How to “work at” a relationship

I had a dream last night. A lady encountered someone that had shopped for her, had a full load of “stuff”, I recall a rug hanging off the side. All money had been spent. Behind her was a completely empty, white room. I remember the bare wood floor was stunning. But there was no way to furnish the lady’s home, just someone else’s stuff.

Two words circled about the door behind the lady. “Pray more.”

This could have been about material things, or about faith.

What struck me, though, was how “Pray” means so much more than a specific religious practice. Praying, done correctly, is about a conversation, about listening more than speaking. Meditation, listening to one’s self, comes close. Praying to a deity must include listening both for what is in our heart as well as what meaning we are intended to receive.

That has to work in relationships as well, in just the same way. I was told an illustrative tale, that a businessman was tired and cranky when he got home, and distressed because his children plagued his time from his arrival until their bed time. A therapist suggested a break — immediately upon arrival, devote attention and time to the children, allowing them free and unlimited access to their father. According to the tale, the children greeted their father exuberantly, shared what they wanted — and proceeded to entertain themselves the rest of the evening. Everyone was happier, except now Dad doesn’t have the children’s nagging to define his evening, and he feels a bit neglected. At least at first. When he listened to his children and his own needs for his children, they all lived richer lives.

Praying to each other, sharing what we need to express but most heartily listening to our own hearts and the truth our partner needs us to hear, is tough. We live in a world of propaganda, of merchandising, of formal rhetoric where the prevalent form of communication is “I shout, you listen.” “Do as I say.” Mass media from broadcast radio, TV, and all forms of electronic and recorded music and sound and video are expressly uncaring about what is in our heart — unless the speaker intends to replace our inner truth with their “message.”

And that cannot work amongst people. Over Twitter, texting, chat boards, yep. Short, sweet shouts, trimmed of all but the most superficial meaning. We are so used to “shouts”, for too many of us with prayer in our religious life even prayer has become a shout-only exercise, a rote phrase spoken when prompted.

We read in historical novels and religious texts of prayers taking days or hours. Not because there is so much to say, but there is that much to hear, so much meaning from our hearts and our deity. How can it be different in a family? What if our children need hours each day in our company, not just for the skills and lore we guide them toward, but because it takes that much time to hear them, and for them to hear us? What if life partners need intimate hours to hear each other, apart from living a beep away from interruptions?

Old-timers recall when preparing meals was time consuming, and families were still used to thinking of themselves as being isolated from their neighbors, their community, their nation. Family dinner was the norm, everyone sat at table when food was served, and stayed until all finished. Conversations ranged over family topics — some present were heard, some not, families have always had to struggle with communications. But today we have schools scheduling activities in family time, and a school system preparing students for corporate — isolated individual careers based on corporate values, not community and family values of connection and cooperation. We have broadcast media treating us as audience members, and internet games and streams of information and entertainment that isolate us and distract us from our daily routines, and our contacts with living people.

What we need then, to work on a relationship, is to learn to listen and to hear what is in our hearts, and to hear as clearly as we can, what our loved ones tell us. And that takes time, and lots of practice. Banishing electronics from the area for hours at a time, while practicing, would not be amiss. And pray, more.

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Deserving affection, love, respect, and security

Natalie at Baggage Reclaim mentions “what we deserve, such as love, care, trust, and respect“. Her article, “What We Deserve Isn’t The Same As What Somebody Will Do” is, as usual, helpful and encouraging.

I wonder if “deserve” is the best relationship word for describing what each of us should have, for the best good of ourselves, our families — our children, friends, and communities. Every time one of us fails to receive all we should have of love, care, trust, respect — and discipline (the will to complete a task), a foundation of security — those we depend upon, and those around us, are each left with a bit less joy in their lives than might have been.

The word “deserve” might come close to describing how much we want the basics of common, unexceptional (and gloriously joyful) nurturing for one another.

But I don’t see a richness of a relationship falling short, just because, say, the waiter forgot part of my order. That isn’t what happens.

