I’m not sure if I’m just in an especially vulnerable, receptive or gullible state right now, or if I’ve just been especially fortunate in the books I’ve chosen to read during these past weeks. First up, and the subject of my last entry, it was 10% Happier, which challenged a few of my remaining issues with meditation and my Buddhism practice. After that, I finished reading The Truth by Neil Strauss, and have been blown away by the thoughts and emotional roller-coasters it brought up in me.
The subtitle of the book, “An Uncomfortable Book About Relationships” says a lot. Knowing Neil mainly from having read The Game almost a decade ago, I expected the book to be about some sort of insight that he’d come to. Something like “relationships are for chumps” and “we should all focus on overcoming some sort of hedonic treadmill with more sex, more partners, more excitement”. But what I got was something completely different. Neil Strauss has absolutely matured over the past ten years, and the person writing this book has come a long way from the person who wrote The Game.
Instead of the Neil Strauss of debauchery and hedonism, this book is written by a Neil Strauss who wants to explore the deepest and darkest aspects of his psyche. This is a Neil Strauss who is no longer out to satisfy his curiosity, but who wants to resolve issues that he’s been having all life – sometimes without even being fully aware of having had them. It’s an uncomfortably truthful story about a man who was at a low point in his life and who decided to get better.
The Truth chronicles Neil’s way through sex & love addiction therapy, experiments with non-exclusive relationships of various sorts, and the eventual insights that all of this has led him to by the end. Along the way, he asks himself questions like whether it is “natural” to be faithful to one person for life, whether alternatives to monogamy lead to better relationships and greater happiness, what it is that draws us to the partners we choose and whether or not we can keep passion and romance from fading over time.
Going into the book, I saw much of it as little more than a sad tale about a man who was at a low point in life. I expected it to be little more than yet another redemption story. However; as I began to understand the subject matter a little better, the book began to affect me in a significant way. His description of the way that his relationship to his mother affected his life made me realize that maybe a couple of the issues that I’ve dealt with in my own life might have a reason that I need to delve into. Maybe some of my own relationship issues over the years haven’t been due to a a collision of personalities or desires. Maybe things haven’t been as easy as I thought they were.
In fact; maybe it’s not the relationships that have been broken – maybe it’s me.
Love is not like roulette. You can’t bet on a spread.
For as long as I can remember, my own romantic relationships have butted up against two very distinct urges that I’ve been unable to make sense of together. I have a very high need for affection, attention and appreciation (along with a considerable fear of rejection), but I also have a strong need for freedom, independence and following my desires. I’ve suffocated my partners with all of my needs and desires, but I’ve also ended up feeling suffocated by them.
It’s been a really painful thing to experience in my relationships, and I’ve never quite had the insight to understand what it was all about. Was I just a terribly needy person that desired closeness and comfort but couldn’t stand giving it to others on their terms? It didn’t sound like me – at least not the kind of person I saw myself as.
Turns out, as I read more of Neil’s book, a couple of his own issues with pretty much the same thing began to resonate with me on a very fundamental level. So many of my relationships have been built on a shaky ground with deeply rooted fears – both my own and hers. I’ve entered into them trying to meet unresolved conflicts from childhood, a desire for something that I never got and another desire for something that I got too much of. When she worshiped the ground I walked on, I felt as if I got the appreciation I wanted – but felt tied down and restricted. When she didn’t care if I lived or died, I got the freedom I wanted – but felt unappreciated and not good enough.
Due to this imbalance – the skewed perspective I’ve developed for what a relationship should be – they’ve never quite worked out for me.
It’s been a rough couple of days, thinking and meditating about this, but I’ve slowly begun discovering what my goal for this entire thing should be. I won’t go into all the details, since they’re way too personal and I’m not entirely comfortable talking about my family and developmental issues, but there’s definitely some stuff in there that I need to work out.
But I’ve also landed in an insight that’s been extremely humbling for me. Less fear. That’s the goal. Less fear of intimacy, suffocation, loss, speaking the truth, being hurt, boredom, change, the future, conflict, unpredictability, silence, myself and – most of all – other people. That’s the future I need to start moving toward. I shouldn’t be looking for a person to fill the hole in me, that’s something that I need to do all by myself before I can be entirely happy with somebody else. Only without the hole in me can the whole me be in a healthy and fulfilling relationship.
James Hollis, a Jungian analyst, said that “The best things we can do for our relationships with others is to render our relationship with ourselves more conscious”, and that’s where I’ve been lacking. Not just in romantic relationships, but in so many other kinds of relationships (work, friendship, family, etc), my core question hasn’t been “Who am I?”, but “Who do I need to be for this person?” and “Who do I need this person to be for me?”. It’s terrible to realize that, in a way, I’ve been thinking about people like objects to relate to – not separate individuals on their own path whom I merely share an orbit with. They don’t need to do anything other than follow their own path. Struggling to change their path – or change my own, for that matter – will only lead to misery for everybody.
I don’t know what happens next., but it’s going to be interesting. I’ve learned that the reason we love people is not to make them change or to make ourselves change. We don’t love people to get their acceptance or praise. The reason we love people is to help us accept ourselves for who we are.