where I truly thought they belonged in my life. I sometimes use the metaphor of a house. That is, you are the house. You decide how far into your house someone should be allowed to come. Some people don’t make it past the front door. Their behavior, demeanor, and attitude make clear this is a person that shouldn’t cross your threshold. Which isn’t to say, they won’t TRY. Others are permitted into the foyer and if they act right there, you might invite them to sit down or enter the living room. And so on as it goes.

Some relationships aren’t meant to go beyond certain levels. And to try to push them, or more importantly I find as a woman, to ALLOW someone else to push them past that point, can be a huge mistake with deep consequences. There are those who ultimately raise families with people they should have stopped seeing after the second date.

The trouble also, is once someone is deeply ensconced in a relationship and simultaneously unhappy, it can be difficult to tell if any subsequent dissatisfaction can be genuinely attributed to the other person. The partner can sometimes be viewed as a scapegoat, i.e., “I’m not happy, therefore it must be your fault.” I know that if I am unhappy in a relationship, I become consumed with that feeling. I mean, it can be hard to tell what is fair, or not fair, to lay at the other person’s feet when you’re in the thick of it.

Increasingly, as I became aware of these things I am writing about, I put them into effect in my relationships. I did not get “swept away” or allow myself to be corralled by someone else’s agenda. I don’t know the extent that other women are susceptible to that but by and large, I’d say women are generally more vulnerable to going along with someone else’s plan than are men. We permit ourselves to be flattered or talked into questionable relationships, and later, to stay in them past the point they either suit or serve us. Not always, but often enough that it is a phenomenon. I see it.

First, as I said, I dialed back my involvement in relationships where over-involvement wasn’t warranted or WASN’T WARRANTED YET. But more importantly, I cleared the decks and my mind in such a way, that I no longer could attribute happiness or lack there of, to anyone but me. This is a scary undertaking and yet, so well worth it, I’ve found. I returned the focus to center. The fact is, I began to treat myself more like the way I always wanted to be treated in relationships. Nothing extravagant, just improved. I found I had a better idea of how to treat me than other people did. Or at least those I’d had relationships with in the past. I effectively stopped waiting on other people, real and imagined.

All blame and all credit is now at my feet. The time and energy I put into other people (where I shouldn’t have or not as much), I took back and put into me. Again – you’d not necessarily be all that impressed with what I’ve managed, but for me, it’s huge. I see so very clearly that I am the best investment I’ve got. I’m the investment that needs to last, to go the distance. And if I’m stingy with myself, I will pay. It’s taken me a very long time so see that. And really believe it. I never used to look at things that way, which is to say, realistically. But I don’t mean realistically in the no-fun-at-all way (“realistically” sounds so dry & boring to my own ears, but that’s not how it feels). Look, if I still thought about things the way I did at 20 or 30 or approached my relationships the same way I did then, that would be a problem!

The things I’m telling you about are ongoing. But the direction seems right. I like it.

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50 thoughts on “Relationship 1.0 2.0 3.0?

  1. Deb

    Colette, I agree with so much of what you have written here, specifically the ideal that finding happiness with oneself must be a priority, and that it is easy…very easy…to play the scapegoat game. I only touched the surface in my post that you highlight. I can relate to the need to find my own self, my own happiness again before anything will be right. I still don’t really even know how or when I lost such an important part of myself but I think it was a slow process until one day it just was how life was. It almost always takes two when you talk about fault and blame and I know that I can pin my fair share on myself in my own situation.
    I have to commend you for being aware that you are your own best investment when it comes to being happy.
    Deb

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Deb, although our situations are very different, your post gave me the springboard to collect my thoughts on this. When you write, I think you capture the feelings of many women who are frustrated and disappointed with their marriages & relationships – trying to get things from a man who doesn’t necessarily have them to give, or who doesn’t necessarily even want the same things (whether he admits this or not). It reminds me of some of my own past experiences.

      Our happiness gets so tangled up with the people in our lives. It is so hard to know where the lines are. I’ve always wanted and pursued relationships but reality didn’t meet expectations and hopes. The irony is I think I’ve become a bigger, bolder, better version of myself on my own. I’ve gone into a new gear.

      Thank you so much for commenting – your opinion on my post was important to me.

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      1. Deb

        You have given me reason to think more on choices made and still to come. If anyone had ever warned me that being anything other than happy with my self and alone might not be worth the trouble I would likely be living a very different life right now 🙂

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          Nobody ever told me that either. I grew up Disney-fantasy-fed in a culture that assumed everyone but the unmarriagable (and priests/nuns) got married and lived happily ever after. Nobody ever talked to me about what might be good for me or make me happy (not till I did.) I am rooting for you, however it goes.

