Thursday, November 8, 2012

Relationship Parable

This column ran last spring in a few places, but I kind of lost track of it since it ran during my transition from part time columnist to full time novelist. The timeline stuff was accurate in spring when I wrote the column and this was supposed to be the first part of a several part series on relationship parables, which I might still end up writing to post here.


Not the moving service we used, but close enough.

In case you’ve noticed the absence of a column from me in awhile (or a blog post for that matter), let me tell you a little story about relationships…

I’ve been living with my girlfriend for a couple years now. About eight months ago, I relocated with her from Orange County California to Orange County Florida. Anyone who has tried to move somewhere with someone, you know that aside from the primary function of relocating all your things, moving also seems designed to causes stress, fights, and costs a ton of money. Since my girlfriend and I are both very thrifty women, the costs only added to the stress and fights.

We survived the cross country move but then, at the beginning of March, we moved across town from an apartment to a house, which caused one of the rarest and most intense kind of fights a couple can have, the dreaded:  we’re moving out, so we don’t have to worry about our neighbors hearing our argument. In an empty apartment, we had a proper screaming at each other match. That’s not entirely accurate, technically, she was screaming at me, and I was intentionally getting under her skin in a much quieter way. From the outside, it probably sounded like she was screaming me silly without response, but let me say, I am a master of messing with people without seeming like I’m messing with people. If I ever had an argument with myself, I would probably end up slapping the hell out of me. To my girlfriend’s credit, she only yelled.

Ah, traditional marriage.

We’ve been together for several years, known each other even longer, and we’ve never had a fight like this. More specifically, she’s never had the out of control reaction she had, and it scared the hell out of her that she was able to get so angry. The combination of stress from moving, the huge amount of money we were spending, and her need to take on absolutely every responsibility she can get a hold of, finally caught up with her, and then I started needling her with bitchy comments because I’d felt like she hadn’t listened to me enough that day. I totally earned the screaming at, and I told her so, but that didn’t make her feel better since she was a little freaked out about the rage reaction.

As women, we’re socialized to internalize our anger. We’d rather take stuff out on ourselves than externalize it onto the people who probably caused the anger. In the rare occasion when we do externalize our feelings, it is usually accompanied by a lot of guilt and shame. I have no doubt in my mind that if I was straight, and I managed to get my boyfriend that angry, he would have punched a hole in the wall of the apartment we were leaving and we would have lost our deposit; yay for being a lesbian! We all have those emotions at those intensities in us. It’s a human thing, not a gender thing. So, while it freaked her out because she was still thinking in the socialized terms that women aren’t supposed to have that kind of anger and we certainly aren’t supposed to show it, I wasn’t surprised, shocked, or appalled to learn my girlfriend was an emotionally vivid human being. Having anger is normal, expressing anger is healthy, internalizing anger because that’s what you’ve been socialized to do is damaging.

The intemperate sex indeed.

The relationship moral to this story is two fold:

-           Firstly, and most obviously, understand that moving with your girlfriend/wife/partner/whatever-nomenclature-you-prefer is mind bogglingly stressful. Give each other a break, learn to take breaks from each other, and accept that arguments are almost certainly going to arise no matter how much you love each other.

-           Secondly, and perhaps not so obviously, outward expressions of “unsavory” feelings like anger, jealousy, contempt, etc. shouldn’t be looked down upon. I put unsavory in quotes because there aren’t “bad” and “good” emotions, only “preferred” and “not preferred” emotions; calling these emotions bad is where the guilt and shame over feeling them comes from. Anger isn’t a bad emotion and so expressing it doesn’t make you a bad person. Trying to destroy or suppress a perfectlyhuman emotion like anger is what’s actually bad for you. Within a relationship you don’t just have to understand your connection to these supposedly negative feelings. You have to understand your partner’s relationship to the feelings both in how they experience them and how you express them to your partner. Knowing Nikki had that kind of anger in her didn’t scare me, didn’t make me rethink the relationship, or think less of her; it let me know she was human with a very human need to express her anger sometimes. The really scary thing would be if she never showed me anything but a happy face.

Happy endings involve sunsets and rainbow flags.

1 comment:

Aurelia Blue said...

I absolutely L<3VE this post. So true about anger and relationships, every word of it. I'm also really hoping those moving guys are available in my neigborhood the next time I have to move. ;)