The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Thursday, June 01, 2006

What makes a relationship work?

What makes a relationship work?

Steve Perry pointed out yesterday that relationships aren’t a matter of finding a perfect mirror image of self.  They are more in the nature of completing yourself, finding someone who can teach you and show you things about yourself you could not find on your own.  Couldn’t agree more.

Still, the basic point remains: unless you would consider yourself attractive, it is unrealistic to expect others to be attracted to you.  Saying that “the person inside me” is attractive, wonderful, spiritual, loving…is a beautiful act of faith.  Learning to express that person so that others can see him, well, that’s a little tougher.  The same point of view would lead us to seeing everyone as wonderful, spiritual, loving…deep inside. And so I believe we are. But how many of us have that kind of vision?  Perhaps after we’ve gotten to know someone, yes.  If Tananarive was caught in an oil fire, and all of her skin burned away, I would still love her, period.  But would I have fallen in love with her if she’d been a burn victim when first we met?  I sincerely doubt it.

How about if we’d lived next door to each other, and I’d gotten a chance to know her?  Or if I’d loved her writing, and met her after years of correspondence?  You know, that’s possible.  Not likely, but possible.

I need someone who can share my life with me.  Love isn’t enough, and never has been.  Physical attraction isn’t enough, but it helps you stand out from a roomful of possibilities.  Intelligence isn’t enough, and neither is talent.  Similar values are critical—I’ve been enough of an odd duck all my life, and damned if I’m going to wake up every morning next to someone who thinks I’m a strangeling.

But what else?  At the core of it all, what are we looking for?  Companionship? Sex?  A business partner?  A parent for our children?  All these things and more factor in.

And what qualities do we seek? I need honesty, passion, ambition, sensitivity, intelligence, clarity, and creativity.  To the degree that I bring these things to the table, I can get them in return.  Of course, as Perry hinted, you don’t WANT an exact match—that would be boring.  So I might trade some of my ambition for some of her sensitivity.  I might settle for a bit less creativity if I can get more clarity.  But I wouldn’t expect to attract, and hold, someone of much greater intelligence, beauty, or ambition than I possess.

And honesty?  Well, I think I value that more than almost anything.  Not that it can’t be accompanied by politeness, or discretion, or sensitivity.  But I need a partner who can help me figure out the territory I’m passing through, and desperately need accurate reporatage on what they see in me, my projects, the market, the society I interact with…

This is especially important to the degree that I’m traversing territory that is culturally unique.  Where do I go?  Who do I talk to?  When I have fears, doubts, despair, when I stumble, where do I go?  If my mate won’t tell me the truth, I’m in terrible trouble.  Hell, I might be in trouble even if I DO hear the truth.  But if I sink into a morass of comfortable lies, dear God I’m in trouble.

So honesty would be close to the top of my list.  The highest value?  Not certain.  But without honesty, I’m not sure anything else would count.  What about you? 


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peg said...

"But if I sink into a morass of comfortable lies, dear God I’m in trouble."

I love this sentence. The way you call it trouble when lots of people actually prefer the comfort to honesty and even defend it ...

But what would the initial reaction be, if someone points you to the "lies". You would not just realize, would you. It would be a process and cost your partner lots of patience ... If you are lucky you will make it through it. But some relationships break up and the realization starts just when one part decides to leave for good.

that's murphy's law, I guess...

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