Single File: Autonomy and Cookies
Today, start thinking about how much togetherness you require and how much on-your-own-time you want combined in one relationship. The starting point is to look within yourself -- you don't want to kid your best buddy, do you? -- and come up with an honest answer. Remember, this exercise is strictly between you and you. No one else is entitled to a peek or an opinion. (You might just be surprised at your own musings.) I promise you this tiny exercise will influence your thinking on the people you've been dating, your contentment quotient, and the talks you have with friends and family. I also promise you won't have a moment's peace until you take the first step.
Some learned philosopher called the issue a tug of war between sovereignty and fellowship. After years of counseling couples, he realized most internal conflicts between partners were miniwars about whose will would prevail. And he realized that each partner needed to become part of a dance, a back-and-forth rhythm of alternating and surrendering, for the greater good of the relationship. Most of us want to be part of the dance. Nobody wants to be a wallflower, on the sidelines being passed over and left on one's own. It's not that we don't feel the back-and-forth rhythm of loving relatedness. We do. Trouble is, we expect to feel it from the first instant we look into someone's eyes ... and it doesn't happen that way. Solid relationships are the result of time and effort -- not hard work, exactly, but most definitely some amount of thought and awareness. Quitters don't win.
Which is why marriage is best left to the years when men and women have had a better chance to know themselves, when they've had a good amount of life experience to buoy the odds of forming a successful love partnership. One must feel this relationship is worth some time, some surrender, some assertion and some compromise. But in order to have that perspective, you have to have gone through some nasty moments. (I hate to quantify the number of years one must live in order to reach that high level of maturity, because each life is different. But if pushed to judge, I'd say the late 30s is a good time to become part of a couple and have the best chance for love to flower. Even after that, we must continue working on ourselves, of course, but the core relationship can help mightily, as it stabilizes and nourishes the soul.
The years after -- the 40s and beyond -- are the time for friendship to gel. It takes much history and time together for a relationship to deepen, and those middle years can be ripe with appreciation and genuine liking. The dance continues, as does the struggle between sovereignty and fellowship. They continue until the last day. But that's the pulse of couplehood. Without it, the relationship loses its vitality and becomes a travesty of its former self.
So, what will it be? Munching chocolate chips at 3 in the morning, or accepting the challenge to dance with a very nice someone to the most joyful music of all?
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