Better relationships don’t have to come at the cost of so many, many bad ones. If we could actually teach good relationship skills…
One night recently, I was playing Pokémon at a nearby Pokéstop-heavy area (perfect for lures!). I ended up hanging out with a bunch of 25-ish guys (and one lady) who were all a little drunk.
One of them (let’s call him Tom) was whining and complaining about his girlfriend, who is, in his words, a “nagging bitch”.
Now, being surrounded by young men all agreeing, I kept my inner feminist more or less in check. I didn’t feel it was going to go well if I did. But I did ask him: “why are you with her if you hate her so much?”
Basically: she’s really slutty; “limber like a gymnast”, as his gay roommate explained. He’s with her for the sex, but can’t be honest about it with her. There was much slut shaming, the boys calling her, of course, “slut” and “whore” and “pig”. (This made me more angry than anything else.)
Now, I don’t know the girl. She may not be perfect, she may enjoy sex, but she deserves better than to be used by this guy. I know—this girl to be me, too, once upon a time.
When my anger and frustration at seeing young men acting so… un-feministy, it made me wonder: these people receive sexual education in school. They know how to not get STIs or unplanned pregnancies. They know basic stuff about anatomy and maybe even the phases of arousal. But do they know about having strong, healthy relationships? Do they understand the importance of meaningful intimacy with others? Can they see when relationships are inappropriate or abusive?
It seemed to me like all these boys thought it was acceptable, even normal for them to have these quasi-exploitative relationships. It seemed to them normal that Tom would only want to be with his girlfriend because of the sex, and that all her nagging and female needs and wanting to hang out with him were inconveniences when Tom didn’t want sex.
(I’m no Latinist, so propinquitas is the best word I could find for “intimacy” or “relationship”, as far as this context goes. Please excuse my bad Latin if you happen to know more of it, and suggest a better word.)
Humans are social animals. Few of us can handle a life with no other human contact at all. Isolation is considered a form of torture. But relationships are fraught with drama, problems, miscommunications. Relationships can break your heart, break your mind, break your body. No wonder sometimes we all wish we could be all alone in the world, even if just for a few minutes, just so we could taste the peace of a life unencumbered by others.
But after a while, we all need to be in contact with others. We need someone to speak to, someone who will listen to us, but also something we can listen to and who will speak to us. We need to see and be seen; we need to be affirmed and reflected through the actions and words of others.
And yet here we are, blindly groping in the dark and holding on to any bit of relationship that appears our way… A hot, slutty girl that we secretly hate. A boy who gives us attention only to ignore us five minutes later. You can imagine your own version of a terrible relationship—I have plenty I could throw your way, but everyone has their story.
So, we go ahead, especially in young adulthood, grasping anyone who’ll give us anything that resembles a relationship.
Because so few of us even know what a good, functional relationship looks like.
Let us teach better relationships
How to have satisfying, functional and intimate relationships is probably as essential as literacy or numeracy. Your entire life will be marked by the people you meet, the people you befriend, the people you love. They will make or break your marriage(s), your job(s), your social circle(s) and community(ies).
We need to learn how to relate to others in healthy ways, not just in functional ways.
And if I was the one working on sexual education policy in my province, I would fight to add not only consent education (which they have done in Ontario) but also relationship education.
Because we all need to be a little better at a few things:
- Communicating clearly
- Listening with attention
- Dropping assumptions
- Expressing our feelings without blame
- Seeing others as people with their own lives, feelings, goals, and challenges
- Understanding the difference between compromise and sacrifice
- Not letting past hurt influence present connections
- Being vulnerable with others
- … and so many, many others
Unless you have excellent parents who have modelled a functional, healthy relationship, most of us are thrown in the world of sex, dating and relationships pretty much on our own, often doomed to repeat our parents’ own potentially dysfunctional patterns. Pushed out of the nest without so much as a “good luck”, many of us crash down a few times before we finally learn to fly.
But is all the pain really necessary? Couldn’t we get a better start, a healthier start, by getting at least a few pointers during childhood and adolescence?
Better relationships, better life
Nine years in a mostly dysfunctional relationship showed me that yes, bad relationships can nearly destroy you. And wonderful, beautiful, functional, loving relationships can lift you up and expand your horizons further than you ever could imagine.
If we all learned to relate to each other more mindfully and kindly, there would be fewer broken hearts, fewer broken marriages… fewer broken souls. I see so many people enter the kink and/or polyamorous community after spending years in abusive or unhealthy relationships, wishing they had known that there were other, healthier ways to relate to friends, partners, lovers.
Buddhists like to say that “time flies like an arrow”. We do not have time to waste on things that bring us suffering, on judging others, on meaningless endeavours. We do not have time to waste on people who cannot, who will not, accept to relate to us in healthier ways.
I, for one, will no longer give in to manipulation, to guilt, to settling for less than what I deserve.
I want people who are skilled at relationships, because I want to be skilled at relationships. I want people who are self-aware, who can express their feelings clearly and without blame, who can see me for who I am and who accept me for who I am. I want a life filled with people I can trust, people I can love, people I can open up to and be intimate with. Friendships, loverships: both are intimate in their different ways.
I want people who open up to me and let me see them too. I want to help you be yourself, not change you to fit my idea of what a person should be. And you shouldn’t want to change me either, because I’m perfect as I am.
I want people who will live their relationships with me as fresh and new, rather than repeat old patterns that always inevitably lead to heartache. I want honest, mindful, kind people who not only apologize for their mistakes, but also learn from them and make changes to be better—not only for me, but for everyone around them too.
I want a better life. I want better relationships. Because the two are inextricably linked.