I know that as the owner of Peace and Good Things, a company specializing in dispensing comfort, my Valentine’s blog should be all light and sunshine. But I’m gonna get real with you for just a minute here. And then, though heaven knows I’m no expert, I’m going to dispense some relationship advice. How’s that sound?
Not so long ago I found myself driving through a Pennsylvania winter’s night. No cell reception, so there was no Pandora to keep me company. And I wasn’t even in my own car, as mine had been judged unstructurally sound for such a lengthy journey. So I found myself, for about three hours, listening to one particular cd on repeat. Now it’s a fairly easy cd. The singer describes his music as pop and roll. And though he does write a nice turn of phrase, it isn’t particularly intensely emotional music. But I found myself crying. Not sobs or anything. Just those tears that leak out from somewhere deep in your bedrock. And for most of that drive, I couldn’t quite figure out why.
But then it came home to me. This guy, this young, young guy, reminded me of myself 15 or 20 years ago. And I remembered what I thought back then - already with a slightly crusty exterior born of a bunch of hardcore history. I remembered that I used to think that love would one day crack me open. And that out of my kernel would unfold something soft and feathery and beautiful. That’s how I imagined it would happen.
I don’t even know if I was naive to imagine this. Maybe it does happen. I hope it happens for him. Because it still sounds lovely to me. But that wasn’t the hand I was dealt and that sure isn’t how I ended up playing the cards I found myself holding.
I was broken open. With a sledge hammer, I’d say. And I’m not really being melodramatic here. Just telling the facts as they are. And nothing much came out of my kernel at that time. There was just a cracked hull and a lot of pain and a lot of surviving. But eventually, I found healing. And now, I picture what became of that woman-child’s heart as river stones. Round and cool. Maybe not soft, but with a weighty smoothness that is enjoyable to hold in your hand.
I realize that I wasn’t crying in mourning that night. I was just saying goodbye to something that was no longer. And that was a rather singular and powerful moment.
But that does leave me navigating a new idea of forever love. And I don’t actually have a vision, really, of what that might look like for me. But in a discussion with a friend about my most recent not-forever love experience (it wasn’t a failed relationship...it was beautiful in its own right and lovely to experience), we came to to topic of expectations. He put forth the idea that love means having no expectations. My friend is very Buddhist in his life perspective. But, for me, that’s not right. And here’s what I’ve come to...my relationship advice for you.
Relationships are about managing expectations. Which sounds wrong, not full of the energy of abundance, but hang with me for a moment. I don’t mean that we need to manage our expectations and by doing so accept less than we dream of, less than we deserve. I mean that we should look at our expectations and weight them properly.
At the base that means knowing what is basic decent human behavior, and determining if the other person is capable of that. This is the minimum. And, for the most part, I like to think most people pass this “test.” But if you find yourself in that situation, I hope you give yourself permission to walk. Walk away with compassion and even with hope - redemption is real - but walk away.
The next step is looking at all your expectations and determining which ones are essential for you. Which things must be consistently present in order for the relationship to be valuable enough to you to make it worth investing in. And whatever those are, embrace them. There is nothing wrong with what you require. The only caveat is that you must continuously be vulnerable enough to honestly own them. (And, yes, that's one hell of a caveat)
Lastly, look at all your other expectations and understand that they are not so much needs as desires. They are not unimportant by any means...these are the things that make your heart sing. They are the fun parts and the daily operations parts, and together they make life rich and graceful. But they are navigable. They have the ability to ebb and flow around your non-negotiable bits.
All of this is true for any type of relationship, really. And your expectations will be different for each type. You require different things out of a lover, a sister, a friend, a therapist, an internet provider, a grocery store...whatever. If you gain a thorough understanding of your non-negotiable expectations you will waste a lot less time - yours and theirs.
And here’s a neat trick! We all know that, almost always, the best way to work on a relationship is to work on yourself. So why not put yourself through this filter? A person with basic human decency? I’m sure the answer is yes. But outside of that, what do you really want? Not just your laundry list, but what must you have in your life for you to love it? Really love it? Be focused - there is only so much resource of time and energy. Which, of ALL the beautiful things that you want, are actually essential? Commit to those, fully and deeply. Then let the rest take care of itself. This would seem to me, a good way to fall in love and stay in love with your life.* Happy Valentine’s Day!
Peace and good things,