Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Bad at Relationships?

I had a letter the other day from a reader who claimed she was bad at relationships. The rest of her email suggested she had many healthy relationships. But of course what she meant was "man & woman & sexual spark" relationships.

A lot of my readers do that--you talk about being bad "at relationships" when in fact you have many healthy relationships: with parents, siblings, work colleagues, students, professors, priests, the waitress who serves you coffee every day, female friends and even male friends. I think, therefore, that you are psyching yourselves out when you claim that you are bad at "relationships."

One of the enduring problems of our age is that we privilege "man & woman & sexual spark" relationships above absolutely every other relationship. But I think they should just take their place humbly among our well-established relationships with family members and our old friends.

A husband, interestingly enough, is a family member; it is another problem of our age that we do not recognize this and that "man & woman & sexual spark" is no longer (in English-speaking communities) put in the appropriate context of expanding a family. When I met my husband, I soon realized how much my family would like him and enjoy having him as a family member. And I was quite right.

"Okay then," I hear various voices pipe up, "we're good at most relationships. We're just bad at dating relationships."

But again I don't buy it. What does it mean to be good at a dating relationship? Ideally a dating relationship is a man and a woman who like each other, and get a bit wobbly and excited by just seeing the other, getting together to share interests, like a film or the museum or a marathon or a hockey game, and also meals and conversations. And out of these experiences, they singly and then together decide if they should make some kind of formal commitment or cease to go about so much together.

Very often they decide that they shouldn't commit and they shouldn't go about so much together. One or the other just isn't feeling it. And that is not being bad at dating relationships. No-one is to blame if you or the guy just doesn't feel a lasting attachment. Yes, it's disappointing, but it's also disappointing when your ticket doesn't win the lottery. You can't hurry love, as the song says. You just have to wait.

Meanwhile, another problem is not you but the current culture of dating relationships. To make a grand generalization, many men are rather messed up right now, and therefore are not so much on the hunt for wives, per se, but for girlfriends/bedmates. The courtship process for getting a girlfriend is not the same thing as the process for getting a wife, and so it is very difficult for the Catholic woman who does not want to have sex before marriage to navigate male attention. Fortunately, around the age of thirty men (particularly men from traditional cultures or who have returned to the practice of their faith) are often tired of messing around and just want to find a nice girl with whom to settle down.

And the only way I can think of to put up with this state of affairs is to keep the bonds strong with the real relationships in your life--with God, family, friends, colleagues, the waitress in the coffee shop, et alia--so that you have a lot of emotional support while you carry on with your life, all the while with a beautiful little hope (and it is beautiful, if kept small and in proportion) for the right man to come along one day.

Meanwhile, the one thing I can see many women being bad at is being rooted in reality when it comes to "man + woman + spark" relationships. We meet a handsome guy who seems nice and our minds race to months or even years ahead. We think "handsome=good" and "friendly=into me". And then when we are confronted with reality, we too often sweep it under the carpet because facing it would be too painful. ("No, no, no. Anyone that handsome must be a good guy.") We mentally write out a little history of how the future will go and we write a character description for a man we barely know, and then we defend our little mental compositions from the reality of NOW and the reality of HIM, the real guy, a man invented by God, not Jane Austen, and conditioned by his masculinity and his experiences in life, experiences you know almost nothing about yet. And this is simply crazy behaviour. It's like deliberately setting out on a journey with the wrong map.

It would, then, behoove everyone to approach "man + woman + spark" relationships in the same spirit adult women make new adult women friends: with friendliness, with caution, with much thought, with slowly growing emotional intimacy, and in appropriate proportion to relationships with family and old friends.

8 comments:

N.W. Thomas said...

"The courtship process for getting a girlfriend is not the same thing as the process for getting a wife."

And this, for the male readers, is the crux. I recently discovered this myself, or at least it became much more real for me.

Thanks for saying this. It will take a lot of reconditioning of the male psyche, but I have hope...

Anonymous said...

Indeed! I was one of those who believed i was bad at relationships. However i am now glad i was not so good at those other dating relationships as i am now engaged to the perfect man for me. Thanks be to God for keeping me single up until my 31st birthday. He truly knows what is best.

Aussie girl in Australia (soon to be in kiwi land)

Seraphic Spouse said...

Aussie Girl, you missed the point of what I just wrote, but best wishes! When did you get married?

Anonymous said...

Not married yet. got engaged two weeks ago. Will marry in May this year. Not sure how i missed the point. Oh well.

Aussie girl etc

Seraphic Spouse said...

The point is that ending a dating relationship--even several dating relationships--does not mean that someone is bad at dating relationships. And that romance should be seen in the context of other, often deeper and certainly more established relationships.

But I am glad to read that you are happy in your not-quite-as-singleness!

healthily sanguine said...

I've gotten good at shutting down guys who aren't right for me (in a direct, yet I hope mainly charitable, way). I haven't gotten good at "finding the right guy" simply because there isn't any sort of trick or procedure to learn here. Waiting is right . . . and keep reminding yourself that it's better to wait in a state of boredom than to be plagued with unnecessary drama and heartache.

Lizzie said...

I wish I could have had the last paragraph tattooed on my arm 10 years ago!!
Great post - thank you.

Eowyn said...

"...the reality of HIM, the real guy, a man invented by God, not Jane Austen..."

Pure win, and very much enjoyed by my roommate and I while read aloud at the breakfast table. Thanks!