Miscellaneous content from the original enlightened caveman. Some serious, some not. Take your chances.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Relationships 101 - Part 1 - Identifying the Target

What follows is a series about relationships - why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep them. There will be several parts. This is the first - it establishes the target, so to speak. Additional parts will include:
  • how we turn our attention inward to become "relationship-friendly;"
  • how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts;
  • the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;
  • real interpersonal feedback - quantitative concurrence;
I'm sure there will be more to this as it evolves, but that's what you have to look forward to. Off we go.

Part 1 - Identifying the Target
It's all about relationships. If you're not already tuned into this really basic concept, take my word for it. Or you can go to an old folks home and interrogate the inmates. The ones who can remember their names will, in the vast majority, tell you that the best times in their lives were the ones spent with their loved ones. They won't go on about their house or their favorite football team. It'll be love, love, love. Believe me. So, we, being just smart enough to recognize that epiphanies like that, when realized early-on, have a tremendous ripple effect through life, give the idea some thought. And once we do, the pieces fall into place.

It comes down to love - a two-way street of emotional connection and gratification. The desired effect is achieved when there is some balance between love dispensed and love received. The key to that is long-term relationships that are rewarding, dynamic, challenging, and of course, enjoyable. You need all four to get the balance that elicits the full life-enhancing effects of love.

So this is what we're after - relationships that have these qualities. Fortunately, we can break things down into nice simple terms. There's a heirarchy, as I see it, which provides a basis for subsequent communication on the topic. It is as follows:

1. Parent/child relationships. They necessarily embody all of the aforementioned characteristics (if done even half-right).

2. Sibling relationships. These are deep and wide if all four characteristics are present. Often they're not enjoyable or rewarding, so the siblings share very little of the kind of love we're talking about. Yes, they love one another, but they don't share love with one another; the connection is there, but it is rarely used.

3. Committed pair-bond relationships. Marriage, partnership, civil union, whatever you want to call it. It's the duration and the "stuck with each other" factor that creates the dynamic and challenging aspects. Like I said, you need all four. It doesn't matter how people come by their commitments to one another; it only matters that the commitments are known (even if only among both parties) and that there are understood harmful consequences associated with breaching them.

4. Extended familial relationships. Aunts, cousins, etc. These adhere to the same rules as sibling relationships - they just yield a little less of the good stuff.

5. Exclusive (or semi-exclusive) trusted friend relationships. These may be acquired through extended shared experiences or by way of a vouch. They may be Platonic or romantic (as in the case of a relationship headed toward the committed pair-bond category.) The exclusivity is the notion that each person knows that they are the other person's best friend. Corny as it sounds, this is where the Best Friends Forever (BFF) thing comes in. I have to stop. This is cracking me up.

[Close laptop]

[1 Minute Later]

And, as serendipity would have it, Pammy is on Leno in a skimpy Santa Suit. I'm saved.

Now (with a completely straight face), the BFF thing hits the key aspects of a productive relationship (in the ideal love balance sense) because there is much satisfaction to be derived from the feeling of exclusivity with other human beings. It is but a perk in the committed pair-bond relationship, but it's the heart of the BFF. This kind of relationship is dynamic because anything over a long period of time with humans is bound to change, and it is challenging because all parties will work to keep it going. Gay or not, it's a lot better than being alone.

6. Non-exclusive trusted friend relationships. Like the BFF relationship - this can be Platonic or romantic. Even though all parties can walk away (either figuratively or literally), there are usually commonalities that keep things together - could be a shared interest, or a shared existence (as in people who work together). And even though there's no exclusivity, these relationships can be quite deep and gratifying, such as in the case of soldiers who serve in war together.

Beyond those six main types of relationships, you're not likely to be dealing in much love, or at least not healthy love. You may loooove Tom Cruise, but two-way emotional connections do not transpire when the parties in question don't know each other. At least not yet. It's the fucking Innernet, man, so who knows. Regardless, and this requires a delicate touch, the more you think a relationship like that is love, the longer your life sucks.

Now to the matter at hand. We get to decide - because we're free and we know that life doesn't happen to us; we happen to it - which of these types of relationships we want to pursue. We can do so through long deliberation or simply by trial and error, which at least has the benefit of getting results. But no matter how we approach it, the fact is that finding worthwhile relationships is different for everyone, but the strategy is basically the same. First the difference.

It's a real good idea to figure out where you stand on this curve. If you're the gregarious type and are never at a loss for people to hang out with, you have it easy. If you're the shy type, you don't. On another level, even if you're gregarious in "friend" environments, you may be the shy type in potential pair-bonding situations. In that case, you have it easy for some relationships and tough for others. The point is that it is incumbent upon all of us to know this aspect of ourselves. This is because there's a cure for whatever ails you. More on that in a moment.

In terms of strategy, it's also a good idea to start at the bottom of the list and work your way up. Hopefully, it is perfectly obvious that it makes sense to try to extract love from non-exclusive friend relationships before you tackle committed pair-bonds. So how do you do this? The simple answer is to be a good friend and be interesting. That means you're honest and trustworthy...and fun. Some people find this stuff, the simple stuff, very challenging, and they want for love as a result. But fear not. As I said, there's a cure.

Alas, my time is up. Sorry for the cliffhanger but compromises have been made. It's this or nothing.


Blogger Robert said...

Good post—I think about this very issue a lot.

I fear that you may be correct in suggesting: “So this is what we're after - relationships that have these qualities.” Since my well-deserved divorce two years ago from a mostly horrible thirteen-year marriage, I’ve resolved to remain single. I tend to agree with the late Frank Zappa, who sang: “broken hearts are for assholes”. But as time passes, my commitment to solitude could very well soften…who can tell.