For biological reasons, and cultural backgrounds, some people would be better mates for any particular person. Of those possibles, some have the skills and temperament, time and interest, to include someone into their lives in a mutually satisfactory sharing. Thus, the love, care, trust, respect is exchanged, and overflows onto all around the happy people.

Some cultures have refined (restrictive) notions about mating, and mere rote attendance to those strictures will avoid much cultural conflict, and sometimes ripens into real caring and affection, perhaps even into joy. Others have no notion at all — only bad examples from dysfunctional families, peers, or modern media, and thus unlikely to share anything healthy. Most people fall in between — struggling to combine images from home, from friends and their communities, often only partially understood. Many people, from whatever background, find mostly satisfactory was to share their lives, make a family, and enrich their community.

Everyone should have love, care, trust, and respect. These aspects of nurturing enrich everyone around us. But often we have to make choices — some people we have to exclude from our lives, at whatever cost is required, and with others we have to struggle to develop a consensus about what love, care, trust, and respect will mean in our lives, and in the lives of those we embrace.

If anything, what we deserve, each of us, is the chance to choose to associate with people of good character, to embrace the positive values from homes, and challenge the people and notions that aren’t nurturing us. Each of us deserves the wisdom to recognize when a potential partner makes a mistake — or exhibits a significant character flaw.

Because every hurt weakens each of us. And none of us deserve that.

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Why to say no; he is not your daddy.

Natalie at Baggage Reclaim writes about Saying NO.

“Stop feeling bad about the possibility of saying NO! Its like going, “I feel bad that I can’t be your easy option” or “It’s terrible that you have to find someone else to mug off.” FLUSH!”

As children, we grew up hearing instructions and demands from our parents, dictums that shape our world and our lives, stories and explanations and directions that define right and wrong. Implied, but just as firmly learned, are the values of interactions — and our expected response. “Come to dinner.” “Put that down.” “Wash your hands.” Somewhere about the age of four or so, our world enlarges to include contradicting life stories. Toward puberty we learn to question some(!) of what our parents told us, and be begin to rely on peer values and our own (rapidly!) changing understandings of values and choices. We make, sometimes rash, declarations, “I will never make my children do that!” Or “I will never be that way!”

And there is the horror of hearing people lament, “Oh, no! I am turning into my mother/father!”

One of the firm messages that guide us through our childhood and into adulthood is that of obedience to authority. Daddy says, so we do it, or believe it. Most especially if Daddy lives it, we take this to be a firm truth of life.

When we come together as a couple, whether we believe we are just casually co-mingling our time and affections, whether we invest in “I have found my destiny/soul mate” swooning, or whether we choose an emotionally mature and engaged, responsible and honorable mate and co-parent prospect — we re-engage on our childhood subconscious roles. As we take on the relationship masks of lovers, we also invest in behavior we believe to be correct Mommy and Daddy behavior.

So we tend to project our partner, our date, into a role of authority — of becoming the “mommy” or “daddy” of the family we are building in our minds. All before we consciously choose whether this person we are beginning to depend upon is really suitable.

Saying “No” when part of the choosing process, or part of the process of becoming a couple (the start of the family that you want to bolster you for the rest of your life), the “No” is enormously appropriate. When “No” is part of manipulating someone’s behavior, it is either parenting, when that you are responsible for that person’s growth and development — or quite dishonorable, rude, and inappropriate. Choosing where you want to be, and who you want to be with, is a fundamental right, and something every adult deserves.

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What does a story matter?

Matt wrote, a couple of years ago, about Dealing with Negative Feelings and mass media on his blog, The Modern Savage.

Could watching a simple television show really have this much impact on one’s emotional state?

The thing is, this is story telling. A story, well told, will be remembered, it will touch the emotions — a story well told is art, it changes us.

Just a story, or song, or meeting with an acquaintance or someone we hadn’t known? Just a book, a magazine article?

You might as well say that a sermon, an expression of faith in spoken, written, or re-enacted form, in solid form of constructed, carved, or formed images and structures, won’t affect anyone’s life. These are stories. Attending worship together binds a community together with shared changes, shared experiences of . . stories.

