Friday, February 5, 2010

Know Thyself

We've all heard of the couple that met in high school, never dated anybody else, got hitched, and lived happily together forever after. I think they live in Nebraska somewhere. For most of the rest of us, it took a while longer to find a life mate. And I think there's a very good reason for that.

We typically think of dating and courtship as a process whereby we get to know other people better, to determine if the person we're dating is somebody that might be a good fit for us. We assume that we're evaluating them and they're evaluating us, and if the evaluations turn out mutually positive, then we decide to make the relationship more permanent. But what is going on in reality is a good deal more complex than that.

True, we are evaluating the other person. But at the same time, we are learning to know who we are as a person in relation to them. Because the truth is that until we begin to contemplate the possibility of loving and living with another person, we know very little about how we would function in such a situation. Our likes, dislikes and needs in the context of a relationship are often as much a mystery to ourselves as they are to a potential mate. If you don't believe me, consider how many gay men and women get married to members of the opposite sex, and eventually figure out that they're gay. If this is true of something as seemingly basic as sexual orientation, it is true of a good many other (perhaps equally important) things.

When individuals tell me the story of how they found their mate, I very frequently hear something like this: "I searched and searched. I was desperate to find Mr. Right, but no matter how hard I tried I could not find him. Every relationship I tried did not work out. So eventually I gave up, and decided I just needed to learn to be happy on my own. And just when it seemed I had found that I really was OK and good and whole all by myself, then I found him." That's how it worked for me. And there's a very good reason for that too.

When we are desperate to get married, we don't listen to what's going on inside of us, and we don't allow ourselves to be ourselves. All we are focussed on is trying to put on a front for the other person that we think they will find pleasing. But when we are dating someone or courting someone in that way, the other person will often smell something wrong. It may come through as insecurity or clinginess or something else in the relationship that just doesn't feel right. They'll sense a problem, and eventually they'll move on -- not necessarily because you wouldn't be a good match, but because there's no strong sense of who you really are to know whether you would be a good match.

The final secret of relationships is the one that is least secret because it is the one story about relationships that is not merely very common but universal. There is no "perfect" relationship, not even those married high school sweethearts who live in Nebraska. There is no relationship, no matter how well matched the couple, that doesn't require work and lots of it.

Learning to know yourself in the context of a relationship is not just about learning what you like, dislike and need in a relationship (things you learn early in a relationship). But it is learning what you only learn when you have been in a relationship for a much longer time: what kind of a mate you are. How you communicate. How you listen. How you make decisions. How you act and react. The first kind of knowing is what helps a couple come together in the first place. But the last kind of knowing is what helps a couple stay together, even couples who face tremendous difficulties within their relationships. The last kind of knowing is perhaps also the single greatest gift of a relationship; because the other person helps reflect those aspects of ourselves back to us, if we will let them.


Jon said...

I think a good sequel post to this would be "And to thine own self be true." I think that after you are able to know yourself and discover who you are, the trick is to maintain your core identity while in a close relationship with someone else and not let who you are get swallowed up by who the other person is or vice versa. Nice post.

J G-W said...

Well, actually I already have a sequel drafted, but it continues on the theme of "know thyself," and will focus on the insights I've gained from my own process of coming out.

You've touched on one of the most challenging and important aspects of a relationship. I've been particularly aware the last few days of the "vice versa," and some things I need to do about it...

Quiet Song said...

". . . there's no strong sense of who you really are to know whether you would be a good match . . ."

I did marry my high school sweetheart and he fit so many of the qualities I WAS looking for at the time. There were also vast gulfs of time, space, personality, temprament, knowledge, skill and life experience that had to be crossed. Without the subsequent life experience that came with actually being married to DH, I believe that I would have married someone very similar even had I waited, maybe even someone with the exact same characteristics negative and positive. As we are not entirely together at the moment in all the areas I'd like us to be, occasionally I've found myself reworking the equation and the answer remains the same. Add into the fact that I am still highly attracted to this individual after 3 decades and I count myself lucky.

John, I think you and I have had a similar experience, in that as we have both learned to experience the Holy Ghost more profoundly in our lives, our ability to really love our spouses has deepened as well regardless of whether they are with us on everything we'd like them to be. That has been one of the greatest blessings I've received in the past two years, a deepening of my ability to love my spouse in his differences, his faults and his foibles.

J G-W said...

QS - You pretty much nailed it. However, I'd say deepening love through my own faults and foibles has been part of the picture as well.

Quiet Song said...

You are right-it was also nice to hear DH say, "you've changed," meaning I overcame some of my faults and foibles that had long bothered him. This didn't happen because of me, it happened because of the influence of the Holy Ghost in my life.