At the beginning of any new human interaction, there tends to be plenty of optimism and enthusiasm in the mix. It’s as true of new friendships and business connections as it is of new romance. We see the possibilities. There may well be a release of bodily chemicals to support a bonding process, and that in turn can give us a rose tinted view of pretty much everything. Eventually, this honeymoon period ends, and perceptions may start to change.
Were we putting on an act to look good? Perhaps we can’t keep that up any more, or think we can get away with making less effort. Did we see everything we wished to see and not what was really there? Are we now practicing transference and putting our own failings onto the other person? Do we even like them? Do they like us? In romantic relationships, the initial tides of lust can make us oblivious to everything other than the physical. Then one day it may suddenly become evident that the hot body we’d been so enamoured of goes along with an all too cold mind.
When you start a relationship of any shape, you have no idea what you’ll get. Not only do both parties bring their personalities and pretences to the table, they also bring beliefs, ideas, preferences and intentions – most of which the other person cannot see. All of this can change over time. Some people grow closer over time, others pull off in different directions. There should be no shame in letting go and moving on when any of that turns out to be in issue. Trying to bind people together for always can be a bloody nightmare.
So here I am, on my fourth wedding anniversary. That Tom is still here is a surprise to me – I don’t tend to assume people will choose to stay. But here he is, sat across the table from me sorting out his own morning jobs. This afternoon, we have a celebratory adventure planned, and an expression of commitment. I have not, in the last four years, turned into someone it was difficult to live with. All the horrible, demanding, unreasonable attributes others have identified in me do not seem to exist in this relationship, which is interesting because as far as I can tell, I am mostly who I have always been.
I used to be a solitary, antisocial sort of person, only able to cope with people if I also had plenty of time to myself. Since Tom landed, a bit over four years ago, we’ve spent remarkably few hours apart. He’s incredibly easy to be around. This has also surprised me. I don’t think it represents any kind of change in me at all, just that we fit together very neatly. That we can work and play together and be on good terms, co-operative and happy in each other in an ongoing way is not, to be honest, something I had ever expected any relationship to deliver. It probably helped that we were friends and creative collaborators for years before that developed into this. We knew each other before the curious chemistry of desire got in to tinker with our perceptions.
Our culture is full of stories about what relationships between people are supposed to look like. The same gender best friend, the romantic partner, the battle of wills marriage and all the rest of it. All too often we try to fit what’s around us into the story shapes we carry. That can be misleading, and downright unhelpful. Only when you let go of how you think it’s going to be, can you start to find out how it actually is. Sometimes, that can be delightfully surprising.