Gangs and groups sharing social or work times — these are stories, as are the daily and extended interactions with each.

As I commented on Matt’s original post, one of the most common factors in divorce is living next door to a single person. A single person tells a different story with their lives, their choices of how to spend time, what to comment on (what they *see* and pay attention to, as opposed to what is visible), and who and why they associate with others. For a mated, married, handfasted, or other form of community-sanctioned expression of “family”, this “single” story is often discordant, and disrupts the focus of the familied couple and their home.

We walk a tangled path through life. At the same time our childhood brings many of us to consider a stable home (often with two adults as parents) to be “normal” and “family”, and something that we want in our lives, the stories of “shop around”, and “it didn’t work out” convince us that Karen Carpenter’s lament “Freedom only helps you say good-bye” is about frolicking about promiscuously — and not finding the foundation of a stable life in a mate and home and family.

Love is grand, love is good, and a shared, glorious sunset is a moment to treasure. But we have been storied so often that sexual attraction has anything to do with affection, devotion, and interest in a home and family, that this story and that send us every which way, on the tangled path through life.

We can, if we want to fulfill the drive to family that our culture and society grew up on, choose the stories, and story tellers, that we pay attention to in our lives. Those of us not coupled with a treasured partner should be listening to the family stories, and cherish the family storytellers. That isn’t the kind of story you find in an establishment that serves liquor, or cosmetics, or body alterations. Recreation *isn’t* the common value that holds a family together, not even recreational sex.

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NYTimes and Motherhood vs. Feminism

The New York Times today offers opinions on whether a woman can be both a mother and a feminist.

Ahem. I am neither, exactly. I am a guy, I have been a foster parent, and substitute school teacher. Parent, not so much. I am not, per se, a feminist, though I tend to deliberately choose a female doctor so that she doesn’t have only female patients, my name in the phone book is “B. xxx”, so that initials only aren’t always a woman’s name.

So, this is my opinion.

The problem with having to choose between a feminist agenda and professional life, and being a good parent, is that it perpetuates the artificial, corporate myth of modern so-called civilization.

Back when the industrial revolution started, those making money found it cheaper to bring folk into the manufacturing facility by day, pay a pittance, and send them home. Kids were put to work, or like those not on the payroll, sent away.

We still, most of us, assume that we should not be working where our kids are welcome, where our kids can learn life’s lessons working at Mom’s (or Dad’s) elbow. And we think this is “getting ahead”. Or a healthy way to live. We still think that our kids have nothing to contribute to our work, or that work we cannot do with our children present is healthy for us, our families, or our community.

That is the problem that I see.

Should any parent’s choice of profession be allowed to interfere with raising their children? Yep. Soldiers, prison guards. Emergency workers.

If you are concerned about the ongoing decline in energy availability (peak oil), in climate change or the ongoing economic crisis of debt, then there is the compelling challenge of finding a career and life style based on food, energy and resources that are available locally. But that is another story. I contend, though, that the modern, dysfunctional approach to life on corporate terms isn’t, um, sustainable.

The reclusive Amish feel that the farm is the right place to raise a family (children). The parents are always working, always near, the work can easily be expanded to include every child, and children know their work and what they learn is important to the health and welfare of their family. Even the youngest child sent out to help gather eggs before breakfast. Their culture has persisted and grown for a very long time, since about the time of Martin Luther’s Reformation.

I think the pairing of expectations of motherhood with “home bound” is unfortunate, as is “work for adults cannot include children”. I think what I understand of feminism’s original mandate, that barring women from any aspiration, was needed, and is appropriate. But I think we need to look deeper, to find meaningful work that enlarges the family, the parents, the community, and our children, all at the same time.

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The worth of sexy lives

A while back Crunchy Chicken (“Putting the mental in environmental”) posted about Skinny vs. curvy ideal. A recent commenter states:

Curvy is sexy.

Obesity is not.

Thin is sexy.

Underweight is not.

