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What we talk about when we talk about relationships
A few months ago, a friend and I were talking about relationships when she said, "I could never date someone who doesn't fight with me."
I didn't think much of it then, but on the drive back, I realized her statement was pretty profound.
A few years ago, my idea of a great relationship was one where there were no arguments, no anger, no annoyance, no powerful currents of emotion.
Fights are the opposite of that. Fights are full of anger, frustration, sadness, childhood traumas, and strong currents of emotion.
Why would anybody **want** their partner to fight with them?
I've learned that having fights isn't necessarily good. But not having fights is a sign of something bad.
Healthy couples fight.
I don't want a relationship with drama or terrible, angry fights. I don't want a relationship predicated on the absurd idea you hear in teenage love stories that obsessive, emotional behavior is a sign of deep love.
But, I do want a relationship filled with deep pockets of joy, determination, playful banter, and growth.
And to do that, I want to learn to fight well.
When you're new, fights are difficult. It's a skill to learn.
Something as innocuous as you accidentally putting the pickle jar in the fridge without a cap can become a fight of gargantuan proportions. A two hour saga that somehow includes random bits of your personal histories like that mean thing your grade teachers once said to you about your slovenly attitude.
When you get good, a fight can be simple - an even-keeled discussion about conflicting values.
The big difference between a bad fighter and a good fighter is that a good fighter knows the underlying secret behind all problems with a compatible relationship.
That is, most problems people have in a compatible relationship are because they're avoiding thinking about the relationship's death.
It's only natural that when we get into a good relationship, we fear its death.
We fear that sad, sad moment when after yelling and a round of tears, you look at the person you once loved and can't recognize them anymore. Their mouth looks jagged and crooked. Their once gorgeous eyes are now sagging, baggy, and devoid of light. Everything about them is a foreign land you once knew well—a place you once loved.
Whatever you once had, the ability to giggle together in the little moments between grocery runs is now gone.
You look at the other person and ask, "Who are you?"
It's a scary fear—one of the scariest. Losing the person we love the most is a special death—a death where we lose them and ourselves.
It's such a scary feeling that we all employ the unique personalized tricks we picked up in childhood to avoid the fear, like pulling away, acting out, or collapsing into numbness.
Slowly killing the relationship allows us to look back and say, "see, it was meant to be doomed." It allows us to think there is something else more perfect to save us.
Killing a relationship means it relinquishes its power over us. Maybe it's because we fear the fear of death more than the death itself.
In many of these situations, it's not the other that disappoints us but ourselves.
When we were young, we hoped to be saved from ourselves. We hoped that a relationship would change us somehow; through love, we'd be transformed. Like a beast turned a man or a sleeping princess fully awakening to the beauty of the world.
We thought of love as a changing. But maturity is realizing that in a relationship, ironically, the opposite happens.
Love is a deeper being.
At its heart, a relationship is about two things: learning to be seen by another and learning to see another.
To be seen over the long term, we must allow ourselves to display a deeper layer of the onion each time. To continue seeing over the long term, we must learn to have new eyes.
Through a relationship, we become more of ourselves.
Which is....tough. Because this means to sustain a relationship, it's not as important to work on the relationship. It's not enough to get deeper, closer, and stronger with the other. We must do the same with ourselves.
Our own transformation is the bottleneck in the relationship.
When we come across our partner doing something prickly, when they surprise us, when we predict how much of our authenticity they will/won't take, we're not protecting the relationship. We're protecting ourselves.
When we think things like, "oh, I can't admit that they'll get mad," we're protecting our own feelings of discomfort. We're protecting our own peace.
We're still holding to the childlike belief that a great relationship (and a great life) is one without conflict.
But as it becomes clear as we age, it's not that uncomfortable emotions like anger or fights that portend the doom of a relationship. It's weariness. It's a deep tiredness.
When you are too tired to fight, you're too tired to be yourself.
And a relationship in which you have to contort yourself into some version you think the person will like isn't a sustainable relationship.
Ironically, trying hard to create a happy relationship prevents you from getting one.
Being willing to be surprised, make them mad, and feel their annoying idiosyncrasies is what allows us to experience a deeper relationship.
Because when we do that, we are with them, not some idealized version of them we have in our heads that we hope they manifest into.
Delighting in your partner sits uncomfortably close to allowing them to disturb you.
The deepest love is anti-fragile. It grows from the little frustrations and bumps and sadness and value clashes.
This doesn't mean you should find someone that creates drama. But rather, you must create a life that's a little bumpy so you avoid huge waves.
Because it's only when we notice and learn to love the abyss, that we can enjoy the moments before we fall into it.