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  2. John Callaghan

    Oh, I liked this very much. Your observation that there are people who raise families with someone who should never have gone past the first date is really astute. I wonder how much sex can colour a person’s perception of someone else. If the sex is mind blowing then so much more can be tolerated. Or so many more compromises can be made. At least this has happened to me. More than a few times I’ve come out of a relationship thinking “god, that gal was a really shitty human being and I hardly noticed.”
    I’m probably in the minority here but my philosophy has always been “if it requires a lot of work then it isn’t meant to be.” My marraige is really fun and meaningful. If it required “work,” whatever that is, I would not stay married.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Interesting! I think there’s a whole other post on how sex leads all of us us around by the proverbial balls – which one of us is going to write it?! And this is nature’s haha joke on how to perpetuate the species; getting together some of the most unlikely and ill-advised duos.

      WORK. Women’s magazines and talk shows, etcetera, etcetera, are filled with the importance of, and advice on, HOW TO WORK ON YOUR RELATIONSHIP. It sounds so tiresome. Besides, sometimes you jump around a lot, do many tricks, fan the flames and STILL the relationship isn’t all that. I’m with you – it better damn well be, if not easy at least pleasant or pleasing a lot more often than not. For both.

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            1. Angie Mc

              If you are referring to your wives’ sublime beauty and brilliance, yes. If you are referring to John and Dave’s beauty and brilliance…not so much 😉

              Liked by 2 people

  3. vanbytheriver

    So well said, Colette. Like you, I grew up as witness to a marriage in disarray. Two amazing people who had no business being together, let alone bringing 6 children into their world. I did not approach marriage with hope, I looked on in fear. My husband understood this, and never gave up on me. It happened for us, in spite of so many attempts by me to destroy it. I read Deb’s post with great interest, and relate to many of those feelings. In retirement, we are faced with getting to know each other again. There is honor in commitment, and a life shared together, with all its challenges. We are doing well so far. Thanks for another thought-provoking post. I’m amazed by your candor. ☺ Van

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Aw thank you Van. I’m glad you explain how your marriage came to be, with fits & starts, that makes sense. I’d wondered how you were able to marry so young and stay married, given other things you’ve shared (re your family).

      There’s a line I heard on The Roseanne Show years ago that I never forgot that struck a chord and seems apropos, where Roseanne comments that it took five years (or something like that) into their marriage before she could trust Dan, her husband. What you say makes me think of that now.

      I understand that retirement, with all its togetherness, can be bang or bust. Illuminating all that is right or wrong. I am not certain but it sometimes seems that men want to kick back and coast (“I’ve earned it”) while their wives want more substance and meaning.

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      1. vanbytheriver

        I’m sure it’s just another piece of the puzzle that prevented us from having children for 10 years. I was always ready to leave. He used to accuse me of looking for any excuse..he was right. When life/kids/careers/family drama all got in our collective face, we dealt with it, and grew closer in the process. But…the time thing. We were busy, and didn’t spend a lot of quality time together. There’s a lesson there, I think, that comes to smack you in the face when you retire and have nothing BUT time. I once saw a dark joke about 2 folks seeking divorce in their 90’s. They claimed they were just waiting for their last child to die. Ugh.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          Oh Van! At least you have your sense of humor about it all. What you say about being so ready to leave resonates. A man I was involved with long ago, rather astutely observed (after I expressed the kind of support I wanted), that I didn’t need someone like him “beating me to the door.”

          True enough, many older couples simply give the impression of being “stuck together.” I can usually tell if someone older is on a second (or third) marriage rather than a long first, because the couple appears warmer and friendlier to one another.

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            1. writerinsoul Post author

              Oh. A story there I expect. I have to say it is always a pleasure to be be around long-marrieds who genuinely appear and act as if, they like one another. Where the familiarity breeds affection.

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    2. Angie Mc

      Van, you write, “There is honor in commitment, and a life shared together, with all its challenges. We are doing well so far.” I gratefully agree. My husband and I are growing up together in spite of our limited selves.