Thin or curvy doesn’t have much to do with the worth of a person, unless, of course, you are selling the body. This commenter seems to be using ‘sexy’ as ‘worth lots of money’ and obesity as ‘no one would pay much for that’.

Sex is important among adults sharing an intimate lifetime. Otherwise, only the fashion, advertising, booze, and other body-selling industries should be worried about the money to be made off a particular body shape.

When the person is important, then it is the way the person lives, the competence, and the respect of others that has been earned that matters. In a shared intimate life partner, compassion and emotional availability and emotional health are critical. I figure the single most important feature of a person is the smile. A potential partner attracted to bodies is at risk of being distracted by other bodies down the road.

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Love on Earth Day

I get four of these random quotes, most ironic or sarcastic, or humorous (“there is no humor without pain”), a few true gems. This is humorous, and not a ‘gem’, I think.

Matt Groenwald’s explanation of love seems cynical. “Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.”


I am coming to view the difference between a long term relationship and a marriage/handfasting, as one of identity, and community. For the most part, one’s role in the community, one’s identity, changes when you partake of that community event, where the community is presented with a new entity, a family — a couple. That it is the community interaction that redefines who the community sees, as that individual vows to honor community standards and responsibilities. Most wider communities have different responsibilities and opportunities for those formally invested as “family member” than as individuals. Yes, there are some informal communities of individuals. Communities that include the “informal” economy not measured in cash, though, such as neighbors, parents, spouses, schools (non-tuition), grandparents, gardens, play, etc. are made of families, for the most part. Single parenthood is a fringe participation role, as the parent bond is recognized as family, yet the spouse bond isn’t there.

One of the single most common correlations in divorce seems to be living next door to a single adult, thus community wariness of adults that haven’t formally invested in community recognition of bonds to family. Singles are an indirect risk to family stability of the community around them.

While Cosmo focuses on commitment as intent and investment between individuals, I think the relevant aspect of marriage and forming a shared life is the combined dedication of a couple to their community and commitment to form a family.

Enjoy Earth Day!

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Saying, “It is over”

The “Friends” TV show played a re-run the other day. For one reason or another, the guy couldn’t bring himself to break up with the girl.

I wanted to scream.

The thought kept running through my head, “Tell her.”

Tell her that you want her to have a love and shared life that is amazing and wonderful.

But you don’t want to be part of her life.

By rights, everyone should be ready to make the choice to end a courtship, to stop being “a couple”. Everyone should be disappointed, but ready to respect a partner-prospect that makes the choice to change their mind.

Choosing to take a life partner must begin with the first contacts, with the first information gathered about the prospect. The entire period leading up to standing before the community and assuming the role of family and life partners must be one of confirmation. We must confirm that this person we are courting is acceptable. And we must respect ourselves and our partner if we find trouble accepting who they are, and who we are when we are with them.

Breaking up changes us. It changes our community, it affects how we are perceived in the community and how our partner is perceived. That cannot be as important, as knowing that the one we choose for life partner and co-parent is going to build a good home with us, is going to make a good home for us and our children.

Values change, over time, as circumstances change and as we mature. But the underlying ethics and morals won’t, barring traumatic events. Worry, fear, or disgust over another’s choices can and should be danger signals, signs that change is needed. Change such as examining the underlying reasons for those choices; if understanding doesn’t bring respect then a question arises; are you engaged with a person you are ready to share your life with?

If you find someone else is intriguing, is occupying your thoughts and dreams — then two things are clear. First, you are not ready to court, you aren’t involved in confirming a choice of prospective life mate, you have already chosen no. “Settling down” is not an either-or choice. It is a “Is this where I long to be?” yes or no choice. Second, if there are multiple “candidates” then you are dating for social recreation, not choosing a life partner. Many choose this kind of social life; few are rewarding people to make a “long term relationship” with that will last the generations.

Live, love, and prosper.

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Avoid the disreputable.

The girl with a future avoids a man with a past.

