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.
How to counter Valentines Day hate
Valentines Day brings some nastiness in people, depending on who you’re around.
I’m actually a fan of Valentines Day. Any chance to stop and celebrate a special someone in your life is pretty damned awesome, in my book. I’m a flowers guy. I’m a handwritten note, guy. I’m a “yes I was listening when you said you liked this” guy.
But not all people are this way. I’ve come to learn that Valentines Day is a pretty volatile holiday, full of all sorts of flare-ups and outbursts from smoldering grievances, in addition to the normal happy gushy stuff.
It can be kind of tragic. What sometimes gets me about Valentines Day is all of the anger, loneliness and lamented emptiness that seems to come out around this time. It takes many forms, but altogether, it’s especially hard to see relational hurt in ourselves and others on a day that’s supposed to celebrate relationships. In some ways, it’s worse than being alone on Christmas, or not having a place to go on Thanksgiving. Valentines Day can be a bummer because it calls out that old-school realization that even God noticed, “It is not good for man to be alone.”
But there’s something to be said for a little dose of solidarity. As I see all of the pro-Valentines and anti-Valentines Day rants on FB and elsewhere, it might be good to take a minute or two and see what’s up.
So, let’s examine some of the Valentines Day detractors in an effort to understand where they’re coming from and, perhaps, how we can still give ‘em a hug, despite the holiday hate. “Come’ere, you grouchy jerk!”
Several groups of Valentines haters exist. We would do well to notice the differences. Now, this isn’t a comprehensive list (feel free to add more types in the comments below), but it’s a good place to begin.
“I hate everything.”
Starting off, we have the people who hate romance. They hate sappiness. They hate it when others show their love publicly. Of course “hate” is pretty hyperbolic, but we know what I’m getting at. These people just generally get all Grinch-y when around lovey-dovey stuff.
To reach these people, we don’t necessarily need to agree with them. These cats are usually best left alone. Give them their space. Yes, it’s too bad they are too buttoned up to let themselves go and make a card, write a poem or whatever, but some people aren’t wired for that sort of thing.
And we can understand at certain levels, right? We’ve all been around THAT couple who gets a little too into each other in public. Spit noises during make-outs at a restaurant? The guy’s hand down his girl’s jeans late night on the D.C. Metro? See? Solidarity. We know where these types of detractors are coming from. So ease off a bit around these types.
“I hate that you have it.”
Another group of people rage or resist against the romance, but it’s a response to the fact they don’t have anyone. I tend toward this group, if I’m being honest. With all of the swings and misses, it can be difficult to see the millions of my friends who have someone (nay—the BILLIONS of my friends). I still think open hostility toward the holiday is the wrong way to go, but I do feel a bit put off sometimes, sure.
People in this category, if they’re ranting, just need to rant. They may try and pop balloons and rain on parades, but when it’s time for them to have a Valentine, they’ll be fine. They’ll come around.
“I hate the idea of having it at all.”
Then there are the people who rage against the holiday because of the commercialization of things. I personally find these rants pretty funny. The people in this group have a bevy of righteous anger toward the monetization of romance—standing tall against the need to purchase things for their S.O. and generally railing against the whole idea of Valentines Day. “Resist, you sheep! Don’t be brainwashed! Boycott Valentines Day!”
But seriously, I suppose most can decide how they want to respond to these types of Valentines Day haters. I usually try and remind them that, as capitalists, I’m surprised they have a problem with the monetization of anything. Yes, we’re programmed to buy a bunch of stuff we don’t need on this holiday under the guise of love. See also doing so under the guise of giving thanks or Jesus being born. It’s what we do.
Well, come to think of it, that probably won’t win over any of these types of people. So, maybe throw a “USA USA USA” chant in there at the end? It’s Olympic season, after all.
So, go forth and love the hell out of these people who hate Valentines Day. And above all, lighten up. Be happy for your friends who are happy, and be there for your friends who aren’t. You know…like most days.