I decided I wasn't going to be naughty and work after it got dark today, so I've come home from work for a couple of hours before going out again to the Prog Friday night meal. So I'm sitting curled up with a cup of tea and some toasted "Christmas bread", which is essentially teacake in loaf form. And I thought I might answer a couple of interesting questions that have showed up on my flist recently.
Someone asked in a locked post: what makes you dislike the people you dislike. So I'm going to bring over my comment from there, because I think it's a really interesting question. The thing is, I don't really dislike people. There are a really tiny number who are actually morally bad and I despise or even hate them, and a few that I don't have anything against but just don't enjoy spending time with. But dislike isn't something I go in for much.
I think for me the worst trait is wildly inconsistent behaviour towards me. That is to say, people who make a big fuss over me and tell me I'm so wonderful and great one day, and then the next act like I'm not worth knowing and they're barely forcing themselves to be minimally polite to me. I know intellectually there could be reasons for this (maybe they're in pain or just not feeling social), but it really bugs me. Obviously if someone is cold to me all the time, I'm not going to feel intensely affectionate towards them in return, but it upsets me a lot less.
Also people who in my presence are perfectly lovely to me but horrible to others. They often turn out to only "like" me for superficial reasons anyway, like a certain Cambridge professor who suddenly started being polite to me when I got my PhD and will completely blank my parents even when we're in the same conversation. Or the stereotypical person who is rude to waiters and shop assistants.
I dislike spending time with people who are very boring, either because they keep going on about the same topic even after people have clearly indicated they don't really care about it, or because they have nothing at all to say. I don't think these things are morally bad, and I know in most cases they're explained by shyness or poor social skills, but I don't find it fun to be with people like that. People who just won't contribute to a conversation or require disproportionate effort from me. Sometimes if these people act as if they like me more than I like them, I get into a negative cycle of getting annoyed with them because they make me feel guilty for disliking them for no moral reason.
blue_mai asked: what do you want in a relationship? In some ways this is tough question to answer, because my default is not to want relationships at all; if anything, I have a list of minimum criteria that someone has to meet before I'm willing to give up my precious singlehood, rather than a list of goals that I'm looking for in a partner. Also because I've ended up with someone who isn't quite what I thought I was looking for; for a start, he's not Jewish and he's not in the same country as me, but I think I'm happier than I have ever been in past relationships. That includes relationships where I was more passionately in love, or with people who objectively seemed to be better suited to me. Besides, relationship with cartesiandaemon is bringing me a bunch of things that I didn't even know I wanted until we started going out, some of which are probably too personal to go into in detail. So I'm rather reluctant to make lists of what I want, because I am in the process of being shown to be quite wrong. But I'll give it a go anyway.
I think the absolute must is communication. I need to be able to talk about feelings (yes, it's a stereotypical lesbian thing, but I've actually experienced better communication on this level with male partners than female), and deal with emotionally difficult stuff by talking it over. I can't cope with someone who sugars things to spare my feelings or to manipulate me, or who reacts to being upset by withdrawing or sulking. I'll take that rare magic of a partner who instantly understands me, but actually I prefer someone who's willing to make the effort to keep discussing and clarifying until they do, because I trust that better than romantic instincts. I'm rather drawn to having meta discussions about the state of the relationship and the theory of relationships. But for me the defining thing about being a couple, more even than the sexual element (I've had relatively non-sexual relationships, actually), is being not just able, but happy, to discuss anything and everything. Trivial everyday things, books read, a little bit of preferably non-malicious gossip, and also deep emotional things that reveal that closely guarded unmasked core self.
I want to be friends, but not only friends. Friendship is unlimitedly precious to me, I don't think romantic love is more important than friendship love, but I've tried to have relationships based on being friends who happened to be mutually attracted, and it really didn't work. It's really hard to define the difference, too, a sense of emotional interconnection, maybe? I don't mean soppy stuff;
But flowers and stars and songs just begun, And moonbeams and eyes and the light of the sun, No matter how much such stuff may please, One can't keep living on things like these
but I can't really describe what I do mean.
