NE: You sure you got me?
Me: Got you?
NE: Got my back, and all my other fragile parts?
Me: I only need your throat. The rest follows.
A couple of weeks ago, I officiated my second wedding. The first was for my brother. This was for a close friend.
In a wedding ceremony, there is often a moment where the officiant will spend a few minutes sharing their own thoughts on marriage. This means I’ve now written twice on a subject I’ve never been directly a part of (of course, most priests could say the same). A confirmed bachelor for life, I’m certainly not an expert on marriage.
That said – I’ve got a pretty decent working knowledge on something that’s almost more important: relationships.
And I can tell you the secret to them right here. You don’t even have to attend a wedding.
The part that might be hard to swallow for some: Every relationship is based on what each person can get out of it. We all want something from the person we are spending time with or we wouldn’t be spending time with them. It can be as simple as enjoying their company (they have great stories or a keen sense of humor) or a sense of self-satisfaction in helping someone. But at the heart of it, all relationships are based on need.
So here is the secret: Making a relationship work requires understanding what you want from it and being honest about it.
Let me back up a moment and share a story. I was having dinner with two close female friends of mine. One them, B, was complaining about her dating life and about the fact that she couldn’t sustain a long term relationship. My other friend, K, asked her how long she’d known us. In both cases, B knew K and I for several years.
‘There you go,’ K said, ‘You have at least two long term relationships in your life.’
B argued that she was speaking of romantic entanglements. We didn’t count. But we did. In reality, except for those you meet only in passing, everyone in your life has a relationship with you. Your co-workers. Your family. Your friends. Your barista at the Starbucks you frequent. These all count as relationships.
In most of these cases, the first thing I said was important – understanding what you want from a relationship – is easy. You want cooperation and respect from co-workers. Love and support from friends and family. Coffee and maybe a smile from the barista. This isn’t to say that any of those relationship couldn’t be more complex – they probably are – it just means most people know what to expect from them.
Romantic relationships tend to be harder to pin down. Love? Sex? Devotion? Partner in crime? Adoration? Supplication? Domination? A presence in your life…2 days a week? Once a month? Every day? Do you want to know where there are every night? Do you want them to not date other men? Or women?
Let’s go back to my original secret. In a perfect world, you could sit down with your partner and write out what each wants for the other. That’s not likely to happen, if only because we seldom know ourselves what we want. But let’s assume we could at least name 2-3 really important things. And let’s assume you’ve been with this person long enough to be completely honest with them (with exceptions, this isn’t really a first date discussion – there’s no need to do this if you’re still figuring out if you even really like them).
You share your mutual wants and needs, and if you both can live with this, great! It’ll take lots of work and continued communication and honesty, but I’d say you’ve got a good shot at being happy in that particular relationship.
And that’s it. That’s the secret. I’ve got a number of relationships in my life, all of which bring me happiness (or at least a measure of excitement). In many cases, the shared knowledge of wants is unspoken most of the time. But whenever there is confusion, I gladly trade a moment of potential awkwardness for understanding. Relationships change and evolve, as do our wants and needs. Sometimes those I spend a great deal of time with can no longer meet a need and we drift into a less intense, but still friendly, place.
There’s more I could add here – I’ve had more than a few occasions where my honesty has created heartache or pain. But in every case, I’d say the heartache and hurt would have been much worse down the road had I not spoken up.
What do you guys think?
Let’s suppose someone has mastered the nuances of human behavior. They’ve spent the better part of four decades watching how people interact, studied their motivations in the face of ambition and desire, learned when instinct outweighs consciousness, examined the patterns that lead to heartbreak and betrayal. Let us say that at first this study was done to learn the art of seduction but later was simply a tool for living a better, happier, life.
Let’s suppose all of this is true.
There remains one other singular fact:
No matter how great their understanding, it is arrogance itself to believe they are not bound by the same motivations, same instincts, and same patterns.
And being arrogant is about as human as it gets.
I shall either find a way or make one.
It took just under twenty years between decision and ink.
The words are a way of life for me: most everything is possible so long as you are willing to bear the cost.
I live a balanced life, and this is one reason for it. I almost always weigh the price of my actions against the reward.
There are times where I act without thinking; when hunger overrides sense.
