This article originally appeared on VICE US.
We’ll talk about dating and getting into a relationship some other time. This is about “being” in a thing. This is also a real cute one for me because I just suggested to my husband, a Golden Banana and Real Bad Baby who is so nice it seems like he’s kidding, and with whom I am both phantasmagorically and domestically in love, that he spend more time with his friends, and also talk to me less. Let’s GO!
Every relationship has a culture and atmosphere that is constantly being created. Yes, like the universe. A lot of the time what is assumed to be the reality of a relationship is actually the random-ish result of two people being, I guess, who they think they’re supposed to be together, or just being their first-draft selves together, and not “being” anything intentional. This is actually “bad.” It’s not true that being “yourself” means not trying. The selves, so malleable and available and made up mostly of choices, are where the relationship comes from, so the right idea is to “be” or occupy those selves well and with purpose.
I find this idea really beautiful and intimidating. Like, the idea that I’m deciding who I am as a person, and in any relationship in some definitive way, but also re-deciding in every minute, moment, morpheme, whatever, is a lot. So anyway: consider what energy you’re responsible for, what you’re contributing (assuming you’re in a good, respectful, generally balanced relationship, without any version of abuse, or even just an ego that got shot out of a canon or whatever) and what fresh soil and sunlight you could bring to it, instead. I know, right???
In the same way that emotional vulnerability is more for-real than any self-protective version of cool, which is all of them, there is nothing in regular life that is as wild as tossing your beating heart gently into the air and serving it hard across a net to a stranger by really doing it, like, by moving in together. Because it’s everything, inclusive of money and food and sex and things and bad habits and high expectations and low moods and sleep. Everything! Like, good luck.
Related: I have no solution to the problem of sleeping beside another human being (a state of play that I just assumed everyone thought was bad and annoying until I found out that some people dig it?) other than somehow falling asleep every night by yourself, starfished in such a way that your genitals are literally and theoretically alone to breathe, singly, like royalty! and your sleep is a silent parade of the just-right temperature and duvet weight, and then you wake up, without having been disturbed by anything except the silken slipping away of a dream, cozy-cuddled next to the one you love and live with. But yeah, until science gets on that, I don’t know. Is this depressing?
I think it’s important to establish a little coterie of couples whose relationship behavior you like, and could conceivably model yourself after, especially if you don’t have a lot of working examples of relationships in your regular person life. This is a good idea even with relationships where the style and duration is unfamiliar or unappealing. (Or, just, use people who are dating and in the mix, living life, looking like your next level-up should look like, but this is harder to do for a love-specific model without the separate “staging area” or super-structure of a relationship, because then everything/everyone is just kind of a mushy plate of emotional life.)
My parents have been in a kind of uncommon super-love forever, the kind that looks normal from the outside, but when you get up close is dazzling from every angle, and they are especially interesting in their egolessness: neither of them needs to be right, ever, because they are so fully teamed up, but it’s really not from this banality-spot of avoidance, like, they have fun! Watching them is like watching a children’s show about two charming old people, talking. Which would be a great show. So that is my main objective: to not protect my corners and position, cover my ego-nuts, exert my status and selfhood, but to do all that for the team, and to the ends of the team. Anyway, I won’t know if it’s working for another 50 to 100 years.
You still have to be yourself in the relationship, to be on that team, so you have to notice when you’re resisting so it doesn’t start building a little resentment campsite inside of you that will burn down the whole works eventually, leaving scorched earth that smells like roasted marshmallows. Like: I hate small talk—“How was your day?” or “What did you do today?” is violent communication!—so I have an obligation to both acknowledge that, like, “This feels rude and annoying to me because I feel monitored by these questions and evaluated by my answers!” and acknowledge that it’s a nice, connecting thing to be asked and cared about, and then to find a way in and out of that moment that works (the answer is a cold drink and a warm hang around sixish where talking is basically optional but mostly discouraged).
PRIVACY VERSUS SECRECY
Privacy is good, secrets are bad, is a maxim I think I got from the show Difficult People, which perfectly outlines how to manage your internet life with your romantical life. (The internet makes being in a relationship—monogamous or not; sex is so far down the list of relevant intimacies, I feel like—this whole new phenomenon that doesn’t, actually, map onto the idea of “there have always been ways to cheat,” like, at no time in history has there been an equivalent to exchanging intimacies over the intoxicatingly eye-contact-less digital waves, powered as they are by passwords and plausible deniability.)
Once I heard Dr. Phil, who I always assumed was just a television goblin, say that you shouldn’t do anything that you wouldn’t do if your person (of course he said “wife”) was in the room, and while I’m not inclined to take advice from, you know, him, that is actually very good thinking for any relationship, with whatever specific norms apply: considering the true bounty of ways to be in a relationship, or just “in relationship,” it’s not that useful for anyone (hi) to be handing down specifics of what is okay and not okay, absent of context, but it’s very much a good rule (and one of the Four Agreements, everyone’s secret fave) to be “impeccable with your word,” to be so completely integrated that the one thing you do over here, alone, doesn’t disagree with the other thing you do over here, with your person, even if you do a lot of weird fucking stuff. Weird fucking stuff is great.