While working on a collaborative presentation with a friend and colleague recently we were reflecting on the non-traditional nature of our relationship. You see, we’d dated for over a year, quite enjoyably. We aren’t dating now. But there wasn’t ever really a “breakup.” Nor was there a “fading away.” We actually care for each other more than ever now, I think.
I’m not going to even try to take any kind of credit for this – my other relationships have usually followed the traditional narrative and there’s nothing to say that I have any inherent skills in that area. It would be so nice if I could take this one particular instance and figure out what made it work…
When we talked about it, we decided that part of the reason came from some time we spent at the very beginning of the relationship defining our goals. Sometimes these are blatantly spoken: I’m looking to start a family. I’m just looking for someone to have fun with. I want a dancing partner. Sometimes the problems with relationships occur because they are never spoken, but only assumed. What do you mean you never want to have children? You can’t quit your job, we need the money! I was never planning on us spending the rest of our lives here…
In our case, we had a single goal: to be a positive force in helping each other achieve our dreams. That was it.
Letting the Flux Mellow
We live thousands of miles apart, with many other responsibilities and connections, and so over the course of the relationship the times we could be physically together were precious. While we made use of many technological marvels like pen, paper, and the USPS to maintain contact, there were other draws on our attention, crises that were frustratingly difficult to support each other through, and droughts of attention.
And there were those things that normally break up relationships. Miscommunications, passions waxing and waning, health issues, other people coming into lives. What was it that let us change from hot couple to loving colleagues with a minimal of bump?
She claims that at a certain point, when there was some big change coming along and we didn’t know what to do about it, I’d suggested that we do nothing. That instead of trying to control the changes that were happening, instead of reacting to them, we just watch things as they changed, let them roll and eventually subside and then decide what to do about it. Apparently (because I don’t remember this) I phrased it as “Allowing the flux to mellow.”
What does that look like? We believe it lies in recognizing that the changing relationship didn’t need to be “fixed” or spelled out, or labeled, or even “established” as something particular. Rather, it could be allowed to be what it was, and recognized as that thing. Above all, by keeping the original goal in mind, it became easy to look at any action and ask Does this help my partner achieve their dream? The right action to take was always readily evident.
The moral of the story was summed up by her beautifully: if you don’t want to end up like the pre-packaged relationships media tries to sell us, “don’t try to fit in a box. Work together to build a box that fits.”