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May 23, 2010 / Brittany Hendrick

Psychagogy à gogo: April10

When I said I’d begin this segment on Sunday, I meant this Sunday, not last Sunday (uh-huh, sure).

Well, it was a very busy week. There was one day of jury duty (Jesus, even the judicial system rejects me. It’s the music industry thing, I’m telling you!); babysitting my nephew, Fussbudget; and regular-old going out with friends.

Now I may commence my monthly musings on articles from Psychology Today magazine as they apply to my life. And please keep in mind, in case anyone has a psychobilly freakout: when I say “you” I am being consistent with the article and using the general “you.” “You” is not anyone in particular and also includes “me.” I am “you”… too… Uh, anyway.

 

I would like to backtrack and begin with one bit from April. It’s pressing because it nods to an issue that has affected me at some points in life. The article is called “The Love Fix.” But it has less to do with “love” and more to do with choices, accountability and happiness.

Presently, thanks to technology and evolutionary changes, we (I’m henceforth liberally using “we”  and “us” to mean “humans”) are bombarded with choices. Lots of choices are good, right? Errr… not necessarily. As far as consumable goods, an abundance of options is overwhelming and results in me wanting/purchasing nothing at all. I refuse to adjust my consumer ethos to adapt to the marketplace; it’s not a requirement for anyone’s lifestyle. A plethora of choices is stressful and cause for unhappiness. I can do– and am happier– without. My mind works in analog rather than digital.

The constant pressure to make speedy decisions based on five billion alternatives carries over to relationships… and all the intangible aspects that accompany them. This is troublesome if not frightening. PT says:

One thing that most explicitly detracts from the enjoyment of relationships is an excess of choice– the tyranny of abundance. It undermines commitment by encouraging people to keep their options open.

Yikes. Having to consider a buffet of choices is “acceptable” by today’s standards because we are accustomed to the idea that our happiness will improve each time. We’re entitled to happiness, so we think. The danger in this is that instead of working out ordinary problems, the slightest scent of disappoinment drives us to discard an otherwise satisfying relationship in favor of finding a “better” person or situation. Certainly, the reason for your misery must be the fault of your partner.

Yeah. Good luck while sitting on that “greener” grass. PT posits:

A sense of multiple alternatives, of unlimited possibility, breeds in us the illusion that the perfect person is out there waiting to be found.

 

HaHA! Speaking for myself, I don’t reside in the relationship-hopping chasm of capriciousness. First of all, living fickly (in this manner) does not interest me. Second, I’m insufferably fastidious as far as what attracts me to someone. Third, once I finally make a decision, I am fulfilled. Why wouldn’t I be? After all, it was my choice! A lot of thought went into it. I’m accountable and responsible for it. I subscribe to it until I have good reason not to.

On the other end of the spectrum, so many people are perpetually dissatisfied with their partner (and the next one and the next one and the next one): can’t make a decision, can’t stick with one choice, can’t follow through, can’t be forthcoming, can’t feel secure, can’t communicate, and therefore, can’t ever be happy. How is this pattern good for anyone emotionally or psychologically? or even physically, consideringthe variety of communicable diseases that exist? Scary.

 

How’d we get in this mess? Because the purpose of marriage has evolved. There was no choice; now there are many. What started out as a necessity in the face of scarcity has become a cultural sanction in the name of religion, social pressure, childhood dreams, offspring, fear, stability, or “I dunno… it’s just what we’re ‘supposed’ to do.” Even not getting married or not entering any relationship is an option!

Now, I’m not looking for a husband by any means; on the other hand, I’m not seeking some waste-of-time fratboy fling, either. Even so, the idea of marriage does not factor into how (or when) I choose a suitor. It’s not like “Ooo! Potential husband!” It’s more like “Cool, a companion.” How long the relationship continues after that depends on intimacy. In this context, intimacy meaning not sex but closeness, familiarity, understanding and sharing.

But wait! The Abundance tyrant affects intimacy, too!

… [excess of choice] creates doubt about a person, who seems like a good person… but what’s possible out there? Intimacy takes time to develop. If you’re full of doubt at the start, you’re not going to put in the time.

Based on my observations and experiences, that sounds about right. Yup. Intimacy means you reveal information about yourself in order to form a bond (if you’re truly interested). You get to know each other better, you learn things, etc. Presenting books, photographs, maps, charts, family trees, accounting records, land deeds, birth certificates, report cards, resumes or any other tertiary artifacts does not count as intimacy. It’s lazy and wimpy. Or maybe it’s to disguise the fact that you lack depth.

 

Or, bringing this back to the Choices conundrum, it’s because you’re always on the prowl for something “better” (I put in quotes because we all know “better” never really ends up being better) and won’t be investing time into your current choice. Without intimacy, you won’t have shit to go on. It’s the nucleus of any relationship– even friendships.

I’m pretty keen on people who have an inability to be intimate. When I notice that I’m doing more revealing than learning, I grow bored with that person, quickly. I’d get more out of a conversation with a brick wall.

To tie-in intimacy (and thereby choices) with technology: I went out with a group of friends one night. There were nine of us at a round table. Throughout the course of several hours, NOT ONE person incessantly looked at his cell phone except to check the time occasionally. No one had a self-doubt moment of looking for something “better” going on. There was talking, listening, empathizing, laughing, sharing and the enjoyment of each other’s company. That’s intimacy.

So, it’s no surprise that I’ve been hanging around with these jokers for several years already, and I guess I’m stuck with them for many years to come. 😉

Believe it or not, relationships aren’t all about you. They’re not about “how does this person make me happy?” They’re about bringing out the best in your partner and vice-versa (thus your happiness naturally falls into place)– “how do I make this person happy?”

…we are focused on the partner we want to have, not on the one we want– or need– to be. That may be the worst choice of all... Unfortunately, not enough people are willing to do the hard work of becoming a more mature person.

The article in Psychology Today warns that to be picky means to be unhappy as a result of seeking perfection. I think it depends on when the pickiness occurs. I know I’m guilty of being picky. But I’m picky before I find someone suitable, not during the relationship. I have standards, but I’m also realistic about the fact that no one is perfect (and neither am I!). That flawless person does not exist.

Once the standards are met, I make a choice, and I am happy with my decision. At that point, it is implied that I like the guy well enough to be able to withstand bumps along the way that are either workable or dumpable. There is never a notion of neither a “better” person on the horizon nor “I wonder what this other guy is like instead…” I prefer to have focus. And less choices. Thus satisfaction.

I think I’m doing all right in analog.

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