More often than not (in my love life), I have been in a relationship. I’m the friend who engages in serial relationships, the one who always has to be with someone. It’s true. While I have had spates of enjoyable stretches of singledom, being in a relationship is something I have always sought. It feels good to have a someone. It’s nice to be looked at in that way that someone looks at you when they think you are the most wonderful thing in the world. It feels nice to gaze at the person you think is the most wonderful thing in the world. Now, this is not the entirety of relationship. I know.
I’ll be the first to tell you I have been in some messy messy ones. I’ll be the first to say that navigating a relationship has been a lifetime of trial by blazing fire. Many, many fires. I’ve peeled my rain-soaked clothes from the sidewalk where my ex threw them in a fit of anger. I’ve dumped a glass of iced-water on an ex’s head at a club after seeing him dance too close to another woman. I’ve confronted an ex together with his other (secret) lover, only to be told, “I love her, I don’t love you.” I’ve cut my wrist with a kitchen knife amid a fight with an ex, when I couldn’t express my apology and regret after kissing another guy. Woah, now. Heavy stuff, I know. My life has been an anthology of Modern Love essays.
Of course, I’ve listed a few of the most dramatic instances. My relationships have not all been rife with such acts, but I share these to expose these bits and to unravel my understanding of these experiences. You can chalk it up to my exes or me being “crazy,” but nary is “crazy” a choice. And really, that explanation is a cop out from attempting to understand human nature, from attempting to understand someone and their unique circumstances. There are reasons. And the quality, care, understanding of and practice in interpersonal relations are a foundational aspect of these reasons.
In any relationship, there are a total of three at play: the relations between two people and the relationship each person has with themselves. You know the cliché of not being able to love others until you are able to love yourself? Wait, before you roll your eyes, let’s explore. What does this mean? What does this mean for you?
It’s easy to focus on each other. It’s easy to point your finger in the opposite direction when something in the relationship has gone awry, but is this easier in the long run? Does it feel good to blame others? Is it fair to place assumptions on another’s actions or to conjure private interpretations of another’s words or gestures? Is it caring to not be curious about the other? Especially when they are hurting and reacting based on fear. Especially when it is the person with whom you want to build a trusting and unconditional connection? Are we resolving anything within ourselves by looking outward?
We must look inward. We must care for ourselves first. In case of an emergency, we’re told to put on our oxygen masks before placing them on kiddos, because if we can’t take breaths and remain conscious or aware, how are we to perform CPR? How are we to hold others in comfort when we’re unconscious or unaware? We don’t blame children for not reminding us that we need to care for ourselves first. We don’t blame our friends or partners for not reminding us that we need to look out for ourselves first, but when they do, we express gratitude.
The quality of care and support you are able to give to others is directly correlated with the quality of care and support you dedicate to yourself. In a relationship, it’s your responsibility to look inward before looking outward. In a relationship, it’s up to you to discover and determine how much of yourself you are able and willing to give. And then you give. You give freely and without condition. And you are able to hold whatever you are left with regardless of how the other person responds because you care for you. You love you first – so that you can love another.
I leave you with a couple of quotes by Schnarch (2009) and the time and space to think on this and ponder.
“Intimacy is an interpersonal process, involving confronting yourself and disclosing yourself in your partner’s presence.”
“Intimacy is not designed to make you feel one particular way; it’s designed to make you grow.”