Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Worst is Better, Best is Great

If you have a lousy relationship, smile. At least you know what to expect. Get out of it as soon as you can.

If you have a great relationship, congratulations. May it continue.

So much for the ends of the spectrum. One might think that any step from lousy toward great on the continuum would mean life was getting better. But unimaginable hell awaits you in the vast wilderness between unadulterated crap and impossibly happily ever after.

What if you never know, as you head home from your long day doing whatever you do, whether you will walk into warmth and light, pleasant odors and sweet sounds, or a dense cloud of personal misery? Your first few breaths will either lift you to a plateau caressed by healing breezes or throw you to the floor in a funk that will make you wish you'd driven into that lake by the sharp curve and inhaled deeply of the icy torrent that rushed in through the window you opened for it.

Maybe I'm just loving company here, but I fear that the vast majority of us dwell in that middle land of uncertainty.

It has been said that in a marriage no one in the household can be happier than the most miserable member of it. What we call love requires us to care how the loved one feels, even if we can't really do anything about it.

In a marriage of unequal partnership, one person dominates. The dominant member's feelings go up, everyone goes up. The dominant member's feelings go down, everyone goes down. The dominant member has to do something, everyone's schedule revolves around that. It keeps life simple, and simple is good. But only one member of the partnership can have strong ambitions.

The supporting partner could have a strong ambition to make the dominant partner the best damn whatever-it-is in the world. If that does not satisfy the supportive partner's need for self-worth, then there's going to be trouble. The divorce boom that began in the 1960s showed that the unequal marriage model was in trouble. But that doesn't mean the unequal model is wrong for everyone.

People are drawn to each other. We look for allies, partners, intimates. Then we get the blowback. The gears grind instead of meshing. You spend a lot of time either wallowing in the swamp of misery to show solidarity, or ignoring the other person and hoping for the best. Neither one exactly fits the image of either fairy tale happiness or a shared struggle to reach a common goal. And yet it may be the best most of us can hope to get.

People you might perceive as steady, hardworking and boring can turn out to have powerful feelings hurling them up toward the sun and dragging them down into the abyss. These are not just afflictions of the creative and passionate. But be warned: the creative and passionate come with that program automatically loaded and cued up.

It's often hard to remember, when you have no one, just what it's like to have someone. So let me remind you. It's like being that little rubber ball attached by an elastic to a wooden paddle. The child playing with this toy has the option of hitting into open flames, gravy, wine, sewage, cold rain, dry air, car exhaust, dog farts, perfume and the musky odors of sex. And the little bastard will be mixing them all up.

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