At the same time, I can't cope with relationships that are stifling or obsessive. Definitely no merging of personalities or spending every minute of the day together. I want a partner who has their own life and doesn't rely on me for social contact or for their only emotional connection. I'm not willing to the be the only guardian of someone's self-esteem, nor indeed take charge of keeping their life together practically. I'm increasingly finding that long distance is a positive thing, actually; I honestly don't know if I'm capable of sharing living space at this point in my life, and while there are downsides, I enjoy the situation where every time we meet, it's a special occasion and we can focus on eachother, and conversely we never have to deal with fitting a relationship round boring domestic stuff, or take it out on eachother when we're tired and irritable.
On a practical level, I kind of need a partner who doesn't have a burning desire to procreate; I don't regret the relationships I've had with people like that, but they were doomed from the start, and I'm not sure I want to do that any more. I want someone who takes a relationship seriously, who may even be willing to make a long-term commitment ultimately, without treating it as a "trial marriage" with the ultimate aim being buying a nice little house together in the suburbs.
As for the type of person, on the theory that geek is a gender, I'm almost exclusively "geeksexual". By which I mean, people who are full of curiosity about as many topics as possible, who aren't afraid of being slightly obsessive in pursuit of information. I would rather have someone who errs on the side of tactlessness than on the side of being suave but impossible to get to know. I think being willing to question mainstream values and assumptions helps, too. It's not essential, but comfortable with internet culture at least enough to understand the importance of LJ, and know how to use email and messenger and Skype, also help. (Actually, although I define myself as bisexual, I'm generally not attracted to people who are very intensely masculine or feminine, but greatly prefer people who are either androgynous or like me not very strongly gendered.)
I know in theory that moral qualities are more important than intelligence, but I have to admit I'm unlikely to be able to sustain interest in someone who isn't pretty spectacularly bright. That's largely true of close friends as well; I'm not particularly proud of it, but I get way too impatient with people who don't grasp complex ideas quickly and put information together effectively. To be fair, I do rather want a partner who is kind and unselfish and has high moral standards, at the very least someone who is never going to be deliberately nasty to me. Trust kind of goes along with communication, but extends beyond that too.
Oh, and if we're talking about what I want right now, someone who is not going to come between me and cartesiandaemon. I don't even know if any such person exists, and I'm most definitely not looking for them because I am very happy in my current situation. So yes, talking about what I want in a relationship is pretty abstract right now, as I already have an amazingly good relationship, which I don't think I could have predicted would happen before it did.
To reply to further discussion of this topic of blue_mai's, I generally lean towards staying in a relationship only as long as it makes everybody involved happier than they would be apart. I have never been in a situation of trying to "fix" a relationship that's in difficulties, or of making a commitment to stay together "for better or worse". Perhaps it's middle age creeping up on me, but I'm starting to think that maybe I should try for the kind of relationship where you work at things. I don't know if or when I'll be in a position to make that kind of seriously long term commitment, though. Goodness knows I'm picky enough, and have enough definite ideas about what a partner can expect from me, that I don't rate my chances all that highly!
Anyway, I'm going out fairly shortly and will spend most of the weekend playing host to a cantor from the German bit of the Jewish Renewal movement. But I hope I'll get some discussion going for me to come back to in between.
Sometimes if these people act as if they like me more than I like them, I get into a negative cycle of getting annoyed with them because they make me feel guilty for disliking them for no moral reason. [...] I know in theory that moral qualities are more important than intelligence, but I have to admit I'm unlikely to be able to sustain interest in someone who isn't pretty spectacularly bright.
There seems to be a common theme here that some part of you feels as if you "ought" to have a different basis for deciding which people you like (and perhaps even love) than the one you in fact do have. It sounds from these comments as if you feel that you ought, morally speaking, to be taking an attitude to potential friends which is reminiscent of equal-opportunities employment law – if not more so, so that qualities such as intelligence and interesting conversation which quite reasonably make a big difference to whether or not you actually enjoy someone's company are things that you feel guilty for discriminating on.
Have I misunderstood, or exaggerated to the point of actual inaccuracy?
If I haven't, I venture to suggest that enjoying one another's company is pretty much the purpose of friendships and relationships, and hence that it's perfectly OK for you to choose your friends based on whether you enjoy being friends with them.
to be taking an attitude to potential friends which is reminiscent of equal-opportunities employment law - if not more so, so that qualities such as intelligence and interesting conversation which quite reasonably make a big difference to whether or not you actually enjoy someone's company are things that you feel guilty for discriminating on.
