Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Break Off Your Relationship...

...keep your partner.

Over the last couple of days I've had the most delightful experience with a multifaceted, multi-threaded mishmash of discussions that began with Sree's comment on my article Drowning the Lifeguard. I'm not sure if the discussion threads better resemble bouillabaisse or dim-Sum, but we've certainly created a Stone Soup of thoughts, beliefs and experiences.

In a response to Benevolent Warrior's thoughts on relationships, Joy wrote:
"I see stating your own wants, expressing your feelings and asking others about their reasons for their behaviors as the only way I can create - or maintain - a relationship with someone.

Without this I can merely create a relationship with an impostor, the image I have created of a given person."
As I considered this, it occurred to me that, whether or not we're clear on someone's intentions, whether or not we ask them questions about their motivations, behaviors or beliefs, all we ever have is a relationship with the impostor, the person we've created based on our beliefs and perceptions.

Given that each relationship is with the person we perceive, not with the person per se, then sometimes the most useful course of action might be to end the relationship by completely discarding one impostor and creating another. It's kind of like the grass-is-always-greener phenomenon, except with one field and two fences. Rather than trying to get to the other side of the fence, we simply change the fence to get a different perspective.

Thank you, Joy! That one has a lot of potential for me.

A Rose by Any Other Name
Another thread that I've really enjoyed exploring with Sree has centered on the words we use to contrast actions, beliefs, thoughts and situations, e.g., good/bad, right/wrong, constructive/destructive, useful/not useful, evil/good, and so on. The words that we choose to contrast a thing can have a pronounced effect on how we perceive the thing. In theory, when we use "loaded" words, words that have judgments associated with them, we engender drama and emotion; when we use "judgment free" words, we engender objectivity and clarity.

In this particular discussion, we focused on the characterization of activities that seem contrary to our goals and desires, activities that might be called "self-destructive" or "counter-productive". Sree points out:
"Actions or behaviors that we may call negative are being done by somebody for a reason. They are getting something out of it; the real question to ask them is whether it's also what they want long-term, or whether they realize they are also getting something they don't want."
Indeed, even when we act in a manner that seems counter-productive or self-destructive, we're doing it for "good" reasons in order to take care of ourselves. When our actions and wants are not aligned, then we have one of three situations: our stated wants are not are actual wants; our stated wants are in conflict with other, unstated wants; or, we're inept at getting what we want. The biggest winner here might be the conflict between the near-term, feels-good want (eating the last piece of cake), and the longterm want (losing weight).

Backing Your Way through Life
Pointing out that the more useful discussion might focus on process rather than terminology, Sree wrote:
"How about 'positive' as moving towards something that I want, and 'negative' as pushing away from something that I don't want?"
I think Sree's proposed model is wonderfully practical; whenever we find ourselves feeling "conflicted", we can look at our actions and motivations and characterize each as either moving away from what we don't want, or, moving towards what we do want. Since moving away from what we don't want is somewhat like walking backwards through life, we might take each moving-away-from action and recast it in terms of what we're moving towards.

For example, losing weight is a moving-away-from activity that we might recast as being in great shape, or, wearing that slinky new black t-shirt.

Playing Not to Lose
In another thread (same blog), Benevolent Warrior (BW) wrote:
"What I sense is none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so dive in with today's relationships....rather than possibly have regrets?"

"Personally, in my past marriage of over 30 years, if I hadn't persevered and [if I] gave up earlier, because it was difficult, out of laziness, or fear... I know down the road I might have felt, 'Gosh if only I hadn't given up.'"
Isn't it amazing how differently we all see things! From one perspective, I see the practical aspects of BW's line of reasoning; nothing in life is guaranteed, so better to stay with what you know than to venture into the unknown. Whether or not we chose to admit it, I believe that this is the primary MO for many of us (and not just in relationships).

One the other hand, as I read BW's comment, I thought to myself, "Geez, the last thing I would ever want is for someone to be with me because they're persevering to keep the relationship or they're uncertain about what not having the relationship might mean!"

For me the logic is based on fear (fear of loss, fear of regret, fear of not being able to do any better) or judgment (you should persevere and work hard to keep your relationship). Although many us daily ride this train of thought, for me it feels like a terrible way to approach relationships.

Isn't it cool how differently we see things!

So What?
First of all, thank you Sree, Joy and BW for offering such diverse and thought-provoking perspective. It's amazing how many places we can visit in such a short time.

Second, my take-aways so far are:
  1. Relationship is in the eye of the beholder.
  2. Ask myself, do I want to back my way through life, or run headlong into it?
  3. Playing to win is no more risky than playing not to lose!
Have an amazing Wednesday!


  1. Teflon: I'm constantly amazed by the way you (and Iris) can pick up a thread or thought, delve into & follow it to its building blocks, and write them all up quickly in a clear blog-post.

    A clarification: one quote you have attributed to me (a proposed definition of positive/negative) actually needs to be credited to "sk"; not sure who that is, but s/he certainly dropped in with a fine contribution.

    Also, another interesting angle to your "relating with an impostor" point: the "I" who's having a relationship is probably an impostor too. In fact, there's probably four personalities involved - the person I am being right now, the person you perceive me as, the person you are being right now, and the person I perceive you as. And then we could wonder who the "I" is that's having all these perceptions. Fun...

  2. Oh, and the pictures that accompany your posts are a hoot too!

  3. Sree, wow, when you consider all the combinations, it gets a bit mind boggling.

    I mean, there's each of us and there's each of us together. There's each of us together with her family, and then there's each of us together with my family. And then there's me at work, and then there's her at work, and then there's us together with my colleagues and us together with her colleagues... Mind boggling.

    Wait, is this multiplicative, factorial or exponential?

    Smiling, Teflon

  4. I would say that I can have a relation to my projection of your personality and you can have a relation to your projection of my personality.

    I would usually say that I want your projection of me to be as close to my perception of my self and vice versa, but actually it's fun to question that: why do I want to belief that your projection of my is close to my perception of me and that my projection of you are close to your percetion of you.

    hmmm - i just know that I want it that way!

  5. Joy, you've got me thinking! What if there is no "real" me? What if I am who I am in the moment only? What if I am creating and NOT discovering myself?

    If that were the case, then I would want you to perceive me as the most attractive me I could be, not the "real" me. I would want to better understand your perception of me rather than trying to shape your perception of me.

    In the end, if I were to find your perception of me to be attractive, then I would want to change myself to match your perception rather than changing your perception to match me.

  6. What's that oldies song?..."Please don't let me be misunderstood" For me, I aim to not really care, but simply accept, that what another thinks of me, or pictures me as, is simply none of my business. I attempt to share, and to encourage others to explore adopting that place of being, and the ease of being it supports. bw

  7. BW, Thank you so much for all that you do share and for all your encouragement. You definitely makes my life a richer experience. Tef


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