Relationships– whether between partners, two friends, or a mom and her son– are complicated. Conflicts will inevitably arise. Part of being your own separate person with distinct thoughts, beliefs, and ways of seeing the world means that you won’t always see eye to eye with others.
The following entry explores some of these complexities. Some passengers in their teen years and early 20s, for example, seemed to be realizing for the first time that adult relationships come with their own sets of preoccupations and stresses, and that they are not the panacea or the effortless cure-all that popular culture might have you believe.
Another passenger talked about the difficulty of maintaining close ties with his family when they had such black and white ideas of right versus wrong.
Also on the line-up: a man from New Brunswick, Canada on the experience of growing up with six siblings, the performative bulls*** that gets in the way of authentic connection, and a girl’s vision for the therapeutic equivalent to a one-night stand.
On Loving Your Not Carbon Copy
When looking for a partner, how important is it to find a person who’s had identical experiences to you? How necessary do you feel this is for mutual understanding, and therefore deeper closeness? Passenger Lana’s* story brings these questions to mind.
I overhear her telling her friend the following: “The other day my girlfriend said after an argument, ‘I still disagree with you but I understand why you think that way given the life you’ve had.’”
Rather than console her, these words made Lana sad–by shining light on the distance between them, created by their disparate life experiences.
“And it made me feel like that distance was always going to be there, that there was nothing I could do about it. Or like the only thing I could do would be to re-write our pasts to make the experiences align; so we’d be more on the same wavelength in terms of beliefs, values, thoughts, all that.”
She pauses to sip from her Jamba Juice smoothie.
“Since I couldn’t do that, I was like fuck, I guess I just really have to sit with this shitty feeling. It’s not going to go away. Because the present reality isn’t going to change.”
Lana thinks it’s important to have gone through similar experiences as the person you’re dating. Otherwise, there will always be an ever-present gulf dividing you. You and your partner can seek to bridge it with words, but in her mind these words can only ever be an intellectual surrogate for the visceral, empathic ‘I’ve lived through this’ understanding that holds people together like glue.
She wonders aloud whether, if that flimsy surrogate bridge between her and another is all she can hope for or count on, is she better off alone then?
I think about a couple I once knew who, though the two had been through markedly different experiences, seemed to have a very deep bond.
After minor arguments they’d taken to the ritual of picking up and putting on the other’s pair of glasses. The visual reminder took them out of their heads, knocking down the self-righteous walls they’d built between each other. It automatically reinstated their connection.
That said: I’m not sure if we need our exact carbon copy. Maybe we just need someone with an open heart who wants to know us. They may not have the exact same past as us but they immerse themselves in our retellings, thereby living through it with us vicariously. Maybe the openness, willingness, and intention are what’s most important.
Q: What do you fight about? / How do fights start?
“When one of us wants attention but the other wants space. When our needs align at the same time, it’s like magic–but when they don’t it’s combustion. I think we’re both really trying though. That’s all you can really do.”
–A 20-something male about his current relationship
One Session Stand
“I do better on those websites where they put you in touch with a different therapist every time– a totally neutral person who knows nothing about your history or your baggage. And then you never talk to them again. It takes away that pressure. You don’t have to face the disappointment when your expectations are let down or you fall short of theirs. It’s the emotional equivalent of a one-night stand, I guess. Well, in the daylight.”
–A girl who’s just gotten out of therapy, to her friend in the backseat.
My Six Sibs and Me
“It can make things a little more hectic obviously. Resources are spread more thin. But it also has its positives. Like it diffuses conflict, the fact that the emphasis can never be just on one person.”
Passenger Johnny is talking about the positive and negative aspects of growing up in a family with six other siblings (three older, two younger) in New Brunswick, Canada.
“With so many different perspectives there isn’t ever a single ‘right’ or a single ‘wrong.’ I think we learned to compromise. We were forced to challenge each other— instead of just all unanimously agreeing.”
After a pause: “It’s funny, the youngest sibling’s kind of an amalgamation of all of us…”
Tired of the Bullsh**
“It’s not that I don’t like people. Or that I’m not curious about them. It’s that I don’t like the bullshit. The facades we create that we’re supposed to perform, the script we have to follow. There’s a lot of that out there—bullshit, I mean—which makes it tempting to just say, ‘Fuck it,’ and put on some PJs and curl up at home with a book and your favorite fucking food and your cat who sometimes plays hard to get but at least his shit’s easier to clean up than the stuff that’s human-made.”
–An older butch lesbian, to her male friend in the backseat (both seem slightly inebriated)
When Past Goggles Warp Present Vision
When the girl with blue hair gets in, my car begins to smell like a beauty parlor (she’s just gotten a manicure). I don’t mind this, especially since it chases out the car’s previous scent of McDonald’s (from an Uber Eats delivery order).
One or two times during our conversation I look back and wonder why Cherie* is sitting like an attentive pupil—posture straight, arms extended directly in front of her, hands resting gently against her knees–then remember her nails are still drying.
Twenty minutes in I’ve learned that she’s been in and out of rehab; that she grew up in the desert southwest (“I love desert hikes! They’re so calming,” I say in response. See my entry on driving Lyft in California desert towns here: https://bit.ly/3p1ZMv2); and that she plays in a blues band. Talk turns to her recent break-up with the boyfriend she’d moved to California with.
Though they had both seemingly tried to work on their relationship before ending it, “I felt like I was making all these changes, but he kept responding the way he always had,” Cherie explains.
I reflect on why this is. I wonder if it’s that sometimes people just feel permanently defeated by the past. Maybe for Greg* (her boyfriend), the past carried too much weight. Repeated negative experiences eroded his ability to see the present with fresh eyes.
Half of mending a relationship requires changing your own behavior, but the other half— the part that lies outside your control—requires the other’s person’s willingness to accept these changes in you, adopt a new lens, and let go of the past to the extent that they can.
Cherie felt that Greg wasn’t doing that. And she had spent too much time wondering, “Are we building something? Or are we just spinning our wheels?” So after a certain point, she made the decision to move on.
“There were other reasons for that too,” she acknowledges. “Like I realized we shared few core values.”
For example, Cherie was passionate about advocating for the rights of marginalized groups; Greg was indifferent. She was steadfast in believing that sometimes, government intervention is necessary; he was a stubborn defender of personal freedom and his right to live as he chose. She loved food; he just ate to live.
“I think I always sort of knew this,” she admits. “But I was hoping through…loving me I guess, he’d slowly adopt some of my values Like, he’d come around. Not a solid thing to hope for.”
The ride leaves off on a somewhat hopeful note:
“Love is easy, but making a long-term relationship work isn’t,” Cherie says before getting out of the car. “And way too many people just don’t want to do that work. I’m not one of them. And I know there’s someone out there who’s willing to put the same effort in that I am.”
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Nails– Jimmy Nails and Spa (Facebook Page)