All the available evidence suggests that my local bank are being very careful not to discriminate on intelligence in employing people, as they have a rather nice normal distribution of a couple of stunningly competent people, a fair few who are OK, and a couple of morons.
Mm, I see what you're saying, and it's not completely unconnected to what I was trying to convey, just a slightly odd twist on it. I do understand that being strongly drawn to people either as close friends or as lovers is the very definition of subjective. (Obviously it's generally not a good idea to get involved with nasty people because I'm dazzled by their intelligence and brilliant conversation, but I haven't yet made that mistake so I don't worry about it too much.)
But the point is, if there's a casual acquaintance who is never going to be my best friend, I shouldn't get irritated with them for superficial reasons. So it's not that I aim to like people on an equal opportunities basis, it's that I want to avoid disliking people who happen to be socially awkward, or not very intelligent (and I'm afraid I have rather high standards).
I think a big part of the reason why I take this attitude is that I'm slightly paranoid that if I know someone really amazingly brilliant and find them incredibly fascinating, they may get bored or impatient with me if they find I'm not thinking at their level. I would far rather those people are patient with me so I can enjoy their company, so it seems only fair that when the situation is reversed, I should display the same patience myself.
Wow, I'm incredibly touched that you think I'm awesome and good partner material; thanks so much for saying that. Come to think of it, you've actually known me through three relationships, so you're in a pretty good position to judge how I handle them. I feel as if I either can't do, or don't want to do, most of what most people want from a partner; I'm not domesticated or emotionally intuitive, but I'm also not really in a position to play a traditional male role of financial providing and physical protection. Quite possibly it's a function of being thirty that most people I meet, while they're reasonably likely to be attracted to me in some way, are rather looking for a wife and someone to raise children with.
Yay self esteem and having ideas for what you want from a partner! You can go too far with that; some people seem to think they can just check off a list of criteria and select the most suitable person from the store. But I think it's a very good thing to have a basic expectation of whom you're hoping for and especially what you won't put up with. Of course the actual real person comes along and isn't what you were expecting and you make a connection with them anyway, so you don't mind the missing tickyboxes. But it really can't hurt to know which direction to start looking in!
The connection between conversation and sex makes sense to me, yeah. To give another bizarre simile, someone once told me that finding a job is a bit like finding a spouse; it's more important that there's mutual compatibility and availability than that there should be absolute perfection. And good enough is good enough, you're not looking for the absolute optimal relationship possible in the whole world.
Desirable qualities in a partner: I can write a long list with discussion of priorities and what is negotiable. Like livredor though, I found this list has failed to predict what would work and what would not.
In practice, for me, the first thing is finding somebody attractive before I have a chance to know any qualities beyond the visual and the superficially social. At that point I become biased in favour of them. And then I admire the positive information I discover about them later.
I guess there probably is a list that would reflect by greatest wants but I havent realised what those are yet.
Yeah, it's incredibly hard to predict whether a potential relationship will work or not. That's why I picked the music for this post, because it's about exactly that. I know you put more emphasis on initial attraction than I do; I'm almost the opposite way entirely, cos (except with timeplease), I'm rarely attracted to anyone until I already know lots of their positive qualities and generally know them quite well. But I definitely can eventually get into a loop where I'm drawn to someone and therefore biased in favour of their good traits and then come to admire them more.
What do I want in a relationship ? It's very hard to generalise, because everyone I care about a lot, or have cared about a lot, is so much themselves, in my mind, and what draws me to them is so much specific individual things in each case.
So there are kind of vague nebulous uber-things like "cares about communicating and does so in registers that work with me", and "enough neophilia to point me at new interesting things and to respect the things I am already interested in", and "sees and has a reasonable understanding of my existing life priorities and is good with working with their existence", and "compatible notions of basic decency", and which kind of apply to anyone I am likely to be comfortable being close to, whatever the shape of the friendship/relationship interaction in question. And there are practical things like "likes nice warm temperatures" and "generally comfortable with nudity" that are things I am happy to have but can certainly work around if apt, so they hardly seem worth making a fuss about.
There are also specifics that would well complement the current realities of my life, like "strong wrists", and "competent Linux sysadmin but not obsessive tinkerer with Linux", and "enjoys dealing with officialdom and bureaucracy", which mostly feel like putting together a parody of a personal ad when I think about them to any depth.
