This is our truth, tell us yours
Stavvers, as we pointed out yesterday, has written with style and class about the relationship escalator. It fitted perfectly with a conversation Jem and I have been having for almost the whole duration of our relationship, about how I manage myself and my relationships.
I’m a bi man, who has not always made a success of close relationships with women or men. An important thing I needed to understand is that the reasons why successive relationships fail are not always the same. The reasons why relationships fail fall into three categories, so far as I understand anything about it; things that are about me, things that are about the other persons, and things that are external, and they often coincide. They’re not lists of reasons, or tables, but the elements of a Venn diagram, shifting over time and place.
Here’s an example. When I was about 18, I had a relationship with a couple, slightly older than me, who wanted a third in their relationship who was comfortable with the fact that they were both bi. (I also had, separately, a girlfriend, and random encounters with men. I was, it’s safe to say, a bit of a slut – all the parties involved for more than fifteen minutes knew something about the others, but it’s also safe to say that one or more of them might have wondered if there was something a little driven about my acting out of my libido.) Anyway, back to the couple. They should have been ideal; they were sorted, with a comfortable London Lefty lifestyle and an infinite capacity for talking about themselves. Except that the one thing they couldn’t stop doing was trying to balance who got how much time with me when we were having sex; so they’d be practically clockwatching to see whose turn it was to be fucked or buggered. That relationship foundered, despite the fact that I liked them, because of how they were, and how it didn’t match what I wanted and felt I needed.
I tell that story not to prove what a stud I was, but to illustrate that there’s more than one way for a relationship to founder. I sometimes feel as if I’ve explored most of them.
So how have I managed to have a relationship with Jem for about as long as I’ve managed with anyone? Could it be maturity? Could it be an acknowledgement by me or what works for me and what doesn’t? Could it be.although she denies it, because she is wise and self aware, and hugely grounded in a solid base of belief and thought processes honed by philosophy and theology?
The first thing about me is that, after splitting with my most significant ex (the one I have a family with) I made a list of what I’d done wrong. Not just done wrong in terms of the relationship with the other, but wrong in terms of what I needed, and what was healthy for me, which meant acknowledging that some of the things I need aren’t always healthy for me, in the long term, or for relationships. I also repeated some of the same mistakes, sometimes in the presence of alcohol, sometimes because I didn’t recognise them until too late. Oddly, I also repeated the couple experience, not as part of a search for times lost, but simply because I met someone who, after the first occasion, mentioned that she thought her husband would like to meet me. That relationship ended, in turn, because they decided that they’d got to somewhere where my role was no longer required; and smilingly, I moved on. (I’m trying not to turn this into a Carter shagathon of a blog, but, broadly speaking, they needed someone to create situations and times when hubby could cross dress and be shagged while his wife watched. Once they’d both got used to it, I wasn’t required and they found their own way of being comfortable.)
Somewhere along the way I whittled down my list of expectations from relationships, and my understanding of my weaknesses and strengths until I reached what I thought was a template for how I could be the best I could be.
Oddly, I forgot the strongest lesson of all. Relationships aren’t merry-go-rounds which just go round and round repeating the same patterns. They’re not escalators either, with their constant progress towards a higher state, like a personalized version of the Whig theory of history. In the absence of a pre-defined pathway, all you can do is try to be aware of where you are, and how you are.
I know that because, by chance, I was in the same room as Jem one day. By not trying to create a relationship that fitted anyone else’s template, we’ve created a relationship that fits our templates. Recognizing that others go through, or have gone through the same processes as me is key to my de-centering myself. I struggle to describe this, but see it as being as if life is not a Venn diagram, but a triskelion of endless spirals, where knowing where you are on the spiral and where you want to be is the best you can hope for. Being around someone like Jem, who also cares about self awareness, about love as a way of being, not as a way of feeling, helps me be the best and happiest I can be. Where once I eschewed romantic love as a manifesto, I can now echo Fromm and say that, as a condition of living with love for everyone, I can also say that love is union with somebody, or something, outside oneself, under the condition of retaining the separateness and integrity of one’s own self. By accident, by imposing separateness on myself in order to avoid the mistakes of the past, I seem to have discovered a different and healthier form of unity.