The truth is that my ex was so dysfunctional that I slowly lost contact with all of the friends that I had before we married. But as it happens, I recently (two months ago) became reacquainted with my former ‘BBF’ from high school, as well as other mutual friends. We still share many of the same interests, though our political philosophies differ quite a bit. Beyond that, I seem to be the odd-man-out, in that I’m not particularly bothered by being alone. In fact, it’s quite enjoyable—the thought of another dud makes me rather reticent about the idea of becoming entangled again.

I suppose that being the single parent of three very bright kids weighs heavily on my thinking, with respect to contentment vs. loneliness. I typically vacillate between entertaining the thought of actively seeking a relationship on one hand and cynically dismissing the opposite sex altogether on the other (I’m straight, albeit not practicing).

[p.s. The aforementioned BBF just called as I’m writing this comment. He was confirming my fears, in that his girl-friend of several months is beginning to act according to the negative female stereotype. I think that I’ll remain in a holding pattern for now.]

12/20/2005 01:09:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

"I’m not particularly bothered by being alone."

My friend, you are not alone. You simply lack a committed pair-bonding relationship or anything even approaching that. Lucky for you, this doesn't mean your life is lacking in love - as a parent, you have the best kind of love relationship. Romantic relationship or not, you have it good. (But that's not news. Of that, I am sure.)

Also, you're wise to point out that your concern for your children weighs heavily on your decision to remain on the romantic sidelines. This makes good sense to me. However, I should say that love is one of those great things that you can never have too much of. So, while it is prudent to tread lightly in pursuing romantic relationships, I don't think you have to just opt for romantic loneliness. You just have a more difficult task when it comes to interviewing candidates.

As for the idea that a romantic relationship has a high likelihood of becoming an entanglement, I'd just say you have to stake out your deal breakers from the start and proceed gingerly from there. It's very common for people who have been out of the dating game for a while to get sucked in to the first warm fuzzy feeling that hits them. You don't have that luxury. It has to be right with your head before you take the reins off your heart.

My advice for you would be to get back in the game when you think you and your kids can handle it. Talk it over and when the time is right, look into the variety of dating sites that are out there. Trust me, buddy. There's someone out there who will meet your criteria and fit nicely into your world. You just have to have the patience and courage to find her.

12/21/2005 12:27:00 AM

Blogger Robert said...

Bingo! That’s precisely how I see it; and you articulated my second worst fear (the first being an “evil step-mom”).

It's very common for people who have been out of the dating game for a while to get sucked in to the first warm fuzzy feeling that hits them. You don't have that luxury. It has to be right with your head before you take the reins off your heart.

I try to be rational enough to keep my emotions (and hormones) in check, but it’s often easier said than done. This is why I’ve simply avoided social situations until recently. That said, your thoughts on the subject are timely and helpful. Thanks.

12/21/2005 03:40:00 PM

Blogger zahi said...

check out this: science of love. i like the last paragraph where they describe an experiment which caused the subjects to fall in love, even resulting in marriage!

keeping with the theme of this blog, if love is nothing but a complex reaction of the brain and lots of mind-altering drugs like dopamine, (serotonin to the level of OCD!). If the process was formed by evolutionary drift, is it one of the things that needs to be cast aside? what if science were, one day, able to provide a pill that could give you the same reaction ... but associated with something socially noble, say giving relationships a "boost". it could be abused by tyrannical states to make individuals have pair bonding relationships with the state! or better yet, what if there was a pill you could take that would cancel the effects, imagine an "anti-heartbreak" hotel. you could have an impartial observer choose constructive relationships and avoid falling in love at random. would such medication be ethical?

i guess i am in the process of re-evaluating a lot of similar assumptions. what defines "human"? if we could control these "special emotions", does it make us less human? how do we define humanness and is humanness something to be preserved? i think even the "posthumanist" and "transhumanist" bloggers haven't got around to considering this question.

12/24/2005 10:33:00 PM

Blogger Chris Wilson said...

Zahi - (love that name) - good comment/question.

"If the process [love] was formed by evolutionary drift, is it one of the things that needs to be cast aside?"

I'll sidestep the misuse of the concept of drift for the moment - I think I get your drift:-)

The point of this whole concept is to determine what we keep of our genetic heritage and what we throw away. So kudos to you for asking, but I have to say that love is one of those things we try to hold onto at all costs. But, like all other good things, there's a right and wrong way to do that.

I'll be spending more time on that exact thing in upcoming posts, but for now I think it's important to recognize that we're playing a hand of cards right now. Certain combinations of cards yield certain results. So we work backwards from what we want in life to determine how we play our hands.

For example, a full house wins a lot of hands, so we're not too smart if we discard the cards that make up our full house in the hopes of doing better. Similarly, we're not too smart if we barely bet anything. The same is true of life.

Right now, love is the best thing going in terms of pleasant human experience. Like I said, go ask some old people and they'll tell you. So we discard and maneuver to acquire hands that lead to love. Indeed, we should be all about amassing as much time as possible either giving or receiving (or both) love.

As far as the future is concerned, who knows - maybe things will change and some pharma company will supplant love entirely and find a way to make humans blissful *and productive* (that's why extasy will never fit the bill) at the same time. When/if that day comes, the rules of our card game will be different, which means we'll play our hands differently. For now, love rules.

Oh yes, and though you have hit on something interesting, you're certainly not a pioneer in this area of defining what it means to be human. Sci-fi writers, including Asimov, have been at it for decades. Hell, read Huxley's Brave New World - he was waaaay ahead of us all.

12/27/2005 02:49:00 PM


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