Not too long ago my friend Jeff and I were sitting in a bar discussing the trials, tribulations and triumphs of life, work, kids and - more than anything else - relationships. At one point he turned to me and said, "You know, it's too bad you'd look like sh*t in a dress".
Now, before you let your imagination get away from you, let me provide a little context for that comment because, in making it, Jeffrey, in his typically sardonic and unvarnished fashion, provided us with a compelling commentary on the nature of the world and, specifically, relationships, as well as a rather thought provoking motif -- your best life partner is the best friend that you sleep with.
Jeff and I have known one another for going on five decades. From pre-school to post-grad and beyond we have stood shoulder to shoulder against just about everything that life can toss in your path - good, bad or indifferent. In that time we've had our disagreements, but we haven't ever really argued, never mind had a fight.
The rhythm of our communication is such that an entire conversation can be compassed by a word or a gesture, and we have been known to fall into gales of uproarious laughter without a single word even being spoken. Were it not that both of us prefer women, we would, from an objective social, psychological and emotional standpoint, be perfectly suited to one another as mates - and that's the point.
Somewhere within the lexicon of misguided social wisdom we have, as a culture, managed to separate friendship from romance or, more to the point, social relationships from love relationships. We could blame the gender gap or the War between the Sexes, or some other sociological artifact -- fabricated or otherwise -- but in truth this separation is not confined simply to heterosexual relationships. It is an artifact of love relationships in general, and points directly to the notion that, when it comes to coupling, we are often very much inclined to lose sight of substance in service of form.
A love relationship should be based, first and foremost, upon a friendship, and that friendship should be a "best" friendship - one that is deep and abiding, resting upon transparency, trust and the type of intimacy that makes communication, both verbal and non-verbal, seamless. For that level of intimacy to be present, the social relationship that underpins the love relationship itself needs to be well-founded. Further, for one relationship to effectively service the other, the love relationship needs to be approached as something organic that grows out of the social relationship, rather than something apart from it.
A poignant and pointed marker for just how we don't do this can be found in the world of on-line dating, with its attendant sense of false intimacy and "instant relationship". Although this sense of false intimacy might be regarded as an artifact of social networking in general, its presence in the theater of on-line romance is quite evident, often propelling what is by rights a nominal social connection into a state of artificial familiarity that is virtually impossible to support over time. Without the presence of that organic sensibility, a relationship that is forged in the crucible of instant relationship is bound to crack and falter under its own weight, as the ideal fades into the real.
Taking a breath and holding space for that nominal social connection to grow into something more dimensional - or not - can only serve us. In doing so, we have an opportunity to exercise our needs, ask for what we want, listen, give what is asked and, generally, engage in the experience of genuinely co-creating an authentic transactional relationship.
Taking the time to foster and nurture a relationship at its outset is, of course, important, but this same perspective is just as important within the context of an established and on-going relationship. A healthy relationship blends the social and romantic elements of intimate connection in a way that is seamless and evolutionary. When approached in this way, the finer elements of a relationship - social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, cultural, physical, sexual, material - are held within a single container that is every bit as sustaining as it is sustained.
One of the most important vehicles for co-creating this intimate and evolutionary connection is good communication. We hear that all the time, but what does it really mean in this context? It means not just listening, but hearing and paying attention. It means not just speaking, but speaking your truth and having the expectation that what is spoken is also a truth, for good or ill. It means saying what you mean, meaning what you say and consistently being present in that intention.
Returning to our premise, if you think about your closest friendship - whether or not that friendship is with your partner - you will undoubtedly see elements of this ideal within it, if not the entire ideal itself. That friendship is the model for the relationship that we each not only seek, but that we also each deserve. Coming to that realization is an astonishing freedom, releasing us from the burden and inauthenticity of trying to "make a relationship work" and, instead, providing us with the opportunity to simply allow for its authentic and abiding presence.
© 2010 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved
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