Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Theory of Wanting

I'm always running into couples where at least one party is not happy with the other on a steady-state basis. As is the nature of steady-state phenomena, the unhappiness is not sufficient to have inspired decisive action. Usually it's simply inspired indecisive-action, e.g., acts of passive aggression, lamenting and complaining, and a general resistance to any idea attributable to the other party.

Complainers Need Not Apply
I love to work through problems, but I'm not big on hearing complaints and laments that don't lead to decisive action. Those who know me well know that the second time I hear them utter the same complaint, we're a) going to do something about it or b) implement a moratorium on complaining. Whether or not someone knows me, once I hear a complaint cycle by for the second time, I ask about it. The format of the question is something on the order of, "If you don't want that, then why do you continue to get that?" or, "If you don't like that, then why do you continue to do that?"

Almost invariably, the response is that of the victim upon whom the undesired activity or state has been foisted. It takes the form of, "I don't want it, but there's nothing I can do about it."

The part that gets most confusing to many a lamenter is that I don't pursue the "what you could be doing" side of the equation. Instead, I simply point out that he does in fact want what to do what he's doing, that he's getting what he wants.

This invariably turns into a kind of IQ test as I explain the interplay of words, thoughts, feelings and actions. If the IQ test is passed (i.e.) the lamenter realizes that what she wants is hidden within or a side-effect of getting what she doesn't want, then we proceed to the EQ test, i.e.,  reconciling what she can understand intellectually to something she can understand emotionally.

Want Theory
The problem with real-world wanting versus theoretical wanting is that, outside the lab, the wants are never pure. They're always compromised, sometimes with visible-to-the-naked-eye don't wants (such as "I don't want to be stuck with a $500/month car lease") or with invisible, microbial anti-wants (such as "I don't want to have to change my underwear every day.")

Since real-world wants are never available in their pristine form, they can be difficult to see. You have to get to them indirectly. The car payment you don't want is a side-effect of the car that you do want. The job you hate is a side-effect of the paycheck you to make the car payment you don't want because of the car that you do want. The suit that makes you so uncomfortable is a side-effect of wanting to look professional so that you can have a job you hate in order to get a paycheck you want to pay a bill you wish you didn't have to pay in order to get a car that you love.

And so it goes. To make this a little more concise, I've created Telfon's First Law of Wanting.

Teflon's First Law of Wanting

Every want has at least one associated anti-want, and 
every anti-want has at least one associated want.

Knowing that all desire abides by this first law of wanting is critical to understanding what you want. This leads us to a second law of wanting.

Teflon's Second Law of Wanting
Wants and anti-wants form want-chains in which
wants are interconnect anti-wants and vice versa.
Knowing this second law of wanting can make it significantly easier to find what it is you truly do want, to find the core want that's driving all the peripheral wants and anti-wants. You can start with either any random want or anti-want and move link by link to the core.

Relating and Wanting
So, what's Theory of Wanting got to do with relationships? Well, pretty much everything. You see, people are pretty good at knowing what they don't want. Ask them what someone what he doesn't want and you get a veritable projectile vomit of undesirable activities, things and states. However, ask him what he does want and... silence.

Since people are so much better at knowing what they don't want, they tend to focus on the unwanted aspects of life. (We do what we're good at doing.) Since they are bad at knowing what they do want, they tend to avoid any thought of it.

The result is that people are often unhappy with their partners because their partners are keeping them from being who they truly want to be, or having what they truly want to have, or doing what they truly want to do, and yet, they haven't a clue as to who they want to be, what they want to have, or what they want to do. All the unhappiness is just smoke.

So What?
The so-what is this. Until you know what you want, it makes absolutely no sense to be thinking about your partner and how she's keeping you from getting it. Further, after actually having figured out what it is you want, until you've clearly articulated it to your partner, it makes absolutely no sense to be thinking about how he's keeping you from getting it.

Happy Tuesday,

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