So there’s this thing I’ve been doing lately. I’ve become romantically involved with a good friend of mine. It’s tough to quantify exactly what this involvement entails. See, I wouldn’t call it dating, primarily because we live in different states and there is none of the regularity associated with dating, but secondarily because there is no explicit commitment. But neither would I call it not dating, or I should say, neither would I call it just hooking up. There’s more to it than that, for me anyway. BTW - I don’t intend to name him here, but neither do I want to make up a stupid fake name for him. I’ll probably just refer to him by the amusing moniker my boss has given him, “confusing man friend”, or “CMF”, for short.
One of the toughest challenges to our involvement, or perhaps I ought to say one of several tough challenges, is that this unquantifiable nature of things necessitates trying NOT to contextualize, to understand what my CMF means to me and how he might fit into my life more long-term. But most of us, when getting involved in a romantic situation, have a strong natural tendency to want to do exactly that. Else, why are we doing it? But perhaps one of the only things that is clear about our involvement is that my CMF will be in no such position for perhaps quite a long while, if ever, and so there is not much point to my contextualizing him in my life if he is unable to do the same.
And yet, I still sometimes catch myself meditating on these context-dependent, “broad-spectrum” questions. Making observations of his behavior or tendencies and wondering, how do I feel about that? Is it compatible with me? Could I live with it long-term? What does it mean?
I’m on a train today. It’s led to a LOT of time for thinking and analyzing. Also, writing. This is the third blog entry I’ve composed already (though the other two were about food politics and trains, respectively). Naturally, the CMF has been on my mind a good deal. And there’s one quality of his I’ve been thinking about a lot, not for any particular reason, but I feel compelled to write about it to help me sort through my thoughts. Important to note, though, that this is primarily a thought experiment. Or an idle marinating. I know there's no reason in particular to be thinking about it, but I am, so I'm brain dumping.
This CMF, see, I’ve known him a pretty long time. We first met when I was 17, so it’s been ten years. While we’ve not always had consistent contact over those ten years, in the style of many of my friendships (and the style I naturally aspire to) we were usually able to pick up where we left off when we did get back in contact, as though no or little time had passed. And long before the romantic part started, when he was just an MF and no C, there was one quality in particular about him that I appreciated and took pains to mention when describing him to others. CMF, with only the rarest exceptions, always tells you exactly what he thinks. And he doesn’t give up on people easily.
As has been discussed on this blog a multitude of times in great detail (most recently HERE), my life has not taken the direction I expected. And I’ve often been unhappy with where my choices have led me. One of the most problematic things about this faulty trajectory is that most of those closest to me, both friends and family, have been either oblivious to it or willfully ignorant of it. Except my CMF. He has never let me forget that I’m not where I want to be, that I used to have different dreams (no matter how vague they were), that I refused to accept this type of existence when he first knew me, and openly mocked or was mystified by those who would choose it. And he has never been afraid to tell me so. I probably have 15 emails saved from the past ten years, each of which contains a little bit of that sentiment somewhere in its long, thoughtful reply. It is so, SO important to have people like that in your life, and they are so rare. It is one of the things I have always appreciated about him. I know that when I ask him what he thinks of a decision, or a thought process I’m having, I’m going to get the honest truth. And when I get complacent, he’s there to remind me I shouldn’t be. He doesn’t let me settle for anything less than what I deserve, what he thinks I ought to deserve.
The thing is, I think this particular quality takes on a different flavor in a romantic relationship. One thing I must emphasize right up front, before I explain what I mean, is that it’s not the honesty part I have trouble with. I would never, EVER want someone I'm seeing to be dishonest with me. I absolutely, one hundred percent think that honesty is the most important characteristic of a successful relationship (though certainly not the only important one). However, more than loyalty, more than affection, if you can’t count on open communication you may as well give up now. There is no chance of survival without honesty because it is the backbone of everything else. For example: loyalty that is dishonest leads to resentment. If someone disagrees with their partner on something but feels the need to agree because they want to be unconditionally loyal or avoid conflict, it will just build up into resentment (either consciously or sub-consciously) until it creates a serious problem, whereas if addressed head-on initially, faces such better prospects of reaching resolution or compromise.
So it’s not the honesty. It’s the small but inherently adversarial essence of this quality that I think could be a problem.
CAN I JUST TAKE A MINUTE TO SAY, WHY THE HELL IS IT SUDDENLY SO COLD IN THIS TRAIN? I CAN BARELY MOVE MY FINGERS TO TYPE; I FEEL LIKE WE’RE IN SIBERIA IN THE DEAD OF WINTER. JUST SAYIN’, AMTRAK. ALSO? YOU SHOULD NOT SELL BOOZE ON TRAINS. THE PEOPLE BEHIND ME HAVE GOTTEN INCREASINGLY LOUD AND ANNOYING OVER THE LAST EIGHT HOURS.
Ok, back to CMF’s unfailing honesty and accountability-keeping. What’s a good word to describe this quality, btw? It’s not just honesty, so I can’t just call it honesty; it’s the confrontational nature of the honesty. Shall I borrow a word from Colbert and say ‘truthiness”? Perhaps solely for word economy I shall. So...this truthiness. I’m not sure this is a universal tendency of people or unique to the way I operate in a relationship but I tend to rely, heavily, on my partner/significant other for support. I desire encouragement, cheerleading, when things are on the upswing, consolation and sympathy when they’re not. And support for the days when I come home and say, “Today just wasn’t my day.” This may be partly because of the E in my ENFJ; my energy is so extroversion-focused on other people that I devote very little time to myself. To being my own cheerleader or consoler. So maybe it’s not universal. Either way, I hardly ever ask for the support I need. Therefore, I think someone who is unafraid to remind me I’m not meeting my goals might combine with my tendency not to support myself and perhaps make me feel like I’m consistently under attack, or being criticized. Which, to be fair, is a feeling no one likes. But it’s especially difficult for me, I think, to deal with criticism (just something I know about myself). I take things personally.
Now practically, this may not actually be the way that this truthiness pans out, but I am theorizing that it might feel that way. I think there is at least one way to mitigate this effect. If the partner couples that tendency to be truthy with a strong, vocal tendency to support and comfort, and affirm, it would probably be ok. But see, when you’re not in a relationship with someone, or at least not a quantifiable or committed one, it’s hard to know exactly how supportive they are as a romantic partner, and how actively they voice that support. I mean, don’t get me wrong, CMF has been SUPER DUPER supportive as a friend over the years. But it’s just totally different in a relationship. It’s inherently not the same. You can’t use one as evidence for the other.
I don’t know when, if ever, I’ll be able to see how this theory comports with reality. And that’s sort of tough. But sounding it out and understanding that it’s a potential challenge has value in and of itself. Or at least to me it does. I like to know what I might face because then I can think about how I might deal with it, or speculate if I could. It’s one of the very few ways in which I’m future-oriented (being generally more past-oriented). So today it’s been on my mind, and now I’ve sounded it out. And it helped.