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.
This past weekend, an old friend of mine was in town. “Old” as in we’d known each other from a few years back, yet not “old” as in known that well.
We spent a month together, attending an asinine Army school known now as Warrior Leadership Training, but back then as Primary Leadership Development Course.
The idea is that troops need to know how to be noncomissioned officers. And they (we) do. There’s a lot to cover, going from just another dude to someone who is part parent/disciplinarian/mentor.
So this course was the Army’s answer to that. There were some good tidbits among the month of random cleaning details, uniform inspections and hour upon hour of monotone lectures; but, by and large, PLDC or WLC (depending on how old school you are) is something that is endured. And this friend of mine and I, did just that.
We laughed, we laughed more and we cried from laughing. Apart from the course itself, we had a pretty good time.
Anyways. She was in town visiting a clutch of friends of hers that still hang out in the area and wanted to catch up. She also had her 17-month-old son, who was a cute kid. Many of her friends also had young children. So I spent my weekend in the bosom of young parenthood, among the fights, poopy diapers and frequent screeches.
Which, as you might know, is a very different atmosphere than I’m used to.
Apart from my family, whom I am blessed to be loved by and love wholeheartedly, I have been alone for my whole life. As a military child, I learned to start over every couple of years. There is no home. There is no childhood friendship. There really is nothing consistent other than change.
This is good in that it can make a person very self-sufficient, but it also teaches someone to remain very emotionally distant.
I’ve also been completely alone in my “adult” life—not for lack of trying. Call it bad luck, call it awkwardness, who knows, I swing and miss with the whole relationship thing.
It folds in with the motif of the street urchin looking in someones window to a family enjoying warmth and laughter. It’s just a different world.
So the weekend was a little jarring, to be honest—a good jarring, though.
In little bits, I had someone in my life for a few hours a day. I watched the little guy play. I kept him from falling. I carried him around. It was nice.
I also was completely exhausted after she put him to sleep. Hats off to parents—especially single parents. I knew it was excruciating, but wow, yeah. Still, it was only my first day-ish. I imagine it’s just like running, I’ll have to work up to the longer-distance thing.
So now, back at house, no kids, alone is more alone than ever. Quiet is more quiet. My thoughts resonate too much. There’s no one else to bounce ideas off of. There’s no one to share in things.
Alone has always sucked, to be honest. Sure, there’s freedom in aloneness, which I’m sure is missed by those tied down, but there’s also a cold emptiness, a pins-and-needles numbness from standing in a snowy evening too long. Things are stiff. Laughing at a movie screen feels weird. Sitting by the kitchen at a restaurant never gets fun.
I know God has a plan, and, ultimately, I do trust in it. I throw impatient spats now and again. I just didn’t expect the winter to be so long.