Boundaries trump pacing in relationships
Taking a break from figuring out the world to lend a blog post about figuring out each other.
In my time I’ve been privy to seeing a lot of relationships. Most of us have. It’s just that since I was younger, my friends usually came to me for advice. Over the years (and decades), I’ve had my hand at talking my guy and girl friends through relationship drama in middle/high school, college, the military and now I guess, in the normal world.
Drama abounds, insecurity abounds. In many ways it’s the same now as it was in the sixth grade. Well…adulthood means the stakes are higher. Being told “nope” when asking someone to prom is a bit easier to deal with than finding out a spouse of 10 years is cheating or that swinging isn’t fixing that need for variety.
Regardless, people need a friend and confidant to check their perceptions of how things are going or get feedback on how to proceed. And, as such a friend, business as an amateur relationship counselor is as booming as ever.
I do think it’s interesting that most of my time listening and giving advice comes from a lack of personal experience. I’ve been single for all but a few scant months of my 33 years. But I’ve seen a hundred wonderful and terrible relationships. I’m happy to act as a sounding board.
And I’m not all together. My friends pour into me quite a bit too as I’ve had my go of things. I’m hardly someone with all the right answers, but I try to listen and grow.
One thing that has been coming up a lot recently with several friends, all in or at the cusp of significant relationships, is this idea of pacing. “Are things moving too fast/slow?” “Will I be able to keep the person’s interest?” “Am I scaring the person off?” That sort of stuff.
There are a lot of books and a general perception in culture about what is a good amount of time for certain milestones. The first/second/third date, long phone talks, first kiss, meeting the folks, meeting the kids, who pays, cooking over, sleeping over; there’s a cadence of cascading intimacy to this stuff. I talk with a lot of people or listen to podcasts. They give me timelines and formulas on when/how these things are supposed to take place.
Which adds stress to the already stressful enterprise of relationships. It also gives way to this sort of game that we play. Do I play hard to get? Does this make me seem too interested? Too clingy? How long should I wait before XYZ? Adding to the stress are the wildly different ranges of time for these things.
Yeah, screw that.
What I’m starting to discover is it’s more important to know yourself and define boundaries than it is to worry about the pacing. It’s more important to make sure you have a bucket to catch the water than to worry about how fast the water is pouring.
Now, there’s a lot of personal searching that needs to happen in defining this bucket (or “container,” whatever…relationships take on many shapes). Am I looking for someone to marry or just casually date? What are my views on sex at various stages of the relationship? What character traits do I need in my significant other? Where are my boundaries concerning respect, making time for the other person, being open, etc.?
All of these things help me figure out what I’m going to accept or reject as I interface with another person. It all helps shape my container and where water is going to land as it starts pouring. I might be flexible on some things, but the personal searching helps me see where I am and am not.
There are entire books about this sort of thing, so enough about all of that. The point is, when I have this idea of the sort of relationship I am ready for, let the water start. I believe whether it’s a trickle or a rush of water, that doesn’t so much matter as if it’s landing in or out of the container.
Make sense? I’ve met couples who rush through the relationship milestones and I’ve met couples who took the better part of a decade to get to the point where they make things permanent. Regardless of pacing, the couples who took the time to be themselves and stay true to what they wanted, lasted. The couples who didn’t have boundaries or expectations tended to fail, regardless of how slow or fast they took things.
So that’s my Dr. Phil moment, I suppose. Don’t be too worried about moving too slow or fast. Be worried about not compromising you. If you’re both pouring into each other in healthy ways that respect the other person, don’t be too stressed about timing.
The mind’s remembering
I made it to the West Coast to see the folks a couple of weeks ago.
My father is from Kentucky and my mother is from Oregon. They met at a holiday picnic in San Diego while they were both in the Navy. They’ve ended up in Oregon after long last and I get the chance to see them as I can. Being the crazy world traveler myself, there are often spans of time when I’m away.
This time it was two years since I’d been back—longer than I had anticipated. The last couple of years have been a bit tricky, from a workload perspective. The good news is, as many know, I’ve been making strides to take being a workaholic off my priorities. That should let me get back to more regular connections.
What I noticed in the days leading up to visiting, though, was how immediate my memories were of my parent’s house. While I was packing and getting ready to leave Texas, I thought back—two years ago, and remembered things about my parent’s house like I had just been there.
Funny how our mind does that, isn’t it? Some memories are immediate—seemingly hard coded into who we are, able to be brought to the forefront despite time and space. I thought back to the recent year I spent in North Carolina, with all the meetings and deadlines and late nights at the office, trade shows and dramatic competitive developments…I thought back to all that and they didn’t seem as vivid as the things remembered from my parent’s house.
I spent far more time in the halls of my office rather than those of my folks’ house, but I could still remember the detail of some of the lighthouse miniatures, the way the photos were hung in the computer room, the glossy leaves of the bonsai tree in the kitchen.
Some memories are towering monuments of our lives, standing tall and in vivid detail, despite their passing years or decades ago. Some are put away and forgotten, despite how important they may have been.
It doesn’t fall along “things I want to remember” lines. There are often times I wish I remembered more about high school or my day-to-day in Iraq that I simply don’t.
I just think it’s interesting how the mind’s archives coalesce.
Do you know what heat is?
Heat is energy. It travels in waves like other forms of energy. It transforms matter it touches–either by causing atoms to vibrate (heating it up) or by causing a chemical reaction that causes burning.
Heat, simply perceived, is the vibration of atoms. Absolute zero (0 degrees Kelvin) is the theoretical point where there are no vibrations in atoms.
There is no such thing as “cold”; there is only the absence of heat.
Isn’t that weird?
When someone says, “Wow, it’s cold outside,” it’s actually a misconception. It’s implying that the cold itself exists, but, in reality, there is no cold. It has no power. It can’t advance, or take something over. Heat simply is or is not.
It is the same with sound. There is either sound or no sound. Silence is just a name given to an absence of sound. Silence itself does not exist.
And light, the same. There is no darkness. There is only light and no light.
Our history is full of tales of darkness versus good–implying that both sides can hold sway over each other. It suggests that there’s some equality between them.
But, in reality, darkness can only be where light is not at that moment. It has no power of its own.
This has wide-sweeping implications. Think about it.
There is only substance or the lack of substance. And the lack of substance has no substance to affect substance. This is why it is written in the Christian texts, “Resist the Accuser and he will flee from you.”
Even we, in our supposed frailty, have substance, enough to occupy and command the space where we exist, like heat transforming matter, or light illuminating a space.
And that is why, when the proper perspective is achieved, fear is irrelevant.