I was trying very hard to answer what do you want in a relationship rather than what do you want in a partner. Because clearly reasons for loving someone are as varied as people are varied. But obviously there is also some degree of overlap.
I do not have criteria for useful skills, partly because I'm not really thinking of the living together kind of relationship, but mainly because I'm incredibly reluctant to rely on a partner for that kind of thing. Even when I do have a partner who happens to have a skill that I lack, or enjoy something that I hate, I feel uncomfortable benefitting from that. Like sewing, for example; I hate sewing, and I'm incompetent at it besides, but I really do not want any sweeties to fix my clothes. I think I'm irrational about this, but it makes me feel both unpleasantly dependent, and as if I'm exploiting a person just because of their affection for me. If I can cast it as taking on different aspects of a shared task, such as, hypothetically, keeping our shared home ship-shape and pleasant, then it's teamwork rather than dependence. But in general, I'm very much not looking for a sysadmin or a housewife or what have you.
Shavua tov! I am sorry, I didn't manage to include email to you when I was trying to improve my correspondence reliability during November. I think the problem is that I have too much to say to you, your life is so exciting at the moment, and I want to talk about Rab school, and European Judaism, and at least express sympathy for the uncertainties in your husband's situation, and American Jewish life, and internet privacy, and all kinds of things, so I don't know where to start. But that is pathetic, so I should get over myself and just write to you about something. Email hopefully soon.
Interesting: both questions are well worth a bit of self-examination and an answer from all of us. Whether the answers are interesting is another question entirely, but here goes...
What makes you dislike the people you dislike?
You have to work at it to be disliked by the common-or-garden hairyears. When you're small, hairy and venomous (or, less flippantly, when you have a badly-formed personality that isn't quite as well-socialised as it superficially seems, sufficiently so that it arouses unease or subconscious aversion in a high proportion of all the people you meet) you can't afford to dislike others just because they dislike you.
Malice will do it, every time: a passive satisfaction or an actively-sought pleasure in hurting others - dislike doesn't begin to describe how I feel about such people. Or groups: there are some dysfunctional communities who are defined by such behaviours towards 'outsiders' or internally-directed malice in a 'pecking-order' structure.
Thus, it is inconceivable that I would form a relationship with someone who is unpleasant to others but not to me: I can all too easily see the consequences of a change in whatever switch or flag it is that makes me special in their eyes.
Paradoxically, my behaviour toward such people is characterised by unfailing courtesy - indeed, I take far more care over the outward forms of civility with people I dislike than I do with my closest friends. I'll let you work out the reasons.
An urge to manipulate is a lesser evil, but it is nevertheless a relationship-killer. It implies a contempt for one's fellow humans, a utilitarian view of them as objects to be steered towards one's own goals, rather than as friends to be supported in their own desires and aims.
Women (and men!) who manipulate me - or others - by their sexuality, because it's amusing and they can or in order to validate themselves, or demonstrate superiority, are very much to be disliked... Except that, over the years, I've come to realise that this is an instinctive behaviour and my problem with it is exactly that: my problem. Men are simple creatures and a short skirt and a right smile means that I will do whatever someone asks, until I snap out of it, and it doesn't even make me angry unless they make a point of it to demonstrate some kind of humiliating superiority... But it's an interesting paradox that the most effective way of getting my attention is all but guaranteed to kill a relationship within ten minutes of a conversation starting.
All attempts at manipulation by guilt flip the spiritual thermostat in me to 'cold and mechanical' - I run out of human warmth all too quickly and, while it is possible to engage my sympathy, I dislike all those who call upon too much of a decidedly limited supply.
This latter trait is a personality defect; with the exception of malice and manipulation, it is wrong to dislike people for being as they are, and doubly so to dislike them because they are demanding of one's sympathy.
'Deserving' of it is a question that I do not examine. Who am I to know what is avoidable, and what has been 'brought upon themselves'?
Beyond that, there is little 'dislike' in me; as I said, people are as they are and a willingness to accommodate and adapt to them is an essential trait in any member of a herd species with a decidedly non-standard personality. I don't dislike others who are unable or unwilling to adapt and accommodate themselves to me but, of necessity, there is no possibility that I and they could come together in a mutually-rewarding relationship.
