There is many a relationship saying that irks me. As a rule, I cringe at the thought of romantic relationship advice, relationship writing, relationship rules.
People in New York and L.A. are making millions of dollars off of telling you how to love another person. And most of it is the basest of base level writing.
I remember reading Cosmo and Seventeen in high school. We hid them in our Algebra books and passed them along to one another in the hallways, so pumped to get our lip gloss stained fingers on the good stuff.
I was learning to fake my way through advanced poli sci (“I just think a third party system might be more efficient. Discuss.” Took the class off the rails for 30 minutes.) the same time I was learning to fake my way through an orgasm.
Usually the high schoolers who could afford such luxuries as issues of Cosmo were the same girls who could afford to pass out Altoids and Plan B if asked.
The magazine articles were so ridiculous. As if a 45-year-old woman from Brooklyn could possibly know what a 16-year-old girl from small town Ohio needed to hear about sex.
Perhaps, rag editor, it would be better to have read something like “How to tell if the person you love is an alcoholic” than “How to get that alcoholic off with some ice in your mouth, ya know what I’m sayin’?!”
Setting a hard and fast rule for a relationship is like setting a hard and fast rule for fucking. Maybe you don’t like hard and fast. Maybe you do. We are all incredibly different creatures living incredibly different lives in our heads and in our hearts, so who are you to say that one way of being with another human being is better than another.
That gray area has always gotten me in trouble. If I’m not staying too long, I’m leaving too early. I don’t know what exactly I need or want. But why does that make me bad? Who does? Isn’t that the whole experience? The whole point of trying to live a solitary life with one solitary person?
Most relationship and sex advice columns and articles are absolute garbage–self-congratulatory dribble meant to make whoever wrote it feel better about their victories, their defeats, their one night stands, their marriages, their political position. To feel justified and convincing amid their own devaluation. To feel better than (or, more innocently, better about) the people who hurt them.
It’s more effective and stomachable to just hear stories. How did you deal with a certain relationship? How did you deal with a certain heartbreak? How did you stay with a person after catastrophic disappointment? How did you stay with someone after you catastrophically disappointing them? How did you leave someone?
Or maybe the why is more important. Why did you stay there? Why did you leave? Why did you do that? Why did you do him (or her OR them OR him/her)?
AH, no. It IS the how that leads to a better line of questioning. How the hell did you make it work? Did you make it work? With yourself? With the other?
But, alas, most of popular relationship knowledge is spoonfed bullshit just asking to be put on a T-shirt and then on a Pinterest board.
The worst, worst is this saying: “Be with someone who makes you a better person.”
It feels so wonderful at first.
I first heard this idiom at mass. I had been a very, very long time since I’d set foot in church and I went with my dad one lonely college weekend. My boyfriend at the time and I were fighting. Per usual. He, long story short, was mentally manipulative as fuck. This saying, however, made me stay with him at least two months longer than I should have.
Do I need fixing? Oh my god, he’s right. I need to be made into a better person and he is the answer! I AM a horrible person. I DO need someone to direct me to the best way of living. Perhaps being a better person, loving other people, being something other than another fucking person taking up air and landfill space and college loans, I NEED the help of someone to show me the way.
What I really needed was someone to ask me how I was doing. Ask me to tell my story and listen to it without judgment. To make me feel safe and tell me to leave him.
“Be with someone who makes you a better person” is fucking dangerous. It takes away the possibility of real conversation about what each individual is feeling in the relationship.
Here’s what we should tell people: “Be with the you that makes you a better person.”
Perhaps that you is, in fact, a person that needs to be with another person. Perhaps a better you is being in love and loving someone else. Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones who found someone who you are totally compatible with, a person that does, in fact, make the beautiful person you are shine the brightest.
But why do we make it about another person?
YOU SHOULD BE THE ONE TO DECIDE IF YOU SHOULD BE A BETTER PERSON AND IF SO, HOW.
I want to and think I can make myself a better person. And the person I love is a recipient of that self-growth. And I am a recipient of his self growth. And I, as a good partner, promise to provide the room to let him decide what that self growth is and requires.
And you can too!
Seriously, though. I think that the best, most stable relationships are those where each individual is allowed to grow into themselves. And, really, we know ourselves best. We know how to make ourselves the best person we can be. Sometimes thinking that another person can do that better for us, we lose ourselves to what their version of “better” is.
Better is so subjective. Why don’t we let ourselves own it rather than someone else?
Also, stop reading relationship columns. Read stories. Demand more. Demand better, more comprehensive discussion of our love and sex lives.