Saturday, November 08, 2014

How would you describe a healthy romantic relationship?

I was just asked how I would describe a healthy romantic relationship. taimproblem doesn't ask me any easy questions, now does he?

There are people who think romantic relationships are an entirely different animal from friendships; that the two cannot coexist with one another. This is a thing that proponents of the 'ladder theory' ascribe to - that you are either friend material or relationship material, not both. I think that's bullshit, personally. Friendship is the very foundation of relationships, to me. Without it, sure it may be POSSIBLE to build a romantic relationship, but it's gonna be mighty rickety and unstable.

There are people who think romantic relationships - the good ones - are all about finding 'that person that completes you'. As if. As if you are a partial being; 50% of a whole before you cleave to another person. If that were the case, every ending would leave you torn and bleeding out. It may feel so, but you will heal. You will not die from lack of another, however much you may wish you would for a time after the end. No, a really good relationship isn't about finding 'your other half' but finding another whole person that, when their 100% is added to your 100%, makes the two of you more than 200%. There are many perfectly fine relationships that 100 + 100 = 200, and that is fine, but to me, the best ones are always more than that. And never, never settle for a relationship in which 100 + 100 < 200. Either you are losing part of yourself in the process, or they are, and neither are good.

In my experience - both personally lived and vicariously observed - a healthy romantic relationship starts with friendship and trust and respect. If you don't trust them, all the love in the world won't let you relax into their arms completely; you'll always be looking for the cliff, the knife, or the betrayal. If you don't respect them, how can you value their opinions - including those about yourself and how they feel about you? It all works the other way around, as well. If they don't trust and respect you, how can a relationship possibly exist in any meaningful way?

Friendship, trust, and respect. There's your base. But there are plenty of friends that you can trust and whom you respect but for whom there is no romantic attachment, so what else? This part gets murkier. Everyone seems to have different opinions on what should or should not be considered, but I'll give you my particular view on it here.

I can tell that I'm 'in love' with someone in a romantic way via a bit of a macabre fantasizing. You recall how I said you wouldn't die from an ending, but that you might wish you would? I know that I do, and that's my test. When I think I've 'fallen' for someone, I take some time to think about what it would feel like if they suddenly died. If, for some reason, they were laid out before me and I knew that I would never again feel their arms around me again, never again feel their breath against my neck while we were cuddling, never again hear their voice saying my name - how would I react? In every case where I've really been in love with someone and had strong romantic feelings for them, my reaction is immediate tears and a feeling of tearing pain in my heart.

Romantic love is very much like friendship love, but more so. I trust my dearest friends; I trust them with my heart, my mind, my fortune. My beloveds I trust with my body and with my life. I may be perfectly okay with random cuddles with close friends, but I don't expect it. With romantic partners, I expect cuddling and physical intimacy as a matter of course. To be clear, I am NOT talking about sexual intimacy here. I'm talking about the fleeting hand on the shoulder as you pass by the chair the other is sitting in; the kiss pressed to top of the head as you pass in the hallway; the casual leaning against one another while watching a movie. All of these things could be absolutely okay in a strictly-friends sort of relationship, but they're not as likely to be expected parts of everyday interaction.

My friends all know about my health conditions, including most of the ways they might need to step in should things go south. My romantic partners must know all the ins and outs of my health and how they must step in when I cannot advocate for myself. Even the people I'm closest to (but not romantically entangled with) don't know everything about what is going on in my life - there are just some physical things that you don't want to share with someone unless there is a particular level of intimacy shared between you already. When I finish a shower and my blood pressure is bottoming out and my heart rate is skyrocketing, I'm shaky and pale and parts of me are turning funny colors. My friends may know that this happens, but only people that I've got a higher level of physical intimacy with are going to see me sitting on the side of the tub, clutching the wall as I try not to pass out when they bring me a glass of cold water and sit there to watch me until I'm steady again.

So this all details what I think is part of a romantic relationship, but what makes it a healthy one?

It goes back to that same base again. Are you friends? That is, no kidding, a question to ask periodically. I've had a romantic relationship last longer than the friendship it was based on, and it was not a healthy relationship anymore once I realized I wouldn't be friends with this person if we met then. Do you have enough in common to bond over? Enough difference that you aren't stepping all over each other constantly? Do you respect each other? Not just respect each other as people, but - on the whole - respect their decisions, actions, and dreams? You don't have to agree with them all, but you should at least respect their ability to make these choices for themselves. Do you trust each other? Do you trust them not to hurt you? Do you trust them to stand up for you when you can't stand up for yourself?

That is the heart of romantic relationships, for me. Love, certainly, but without a solid base of friendship, trust, and respect, the love doesn't carry you very far.

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