For a long time the metaphor of the wolf was merely a literary tact. But in the last five years I have come to have a better understanding of myself.
And this much is true: I harbor a wolf within my heart.
It is our nature to enlarge, reaching out to touch on every conceivable experience while expanding our consciousness to envelop the world we live in.
But sometimes it pays to be small. To pull in, becoming a condensed ball of concentrated self capable of intense drive in a singular direction.
Most of my life I’ve been teased about how much I read.
And when I say teased, I don’t mean in a mean way; at worst it is a gentle ribbing, at best it is done with an affectionate smile.
But anytime a person’s quirks are repeatedly pointed out to them, it can cause them to feel like they are being singled out for being different. A reminder that can cause someone to feel uncomfortable with themselves.
I’ve never felt that way. I don’t mind the teasing. Because I really, really love to read.
I’ve had a book in my hand since I was twelve and discovered I liked adult-level fiction; I spent that summer’s vacation at Disney World with my nose buried in a book.
One of my best friends said that even before we were friends she knew who I was. I was the kid at St. Mary’s who sat at the lunch table reading while distractedly eating fries.
If one of my co-workers catches me in the hall without a book they joke about not recognizing me.
Before I was eighteen, I’d read all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, most of the Perry Mason books, a number of Destroyer and Executioner novels my father had laying around, all of the Babysitter Club books my sister owned, and even a few Danielle Steele books I found in the house (sorry mom!).
I’m the guy who went to the college dance and spent most of it leaning up against the wall with a book, reading with the occasional glance at the dancers.
If I’m at a party with people I don’t know, I don’t think twice about pulling out a book.
(I don’t read in social settings because I’m anti-social; I just happen to read _everywhere_. I love people. I just don’t see the need to fill my time and space with awkward silence when I can be reading instead.)
Sometimes people ask me how fast I read. One book a week? Two books? Three? As if how fast I read is some kind of party trick.
(I read 72 books in 2011, 80 in 2012 – so the answer is I average about 1.5 books a week).
Reading hasn’t made me smarter (it might be different if I was reading rocket manuals; I’m not). But it has given me an excellent vocabulary and taught me to love language. It’s made me a better writer.
I was productively using ‘waiting in line’ time way before cell phones made ignoring the people around you cool.
I never feel particularly out of place, no matter where I go, so long as I have a book.
I don’t know what boredom is. Free time? More time to read.
Which is all to say this:
Reading. F’ing. Rocks.
Once I captured the tiniest fairy.
That’s not to say she was small. Kittens are small. Flowers are small.
She? She was tiny.
I caught her in a tiny bottle with a tiny cork and a thin black rope so that I could wear it around my neck.
She never spoke, but the beating of her wings made a humming vibration that I knew so well it became a second heartbeat.
I could never tell if she was happy or angry or sad, but I like to think she was as content as I.
I never took her from around my neck except at night where I feared breaking the tiny bottle in my sleep. Before resting, I would set her on the small table by the bed and in the morning I would slip the thin black rope around my neck once more.
Until the morning when I awoke and she was gone. The tiny bottle was there with its tiny cork in place. But it was empty. I searched under the bed. In the cupboards. And because I was clever, and knew she was tiny, I would close my eyes and listened for the sound of her tiny wings beating.
But I could not find her.
And for weeks after, each morning I would reach for the bottle in habit only to find it empty anew.
Until the one morning I stopped reaching for her. In time I forgot the soft glow of her, the warmth of her against my chest, the ritual of the day.
But sometimes…sometimes I close my eyes. And feel her flutter behind my heart.
Last night, I slept in my study with the window open.
Ella, my cat, curled in my lap as I listened to the rain from my leather chair. I moved in and out of sleep, and each time I woke to shift positions, two things happened.
The first is that Ella would get up, circle, and find a new nook in my lap to sleep in.
The second is that I would try to find the rain.
The rain was there – of course, it was a hurricane after all – but I found myself reaching through my sleep-addled brain to listen to it. As if hearing the rain as it hit the trees and creek outside were a touchstone I needed.
(that I put up with a cat in my lap all night tells me that I am somewhat attached to the beast, as I usually avoid anything that will affect my sleep; that I found myself searching for the rain tells me that I spent too much time as a child playing in the rain and may be a re-incarnated rain god)