Let’s not waste any time. The greatest barriers to happy romantic and platonic relationships come from early family or platonic relationships, cultural myths, and the notorious list.
If you have had unhealthy relationships in your early relationships or simply a string of them in early adolescence and adulthood, you will probably pursue what you know and what you feel that you deserve (read: unhealthy relationships). It’s not that you do not want healthy and happy relationships, it is that pondering the infinite choices of whom you could be connected to would be too overwhelming without some kind of road map.
To decrease this anxiety, you use shorthand. In this case, the shorthand is the relationships you have known before. While this arrangement is not our fault, it is also not helping us find healthy, sustaining realtionships.
Cultural myths are the second biggest obstacle to having healthy, fulfilling relationships. In every culture, there are stories about the ideal person, the ideal relationship, and what it takes for these ideas to become reality. Most people are aware of the myth of prince charming. The charming prince comes to sweep you off your feet when you are dolled up and dressed like a princess. I am not sure exactly what this looks like, but from my memory of Disney movies and children’s books, it involves a lot of clothing that has lace everywhere, falling asleep from eating apples, or pumpkin made carriages. The myth for boys is that you become some kind of rough around the edges super hero with crazy money that you are humble about but still find a way to pick up your lady in distress in some kind of Ferrari. That seems doable. Just go a couple days without shaving, put on a leather coat you have left out in all weather conditions for a few days, and you know pick up a Ferrari.
Don’t believe me. Listen to music or watch movies. Guys sing about doing anything for women and taking over the world to protect them and women sing songs about being the kind of woman that men notice or want to keep. Both sing hysterical songs about having some crazy chi that makes whomever they are attracted to crazy about them. Let’s file that one under witchcraft.
The problem with these stories outside of the fact that they seem pretty misogynistic, naïve, and macho in a way that does not reflect reality (Try brandishing your muscles in a Ferrari or constantly parading yourself in front of men), they don’t seem to take into account anything that we need.
They are also weird despite having the charm of an aspiration of doing what is necessary for love. I have a friend who will remain nameless that had a guy who used to play her songs on a guitar outside of her window. She didn’t think it was romantic. It freaked her out. Guys also rarely talk to women who constantly strut, and when they do the conversation is too overwhelmed with the physical to transcend into something emotional. This is a long way of saying that what makes for great stories, movies, and music because they rev up our emotions do not, in reality, make for happy relationships.
My all time favorite is the list. I would love to meet the person who thought of this. Let me break it down for you. Take what we have learned from early relationship patterns, cultural myths, and music and movies and use that information to develop a list. The problem with these lists is that they are not interpersonal, which is hilarious because relationships are completely interpersonal, and thus a seemingly illogical approach to relationships.
If you have trouble imagining this, here are a couple of stereotypical but common lists. Amongst women, he should be confident, goal oriented, successful, handsome, and funny. Amongst men, she should be attractive, funny, and nice. As you can see these things are pretty impersonal, and also men don’t seem to care enough whether women have jobs. Come on, men. Get with it! The list becomes at best an awkward job interview. Raise your hand if you are the friend that often intervenes late into the relationship and says to your friend the list holder, “But do you love him/her?”
Platonic relationships are not so dissimilar. We often expect friends to be similar to the early examples of family and sometimes platonic relationships we have had. We expect them to adhere to cultural myths (Do anything for us and definitely take all of our crap), and fulfill some kind of list (characteristics that reflect well on them and make us look good socially).
So it seems that the way we have been brought up and what the media tells us we need from relationship unintentionally spend little time considering what makes for a good relationship.
One of my favorite mentors, Dr. Chris Germer, says that the recipe for happy, fulfilling relationships is rather simple. A good relationship is someone who makes you feel at ease with yourself and with them in your shared experience. When asked about the social pressures of prior relationships, cultural myths, and lists, he notes that most people have too much on their plate to be so concerned about who you pick in a partner or as a friend. They simply weigh in from time-to-time because they care enough to share their opinion, albeit one affected by the social constructions not built to help you find the relationships you desired.
When you pick someone who makes you feel at ease and whose time you enjoy, you are given permission to be the greatest, happiest you that you can be on both good and bad days. No matter who is in the room, you will be sure that you are enough because you have not modified what feels natural to you for what feels acceptable to them.
The people who actually care about you will just be happy that you have found others who appreciate and want to share experiences with the real you. The self-compassionate way would say that stories, movies, and songs can be great entertainment, but self-acceptance, and mutual appreciation for one another’s humanity lead to a great life.
If you are not currently in relationships that sustain and revitalize your truest nature, simply notice that, acknowledge the suffering, bring kindness to your experience, and make a plan to listen to whether your body and mind feel at ease in choosing relationships as you move forward. Seeing through the matrix may not be an easy task, but who are we kidding, you are worth it. Besides, what other choice do you have? You are meant to have good life!
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 28. In the Books.