Which brings us to the second question: What do you want in a relationship?
However, I seem to be pushing the word-limit for an LJ comment...
I do go on a bit; hopefully verbosity isn't a 'dislike' trigger for anyone 'round here.
What do I want in a relationship?
Whether I 'want' it or not, a potential friend or partner is going to need an ability and a willingness to adapt: there will be no relationship at all until they make an effort - and apply some skill - to overcoming the nerdy reserve and awkwardness. Don't be fooled by the patina of social skill and confidence! One layer down and right where it matters, I am as awkward and teenager-ish as the stereotypical nerd with acne and no dress sense; exactly the person that a conventional woman's dating-fu is designed to exclude from consideration.
Your word 'geeksexual' therefore describes any woman who would form a relationship with me: just as well, then, that I consider it an attractive trait.
It follows that a lively intelligence is a thing to be desired, a glittering jewel: I want that pleasure in ideas and in conversation.
Thinking about it, I realise that pleasure is a thing that I look for in others - I enjoy building a relationship upon the ability to take pleasure in things; familiar and unfamiliar, sensual and intellectual, exotic and mundane. Would you believe that there are those who cannot open themselves to the simple joy of feeding ducks?
That's a definite 'want', then. I don't expect anyone to enjoy everything I like - not everyone likes fine wines and fine dining, and a lack of that appreciation isn't a relationship-killer - but I do expect a partner to seek out the things that they enjoy, and make an effort to share them with me. Educate me, even: and in all things where the shared enjoyment is discovered, to relish it, indulge it, take pleasure in it unashamedly.
I think it's clear that Asceticism isn't going to work as a shared trait in a relationship.
Sensuality and sexuality? No, I'm not going into details - but the general principle has been clearly stated there. However, there's a point to be made, something that I want outside the bedroom as well as in it (assuming that it's a sexual relationship at all): I delight in making someone feel beautiful - everyone is, if they did but know it - but I cannot do this from thin air. A degree of self-regard and self-love, an appreciation of their own beauty and a pleasure in it is essential in a partner.
Other points? It's rather telling that I find myself responding to your questions rather than raising more of my own, but these two strike a chord:
Your point about communication: I trust that better than romantic instincts - weighs rather less with me than I think it does with you: the information isn't all that much use to me! Data isn't information and communication unless it is subjected to analysis and understanding... Which I rather lack. Of neccesity, I run on my partners' instincts rather than on mutual ability in communication.
Seriousness? I want someone who takes a relationship seriously, who may even be willing to make a long-term commitment ultimately, without treating it as a "trial marriage" with the ultimate aim being buying a nice little house together in the suburbs.
There's two points there: the word 'seriously' is fine, it's far better than flippancy, with the caveat that levity is better than burdening-down a relationship by over-weighting everything that's said and done. But you must find the middle ground - not serious, not over-casual - in a relationship that you both know is a fling on holiday, or nothing more than raw lust and the moment in an otherwise platonic friendship; just as must in the relationship that eventually turns out to be the next twenty years of your lives.
The second problem in there is treating the relationship as a stepping-stone - it's not just the dreadful utilitarianism of it all, it's the failure to relish the relationship for what it is, right now, and a refusal to let it grow as it will. Perhaps that falls into the box marked 'manipulative'. But it highlights two things that I want in a relationship: serious enough, and an acceptance and delight in the relationship as it is.
That's probably enough to be going on with: it's certainly more than I expected to say.
I'm not sure. It sounds immature, but I'm not sure I ever dislike people. I dislike dealing with some people, though, and there are definitely things I can identify that increase the chances that I will put someone into the "too much trouble, avoid interaction" category in my head.
Like others who have commented here, I dislike dealing with people who are purposely cruel, people who hurt others just because they can. I do not have the emotional resources to deal with a certain level of broken-ness in humans; I can understand it on some theoretical level, but it is deeply frightening when I actually encounter it. I'd like to get better at this, but I suspect I will always find dealing with such people a distasteful task.
I dislike dealing with people who seek to absolve themselves of responsibility for their actions, especially if they do so through blaming or attempting to manipulate others. We all have some very tough choices to make in life, but I ask that people never say, "I had no choice," but rather, "I saw no other choice that was acceptable to me." I think this is in some way linked to honesty: I don't trust people who are dishonest with themselves to be honest in their dealings with me.