According to the Quotations Page, Evan Esar (1899-1995) was an American humorist. He wrote “Esar’s Comic Dictionary” 1943, was editor of “The Dictionary of Humorous Quotations” 1949, and of “20,000 Quips and Quotes” 1968.

This pithy statement recalls language of America’s past. A man with a past is taken to mean not just a reputation, but a reputation for ill deeds and relationships. Ill repute was one phrase used then. And, yes, even before women’s liberation, men were entirely capable of achieving, and being tarred with, a bad reputation.

Of course, in this context, a girl (woman) with a future is assumed to mean a future successful marriage, with a life-long husband and well behaved children to her honor.

Is this word from the distant past, maybe 70 years ago, useful? Does it still apply?


Avoid is a strong word. Some religions practice formal shunning, many communities and groups practice avoiding problem members informally. We all practice avoiding dangerous situations . . and dangerous people. We need to be aware of those people and situations around us, and remain vigilant to avoid what we should avoid. At the same time, when we learn about the facts of situations, we may find that returning to school might be a good thing, rather than something to avoid. That a different racial type might not be enough reason to avoid a community or an individual.

Avoiding danger is something we do to survive danger. But our lives are safer and more fulfilling if we are diligent in identifying what to avoid, and what to stop avoiding.

A future

Whether your future includes marriage, handfasting, or a long term relationship, for the most part one requires a partner. To have a bright future, that partner must be suitable to share that future.

Many think that personality — character — is formed in early ages, maybe by age 4, maybe age 7 years. So looking at a life partner prospect’s past is a reliable indicator of the kind of person you are looking at today. Predicting how life experiences, including exposure to one’s illustrious self, will affect that person in the future, is really tough. Their intent, your good will, and the intrusion of life’s joys and terrors will all have their way with that partner. But there will be some things that remain.

Honesty, honor — these can be nurtured. Respect, a joyful nature, these can be lost, but seldom found if not already present. Resort to escapes, brutality, and exploiting others, these might be tempered, but probably not. Someone practiced at winning bed partners, this life skill is a winning tactic for perpetual dating, not for a secure shared life companion.

What the old guy said is limiting today. Today a woman doesn’t think of a bright future only as a marriage and children. Every adult needs a shared life companion with a good reputation — and to avoid those with a past that isn’t likely to mean a happy ending.

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Don’t trust . . Instant attraction. Sometimes.

NML discusses instant attraction, at The BR topic is that instant attract, “spark” isn’t reliable for telling whether a relationship will work out. And if you rely on the spark, you close yourself off from many possibly great relationships. It is important to follow the spark — but be realistic as you discover the person behind the spark. If you give someone without the spark a try, be realistic if the spark should emerge later.

What Natalie describes as “spark” is very useful at a party or a bar, when you might be looking for someone interesting for a quick conversation, to touch bases with. This is related to your hormones, not your awareness of your self, your needs, or your situation. Or even awareness of the object of your desires as an actual person with needs and agendas of their own.

For a long term relationship in a real world family and community, you need to combine real world family and community evaluations, to make a better choice. Be ready to embrace someone you already know (and respect), but be ready, too, to turn away from someone that turns out to be unsuitable.

Chemistry or spark, whatever you call it, can happen nearly anytime, with many people. Partners suitable for and interested a shared life are harder to identify, and mis-identity can be most costly in lost opportunities and lost joy and comfort.

I think there are three “stages” of love ( has a good description of the hormone storms attached to each stage,
o Lust, or erotic passion (animal level, intended to preserve the species),
o Attraction, or romantic passion (and power struggles, as we try to envision our partner as an ideal image, and struggle with nagging reality. Also disrupts sleep, daydreams, etc.)
o Attachment, or commitment. Love for the long haul. Idealizing your partner at *this* stage, and not before, tends to strength and lengthen relationships.

I might summarize these stages as excitement, adapting (change is always uncomfortable), and satisfied.

The choice, then, is whether you choose a dance (that instant spark, that excitement with someone new), or a satisfying shared life. Do you choose the flashy dancer, or the partner suited for, and interested in, the long haul? They usually aren’t the same people.

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