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  4. Andrew Davis

    I have said it in different posts but I needed to be ready to date. Starting late, because I was terrified of dating and the intimacy involved, I idealized individuals in safety. This would have been okay, as had been in my two-dimensional pornographic world, but it did not translate healthily to flesh and blood women. Pain followed. Pain to rival the pain from college, which I thought had set the bar high already. I needed to get right myself, love myself a lot more than I previously felt I deserved, and create small achievable goals. Pain and fear trailed close behind, with the ever present loneliness. Out of depression I came from the other side of “if I just had a girlfriend I’d be aces”. Completing and publishing my memoir was a big step, something I did for myself, saw through from beginning to end, and felt satisfied with. I dipped my toe in the dating pool and it was a flip of idealizing the girl to settling for the girl. I was miserable wondering, approaching 40, if this was the best I could expect to do. After a few months, it was over. Nastily over. That did it. It was firecrackers bursting apart in my tummy or nothing. In the meantime I re-focused my social work career. And as random as a Match wink, my firecracker appeared. I needed to be ready to accept another person only after I fully accepted myself.
    Every life journey is different. It’s a huge wide smile in seeing you confidently assert your destiny, friend. You and your self sound like a powerful force.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you for your candor, Andrew (and the big smile/compliment too!). I think, as you describe, there is a tendency for those who live in Big Emotions, to swing from the extremes. Part of addressing all of this is finding something in the middle ground, neither idealizing nor settling. As you relate, neither of those works. Weighing the ideas in our heads against Actual Human Beings is a daunting and complicated and ongoing task. Part of my own history is also the reverse: trying to navigate other people’s ideas-in-their-heads about ME. I’ve become all-about-reality and am interested only in other people who live there too. This does not cancel out romance et.al but takes them to a different level. And, as you also say in so many words, the stuff you do for yourself sets the stage for everything else.

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      1. Andrew Davis

        I love your grounded approach. In addition to your faith in reality you mentioned presentness in your original post, both of which I find vital to my current life. I was walking with my wife the other day. We were in the park, full of walkers and joggers. Our gait was steady but not much past ambling. I remarked to her about fleeting interest in other girls. I see a particularly arresting girl and have passive lustful thoughts. I tell her, I think many things at that time, in this girl’s physicality and the momentous pleasure of her newness, and almost immediately I think BUT that isn’t what I want because that isn’t reality, that isn’t sharing with depth. I tell her, I wish I could accurately convey in words how real, how true, how present, how good you are for me just by being you. You ground me and exact me so well it still baffles me you exist and even more baffling that the woman I’ve been hoping to find, not only found me but was looking for someone just like me. She smiled. The walk continued. I want to continue those conversations with her, not to convince her, but because that is who I am, the real person in thoughts and presentness. I believe if we continue to share in these truths our knowledge of each other will grow along with our relationship. Over time and much trauma I have grown comfortable with liking myself more, which has in turn allowed me to accept that someone could ever like me. You are right. It starts with you. And the present will always have you confidently beside yourself.

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  5. battlewagon13

    Marriages go up and marriages go down – but I think if you’re patient and give it time everyone eventually finds someone that they can spend the rest of their lives with, and ENJOY spending the rest of their lives with. I’ve seen good marriages and bad marriages, and more often than not bad marriages are a result of rushed decisions. That’s just my opinion and I’m sure a million other people will debate that, but that is how I’ve always looked at it.

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  6. Julie Winters

    I’d be one debating Tim’s point, too, having married in my late 20s to a person I’d lived with for almost 4 years. Marriage turned out to have been a bad decision not out of rushing but out of a lack of honesty with myself. Inertia plus a people-pleasing nature can equal bad decision making. Happy to be wiser now. At any rate, I’ve enjoyed this whole thread, and I am a great admirer of those who are self-aware and willing to advocate for their own interests, which I firmly believe can be done in the context of a loving relationship. (If one cannot do that, then the relationship is very likely not right.)

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thanks for commenting, Julie, and for sharing your story. I don’t know why our culture persists in the idea that young people, in their 20’s should be able to choose marriage partners (and careers too). Still seems true today as it was for you. Back then, I resisted, despite some pressure, because I knew I was no way ready – and I did not meet/know/date anyone I wanted to marry.

      You know what I think would be great? Where not only a person was self-aware enough to advocate for their interests – as you say – but if their partner actually advocated for their interests (too). Someone who truly wants the best for you. At any rate, I totally agree with you that a relationship that doesn’t give someone room to look after their own interests, would be poor match. –Colette

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      1. Julie Winters

        Oh, and I agree with you that a relationship in which the partners look out for each other’s interests is the better ideal! How is love anything less than being an advocate for one’s partner–helping them achieve what they want and need? (The trick is, of course, that both partners need to realize and be committed to this as well as understanding that there needs to be balance–depending on circumstances, there might need to be turn-taking.)

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          Absolutely. Now, having said this, my personal experience(s) have been weighted more heavily on what the other person thought/believed/hoped I’d do for them than very much about my best interests… (which brings me back around to being the one looking out for my interests.)

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