Somewhat relatedly, I have little time or patience for those who do not, at least some of the time, try to understand, engage with and improve their world. That can mean getting to know themselves better or it can mean trying to understand why things in the world work the way they do and so which levers to press to make things better. But when people either give up on trying to figure the world out, or think they have it figured out and pointedly refuse to act to make it better, I find them very difficult to deal with. I don't mind so much if we have wildly different ideas of what constitutes 'improvement': there is almost always some common ground. I don't object too strongly if people aren't All Improvement, All The Time: everyone needs to rest. I just don't know how to deal with stagnancy.
Conversely, the things that make me like people are a commitment to compassion and justice, honesty in dealing with oneself and others, and an interest in improving one's lot and/or the world in general. There are many, many people I like very much!
I want to love and admire my partner. People I love and admire tend to have the "things that make me like people" traits in some abundance. They tend to help others if they see an opportunity to do so. They tend to speak their minds, some with more tact than others. They tend to be more interested in learning things and getting things right and improving the world than in appearing to be superior. They tend to be courageous in the face of difficulties. They tend to be intelligent, eager to learn and interested in learning for the sake of it.
I am fortunate: there are many, many people in my life who I love and admire.
I want to be loved and admired back. I cannot dictate or control what others will love and admire in me, but ideally it should be things that are part of who I am, part of the way I think, rather than external concerns. I basically want to do three things with my life: learn shiny stuff, teach shiny stuff to other people, and make shiny stuff to share with others. Hopefully those who love and admire me will love and admire those traits in me more than other concerns.
Mutual love and admiration, sadly, do not work as the only foundation of a relationship: or I do not think that they have for me.
It is very likely that if mutual love and admiration are present, we'll enjoy one another's company, but this is not guaranteed. I think a relationship without this would be rather pointless, so I won't spend time dwelling on it here.
While I do not wish to have too much dependence in any relationship, I think some sort of commitment to care for one another is important.
I derive a great deal of pleasure and comfort from physical contact, and it is crucial that a partner shares this to some degree. There are times when I need to be held and nothing else will do: I can postpone it for some time but eventually it has to happen. If affectionate contact is not freely available, or if my partner's need for physical contact is different enough to mine that our needs are in conflict, things are not going to work in the long run. In theory this need for contact could also be met perfectly well by a snuggle or cuddle with close friends, but the reality in this society is that this isn't really seen as acceptable and even among non-mainstream geeks it's hard for me to meet this need within platonic relationships.
For me, regular and predictable time together is an absolute requirement. Long distance relationships are very painful for me because of the uncertainty of not knowing when I'll next see a partner. Visits being special times when mundane domestic concerns are put aside can go badly wrong if we neglect to talk about important things because we don't want to "spoil" a visit but also don't know how to talk about them at distance.
An ability to function when we're not at our best, a companionship through the mundane domestic drudgery, is something that I value very much. I do not, ultimately, wish to live alone, so any partner needs to know that I want companionship, and if they are not willing or able to provide it, to understand that I will eventually form a household with other friends or lovers.
I'm a bit of a ridiculous fence-sitter when it comes to whether I want kids. I don't know if I'm biologically capable of conceiving a child and carrying it to term, so anyone with a very strong drive to procreate would be advised to avoid me. I do think I could make a very good parent given a few more years to sort myself out, but I absolutely won't have kids without what I feel is an appropriate support network, which means at least two other committed parents... which isn't going to be easy to find. And I think there are many ways I can improve the world and nurture children that don't require me to have kids. So if I end up with the right people and it looks like having children is going to be a rewarding and sensible thing to do, I'll do it, but I'm not filtering for "willingness to procreate" in my relationship choices.
First of all, silly aside. When I read your post I thought "Shall I comment?" and then I thought "No, I don't know enough about all this relationship stuff. I don't have that much experience of serious relationships." Then I reminded myself that I'm happily married and possibly that might give me some insight into happy serious relationships. I think part of the problem may be that I've only ever had two relationships (three if you count a brief ill advised fling whilst I was at school) but I think the real problem is that I don't really think of my relationship with my husband as a 'serious relationship'. It's just me and Alec, doing our silly thing together. I mean we've made a commitment to spend the rest of our lives doing our silly thing together and put effort into making it work even when it's hard, but it's not 'serious'. I think this might be connected to me not thinking of myself as a 'grown up'.
