Yesterday, I think, a friend posted this on her Facebook page. Over the years, this friend and I have had many a conversation about our different methods of finding a rewarding long term relationship. She's in one now, I'm not. Just a few hours ago I only half joked that my thoughts on this article would not fit into a Facebook comment box. And then I thought about why... then I came here.
One: We Don't Understand Ourselves
The very idea that we might not be too difficult as people should set off alarm bells in any prospective partner. The question is just where the problems will lie: perhaps we have a latent tendency to get furious when someone disagrees with us, or we can only relax when we are working, or we’re a bit tricky around intimacy after sex, or we’ve never been so good at explaining what’s going on when we’re worried. It’s these sort of issues that – over decades – create catastrophes and that we therefore need to know about way ahead of time, in order to look out for people who are optimally designed to withstand them. A standard question on any early dinner date should be quite simply: ‘And how are you mad?’
What if you know exactly 'how you are mad'? You know all your tricks, insecurities, and psychological flaws? You knew how they turned people on? You knew how they turned people off? You knew them so well, that you could also time them to the second? The only thing that you did not know was how to stop them coming out eventually?
My problem is not that 'we don't understand ourselves' it is that I might know myself too well.
I used to think this was directly related to my disability, that I knew myself hyper-senstively, because I knew what I could not do instantly. Now, I just think I know myself so well because I have so much time to stew inwardly. Just because I know that the mistakes are coming, it doesn't mean I can stop making them.
Two: We Don't Understand People
We need to know the intimate functioning of the psyche of the person we’re planning to marry. We need to know their attitudes to, or stance on, authority, humiliation, introspection, sexual intimacy, projection, money, children, aging, fidelity and a hundred things besides. This knowledge won’t be available via a standard chat.
In the absence of all this, we are led – in large part – by what they look like. There seems to be so much information to be gleaned from their eyes, nose, shape of forehead, distribution of freckles, smiles… But this is about as wise as thinking that a photograph of the outside of a power station can tell us everything we need to know about nuclear fission. We ‘project’ a range of perfections into the beloved on the basis of only a little evidence. In elaborating a whole personality from a few small – but hugely evocative – details, we are doing for the inner character of a person what our eyes naturally do with the sketch of a face.
Right answer, wrong question.
The question should be:
Do you want the same thing out of a relationship as I do?
Simple question. Or maybe not for me.
Do I want a relationship with a ‘walkie’ to prove that I can get one? To prove that I am 'normal'?
So I don’t have to pay for the intimacy I crave?
So I don’t have to be alone?
So I can have stability?
So there’s actual proof that someone beyond my family actually gives a shit about me, above all else?
That last one is why I thought people got married.
I thought you got married because:
You’re it. You’re the person I picked. Here’s the person who is not connected to me via blood, who is with me until I die. Because she wants to be.
That was my definition. Now I have none. I struggle to think that person even exists any more. But if they do, they better have that same definition.
Three: We Aren’t Used to Being Happy
As adults, we may then reject certain healthy candidates whom we encounter, not because they are wrong, but precisely because they are too well-balanced (too mature, too understanding, too reliable), and this rightness feels unfamiliar and alien, almost oppressive. We head instead to candidates whom our unconscious is drawn to, not because they will please us, but because they will frustrate us in familiar ways. We marry the wrong people because the right ones feel wrong – undeserved; because we have no experience of health, because we don’t ultimately associate being loved with feeling satisfied.
I’ve never been 100% happy.
As a kid I was disabled, so I wasn’t happy. As a teenager and young adult I was never happy because I was in denial, and I programmed myself to think I was. Now in the happiest time in my life, I’m still not terribly satisfied to the point of self actualisation. And I still don’t know why. Maybe I just need attractive women to hold me? Maybe it is a part of my DNA? Maybe it is the thing that makes me so driven? My ongoing quest to finally get to ‘100% happiness’.
But at the same time, these past two years of ‘peak happiness’ have taught me that trying to find a woman to fill that percentage quota will lead me down the wrong path. So I guess that’s progress.
Four: Being Single is so Awful
One is never in a good frame of mind to choose a partner rationally when remaining single is unbearable. We have to be utterly at peace with the prospect of many years of solitude in order to have any chance of forming a good relationship. Or we’ll love no longer being single rather more than we love the partner who spared us being so. Unfortunately, after a certain age, society makes singlehood dangerously unpleasant. Communal life starts to wither, couples are too threatened by the independence of the single to invite them around very often, one starts to feel a freak when going to the cinema alone. Sex is hard to come by as well. For all the new gadgets and supposed freedoms of modernity, it can be very hard to get laid – and expecting to do so regularly with new people is bound to end in disappointment after 30
This of course leads to the next point. To be blunt, for me, I think this part rings the truest. For a long time now, society has tried to teach me both implicitly and explicitly that the only way a disabled man can get regular sex, and express himself sexually, is through a relationship, usually with a disabled female. Disabled men don’t have ‘fuck buddies’ because disabled men don’t like sex. And if this mythical creature ‘the disabled man with a high sex drive’ wants sex, he can pay for it, but we must never talk about it. Or he can marry someone, (if he ever found someone who thought he was sexually attractive, another mythical creature). I don’t need to tell you that good sex does not make a good long term relationship. Especially if you think it is your only option.
Five: Instinct Has Too Much Prestige
Medieval miniature. Meeting of the Roman Senate. Discussion on marriage between a plebeian woman and a roman patrician. 15th century. Back in the olden days, marriage was a rational business; all to do with matching your bit of land with theirs. It was cold, ruthless and disconnected from the happiness of the protagonists. We are still traumatised by this.
What replaced the marriage of reason was the marriage of instinct, the Romantic marriage. It dictated that how one felt about someone should be the only guide to marriage. If one felt ‘in love’, that was enough. No more questions asked. Feeling was triumphant. Outsiders could only applaud the feeling’s arrival, respecting it as one might the visitation of a divine spirit. Parents might be aghast, but they had to suppose that only the couple could ever know. We have for three hundred years been in collective reaction against thousands of years of very unhelpful interference based on prejudice, snobbery and lack of imagination.
So pedantic and cautious was the old ‘marriage of reason’ that one of the features of the marriage of feeling is its belief that one shouldn’t think too much about why one is marrying. To analyse the decision feels ‘un-Romantic’. To write out charts of pros and cons seems absurd and cold. The most Romantic thing one can do is just to propose quickly and suddenly, perhaps after only a few weeks, in a rush of enthusiasm – without any chance to do the horrible ‘reasoning’ that guaranteed misery to people for thousands of years previously. The recklessness at play seems a sign that the marriage can work, precisely because the old kind of ‘safety’ was such a danger to one’s happiness.
This falls under the category of ‘A beautiful woman around my age treats me like a 'normal' human being, and not like a crippled dumb arse, therefore I must be in love with her’
Still a mistake I continually make.
There are four more points, each have their valid arguments, but ones I find have less relevance to me.
My Facebook friend posited that she didn’t know anyone who started a long term committed relationship before they turned 25, who were still together today, and the reasons in this article suggested why. To be honest, I thought ‘I bet this article will be full of bullshit’. You see, contrary to what you’ve read above, I’ve always been the eternal relationship optimist, and she the ultimate pragmatist. But then I read the thing, and I thought ‘Shit, this is about 75% right, lucky the rest of the world is not crippled.’