"[If Parliament] may take from me one shilling in the pound, what security have I for the other nineteen?" ~ Richard Henry Lee
I have never had a successful relationship. The reasons have, in the past, seemed to me to be varied and complex, but recently, particularly since the dissolution of my last liaison, I have come to a much simpler view of the navigation of this particular minefield: Don't enter it.
"But," the reader says, "one must be in a relationship!" Why? To combat loneliness? To feel wanted or needed? To experience the joy of giving up your favorite habits at the whim of another? To be complete?
Ah, there is the most insidious reason of all. Completion of the self. Why does one need another person to be complete? What is it about spending one's life (should one find a person one can stand for so long, and who is likewise tolerant) with the same being which appeals to us? Isn't monogamy a behavior simply imposed by societal rather than natural constraints? Where in nature do we find the same pattern? A few animals pair for life, but, by and large, they do not seem to find compatibility an issue. One could say it is because their brains are less complex, but I have observed the relationships of those supposedly more involute beings with whom I am obliged to interact, and I do not believe the relative complexity argument holds up.
Where then, does this compulsion to merge lives stem from? I believe it is the need for completion in most cases. Many will actually admit it. I cannot understand, I suppose, how one can cheerfully espouse that one is an incomplete psyche without the validation of another being's tacit approval of one's life by simply hanging around for the better part of it. I know one incomplete person who cannot leave a relationship until another has been established to take its place. This person will reject a rejection, that is, refuse to acknowledge the other party's declaration of no further interest, and continue the facade of involvement, until another dating partner can be secured.
Incomplete people know they are incomplete, and tend to resent those who are whole themselves, who do not need that emotional coalescence celebrated for reasons beyond me in popular culture. Why are so many so wanting? Where is the root of the lack? People every day maintain relationships rife with horror and abuse, lies and screaming matches, hatred and fear. Why?
I have a friend who has a girlfriend with whom he has been since high school. Generally, they seem to get along pretty well. They share interests, joke and have fun. Sometimes, however, seemingly in a cyclical fashion, they have a falling-out of an occasionally violent nature. Is the good time worth the pain? Many would say so, but one cannot call back a slap, or a harsh word. Those imprints are left like fossils in sediment, to be dug up in the far-flung future, or, at least, during the next argument. I know the angry and foolish ways I have behaved in the past will never leave me. My shame rides my shoulders. Why do we heap these indignities on ourselves?
Sex? Yes, please. But can one found a life on it, rather than with it? In the relationship I mention above, as well as in many I have encountered, sex is used as a tool of control by one half of the couple. It is dispensed when the other partner exhibits "good" behavior, and withheld when "bad" traits are displayed. Is this "love"? I am coming to think the one has little to do with the other. To return to nature, many animals seem to share the common behavior of the males, in the proper season, impregnating every female they run across and can catch. Affection seems to play little part. Humans are the only animals who show feeling during sex. Is this a coincidence? Unlikely. A mystique has been built up around a simple act which is impenetrable by the detached observer. I find myself attaching less and less importance to the matter. Where is the profit in pursuing a few minutes gratification at the expense of one's purse and dignity? If a woman finds me attractive to the point of being willing to share a few hours of leisure with me, fine, I am pleased to please. But I will no longer seek out my own ruin in transience masquerading as love.
If I sound as if I think anyone who is in a relationship is a fool, or, at least, behaving foolishly in this particular way, let me say now that this is not the case. When one can find another whole person, who is willing to overlook one's grosser excesses of flatulence and whatnot, and who can maintain a separate and distinct persona, without the merging thought indispensable by those who don't know what "love" truly is (I do not claim to know, myself, but I do know what it isn't), then that is a worthwhile endeavor. The pleasures of companionship are undeniable, but seductive, and destructive of thought and reason unless care is taken to maintain the best part of oneself, namely independent thought. All else is floundering in a morass of emotional muck, losing precious identity for the transient gratification of a fractured perception of self.
"Oh," says the reader, "you just got out of a bad relationship. You'll want another. Never say never." I am not so sure. Also, I am not saying never. If I can find a woman with a strong independent mind and personality, who never says she loves me, but shows it, as I would show her, I would consider it. But I will not settle again for less than what I know I want. Anything else would be a disservice to all parties concerned.
I was speaking recently to a friend whose conversation I normally find exceptionally compelling, who has, like myself, finally pulled up anchor and set sail for new ports of leisure. We discussed our several experiences, the outcomes of our sojourns into mire, and my friend pointed out that, due to the lessons of the past, the hard-earned experience had shown that the merging of lives was a sure route to dissolution regardless, and that walls were obligatory for the maintenance of self. But, my friend pointed out, these walls would also keep away the true companion of one's heart, where "heart" signifies emotional fulfillment. This, my friend went on, presented the fundamental schism between intellect and emotion: what do you do when your feelings override your better judgment, for want of a better term, and lead you into a relationship with a person you don't know is right for you, but judgment hangs on well enough to keep that person at the distance requisite for your emotional stability, driving away your companion, whom you then seem to realize was, indeed, the one you were looking for? My reply was to the effect that the realization of your former partner's correctness for yourself after the dissolution of the relationship is a frequent by-product of same, and that lending too much credence to these feelings would likely be an error.
But what if this indeed was the case? Assuming one only has one "true love," how does one keep to the better side of the line of self versus merger without alienation being the outcome, nor the morass one must avoid being steered into? The only answer I can fathom to this is honesty, about feelings, about expectations, and about attitudes. If deception is obligatory to maintain a smooth relationship, it is no relationship at all, but a prison, self-built, in which one's individuality and integrity will surely wither.