Anyway, what I want out of a relationship? I think what I want out of a relationship is exactly the opposite of what you want. There's an explanation of love in The Symposium that originally humans had four arms and four legs and two faces, but that made us too much of a threat to the gods so they cut as in half, but the human halves just laid down and pined for union with their other halves until they died so the gods invented sex so that human halves could be reunited and that's why humans love.* This pretty much sums up my approach to love. The relationship still most conducive to my flourishing is codependency or deep symbiosis.
This kind of relationship tends to be looked down upon as psychologically unhealthy. We're all supposed to be independent and self sufficient but that kind of an approach to life simply doesn't work well for me. I really need other people and I have all of my adult life. I've known since I was a teenager that I could never live alone. If I spend more than a day without contact with other people my mental state declines. I can't live on my own for more than a week even if I have contact with people during the day. I don't really ever feel the need to be alone. My sense of self doesn't seem to fit the unified autonomous individual which seems to be praised in our culture. I don't feel as unified as most people seem to be. Sometimes my internal monologue is a dialogue. I can believe mutually contradictory things. At various times the illusion of a unified self disintegrates or gently lifts a little. On the other side of the equation, I only really feel fully existent in relation to other people. If I'm deprived of human company for too long I actually feel as if I begin to stop knowing who I am. I'm aware that I am a different person with different people, not because I'm being fake, but because I am in part a product of the interactions I am engaging in.
*There's actually quite a similar midrash on Adam and Eve.
Some people might say that I am psychologically unhealthy but I think I am just different, neither better nor worse than people whose self is more unified and separate. I certainly think given the right conditions someone who operates as I do can be just as happy as someone deemed more 'normal'. There are disadvantages. As my well being is dependent upon relationships with others, when those relationships break down I am very seriously injured. It took me a very long time to get over my break up with my first boyfriend because he had become sort of a part of myself, almost like psychic conjoined twins. On the other hand, when it works it is miraculous. In close union with another person I almost glimpse G@d. It can also practically very useful, for example, I have quite poor spacial awareness and am quite a nervous driver and Alec doesn't have a driving licence. I volunteered to drive a van for a friend. Alec sat in the far passenger seat and navigated and watched my far side. Because our communication is so in sink, it was almost like driving with two sets of eyes and two lots of concentration to be able to drive and navigate. Every time I had to reverse or get through a tight spot Alec would get out and direct me and I could completely trust him to guide him and completely trust my ability to correctly interpret his signals. The tight gaps we managed to get through together without scratching the van were miraculous.
Another way we are different is in terms of children. One of my few make or break criteria is that I wish to have children who will be raised as Jews. I told Alec this before we first kissed. I was going to have children who would be raised as Jews, the question was whether he'd like to be the father of those Jewish children. If not, there was no point even kissing. I suppose this leads to another aspect of my approach to relationships, despite my earlier statement*, they are always serious with marriage and children as the final goal. I have never kissed a man I wasn't already deeply in love with. I hesitate to say I wouldn't enter into a relationship with someone who I had no chance of marrying because I tend to fall in love with people and then deal with this fact, rather than seeking relationships with 'suitable' people. I can't really get my head around it because I think I would be prepared to do almost anything to remain with someone I was in reciprocal love with. I suppose the easiest way to explain it is to take into account that when I'm in a relationship with someone they are sort of a part of myself. I will go to quite some lengths to be with them. However, if being with them threatens another part of myself, sometimes the least damaging thing is to separate from them to protect the rest of me.
I didn't realise how much of a difference marriage made until I got engaged. I remember when I made the decision to propose to Alec (I knew that he wanted to marry me) I got a wonderful feeling of calmness. I think it was about me making the decision that yes, this was it, and from now on the question was not going to be 'do I want to be with this person' but 'how do we make this work'. I think it might be to do with my being a very indecisive person and disliking making decisions. People can waste their lives on indecision, unwilling to cut off possibilities until time cuts them all off for them. Getting married brought the relief that this was definitely the path we were taking, no doubts, no 'what ifs', now we can get on with living it. It solidified the shift from he and I to we.