Friday, September 5, 2014

Thoughts on an Unconditional Relationship

So, for those of you who have somehow missed it, I got engaged. There is this girlie named Betsy who somehow is crazy enough to try and live a life with me. So, we have progressed through the normal hoops that many relationships go through without the luxury of, you know, time in each other’s physical presence. I know that sounds strange, and perhaps even a little alarming. What it has done for me though, is make me realize that the way relationships work in 2014 is radically different than the way relationships have worked throughout history. Therefore being a little unconventional is not as strange an ordeal as I thought it was in the past.

As much as any author out there tells you they have figured things out, the truth remains there is no proper or standard way that makes relationships work beyond this – you have to know each other. You can figure out love languages, and strengths, and schedules, and families, and strategies, and still find yourself in a terrible relationship. You can also blindly ignore all of those things and somehow end up with an enduring relationship that makes people marvel. (And as a side note – I list those specific things, because they are IMMENSE helps in learning one another and how the other functions and differs from you. Knowing Betsy is a touch person helps me understand that she has different relational needs from me. Knowing that I am an introvert helps Betsy know I am not so much withdrawing from her, as I am recharging because lots of people time can be quite draining for me.) The question is do you know that other person? Do they know you? Only then do you know what you are truly signing up for.

And what I mean by that is not the projected person that you used to reel them into your net, but the deep-down, hidden you that sometimes you don’t even fully recognize yourself. Are you able to bear open who you are, let them behind the curtain and expect the same from the other? In that sense it does not matter if you are marrying for love, in an arranged marriage, had sex before your vows, exchanged purity rings, or have any other specific defining characteristics of marriage. And in that sense it is also a lot of work. But…I am also getting ahead of myself as I am just engaged and not married.
What Betsy and I have is, in my guesstimation, quite untraditional. We have known each other for about 6 years, actually nearly exactly that long since she moved to California around September for school. We both had relationships while we lived in the same state. We navigated and processed those relationships together. We had a heckuvalotta fun together without any of the pressures of dating. And in that sense we got to just be ourselves around one another without any fronts.

I left California; she stayed. Three years passed and then, BOOM! We started dating long distance. Her uncle (GUB is pictured to the right) helped us see each other face-to-face the first time post-dating. It was terribly awkward. I said something like, “I think we are in two different relationships.” She let me know, quite contrarily, “No…this is just as terrible for me as it is for you.” Somehow that made things better. Somehow that let both of us know that what we were dealing with was not the same get-to-know-you adjustments that lots of our friends went through. What we were going through was the oh-I-seem-to-have-missed-these-parts-of-you-when-we-were-just-friends adjustments.
From that first weekend together we instituted weekly Skype dates…with terrible lag times. We had to be a hyper-structured couple, because unlike many of you guys and gals that got to do this thing in person, I couldn’t just stroll over and plop on a couch. We couldn’t just meet at the movie theatre or have her drive down to the beach. We had to be super intentional or we honestly would just not make time for one another. Why? We both had good lives. And as such, we liked what we were already doing.

But what this did for us, or at least for me, was make me a student whenever I was around Betsy. I did not have the benefit of lots of time, so I had to learn as much as I could on the fly in brief, intense weekends. So, we did that in January, March, April, May, July (twice) and August. The more we have spent time together the less I have been forced to be in observation mode, and the more I have been able to be in togetherness mode. I think this is what my buddy Matt Barber (to your left) was trying to say to me when he held my shoulders, looked me in the eyes and said, “Be present. Be present. Be present. Be present” over and over again to me. I think he saw the social scientist emerging and not the fiancĂ©.
But the other thing that I learned from having to be so structured and intentional was this – I have to be structured and intentional. Relationships do not always unfold like a flower at sunrise. Sometimes they take a little coaxing. I say awkward things to Betsy like, “Ohh…I think you are trying to communicate to me that you need more affection right now. Though I get your cues, you know what would be helpful…words!” Sure…I am learning the cues, but a girlie reared in Michigan who really bought into SoCal culture speaks a different language than a lad who was raised in Texas and has spent four years in the Deep South. We have to work…and we have to expect to work.
Finally, the last thing that I have learned is this – I have to listen to outside observers. I cannot tell you how encouraging some of your words have been to us throughout this process. Whenever Betsy and I are “in it” sometimes we can lose focus of the things that make this work, because something small like, “What do you mean we aren’t going to share a bathroom” comes up. Just yesterday, two ladies came up to me and said, “I just love the two of you together.” One said that we had “Sympatico” whatever that means; and the other said she just loved the way we can flow off one another. Truth be told, in public I don’t think Betsy and I are at our best. At that party I was engaged in other conversations than she was. And maybe that is part of what they observed. We are comfortable enough at an early stage to not have to be like, “WHERE ARE YOU?!?” (Betsy and I are not always this engaged when at parties) I don’t know. But the fact is so many people have seen things that we just cannot see ourselves. And in the tough moments…it helps to hear those things. Other people can help you define strengths you just can’t see.

I have a feeling this will be part of a lifelong series if I keep writing on this here blog…which I plan to do more often. But for now…tell me about relationships. Tell me what you are learning and have learned at whatever station you are at.

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