Defining a good relationship (Part 1)

A little over a year ago, I was becoming increasingly frustrated with the notion of a “good relationship”. Although I had made peace with the end of not just a yearlong on-and-off relationship, but also another foiled connection, I saw misery everywhere. I knew a handful of couples who were so miserable, in my view, I could not believe they were unconcious to their misery.

Perhaps some were aware of it at some level, but didn’t know what to do about it. Perhaps they felt stuck between a rock and a hard place, between tradition and self-worth, between obligation and sanity.

For instance, I knew one married couple who opened up their relationship, with one of them releasing newfound sexual energy to a number of third parties, and despite my friend’s attempts to reassure me everything was still fine, I still could not understand it. How could that work? How could everyone involved be fine with the situation?

Hell, I had yet to understand how a traditional relationship could work, never mind a three-headed one.

Perhaps it’s my Libra nature to find balance, to find a definitive, harmonious explanation that fit everyone, no matter how diverse the culture or their values.

I was in search of the seemingly mythic relationship that lasts without misery and suffering.

Distraught, I turned to online social networking to cast out my question, not expecting much of a bite. But I reaped in a lot more than I bargained for.

On Sunday morning of April 19, 2009, at 9:47am, I changed my Facebook status message to: “Stanley Dankoski is frustrated with the ever-changing definition of what constitutes a good relationship. Anyone in a good relationship: Feel free to describe what makes it a good one.”

I was surprised to find that, in as little as two minutes, I got my first slightly snide albeit honest reply, from a fraternity brother who valued his single status. “Single! That’s a good relationship. I only answer to me, and only worry about me!”

I liked that response. After the last woman dumped me the previous October, I took a while to cultivate my life, embracing the things that I liked to do and not being afraid or ashamed of doing it alone, things like going to the movies and concerts by myself, taking long walks along a local bike path, taking time to meditate and contemplate life’s wonders.

But I was at a loss. It’s OK to do your own thing, but I wanted to share my experiences with someone, too.

“I don’t think that there is one definition, it changes according to people’s personalities and needs. But if pressed, I would say mutual attraction, communication, and an ability to accept the irritations because the positives outweigh them.”

I found this woman’s response amusing because I regarded her boyfriend to be especially irritating. But she must have found an endearing side, or seen through him.

I replied that I was torn between two philosophies. Sticking with the relationship at all costs, on one hand. And, knowing that people change over time, it’s OK to let the relationship fall apart, on the other. “I suppose there must be a balance somewhere,” I wrote. “Work at it as much as both are willing, and if one no longer wishes to work at it any longer, the other must accept this, move on, and let it go.”

Clearly I was feeling pessimistic that day. I had also been struggling with fear of rejection, fear of success, fear of the unknown regarding someone I was interested in at work. Someone I had never talked with but kept passing by in the halls and in the cafeteria. Every time I caught sight of her, anxiety ate away at my chest.

But “a good relationship is a no-stress, easy-going one,” wrote another friend.

“Humour,” reiterated another. “About everything, even grief, loss, and fighting.”

OK, so a good relationship ought to be an easy-going one, free of anxiety. Free of expectations, maybe?

“You both need to have a similar philosophy in life and similar values,” wrote one guy. “You need to be heading in the same direction. And, of course, there need to be similar interests, a willingness to compromise, trust, respect for differences in opinion, etc.”

I agree with this; however, I wince at the triple use of the word “need” — it makes it sound so rigid, like a boilerplate template. Well, I was looking for an end-all be-all answer, wasn’t I? Did it matter that answer was coming from someone who I knew had no history of a successful relationship? And since when did I start equating success (an abstract idea of satisfied completion) to what I really wanted: the everlasting and equally elusive happy relationship.

“It’s okay to let the relationship fall apart cause u can see that it will lead to nowhere,” said one of my sisters. “Working on a relationship is totally different. 2 people can love and respect each other but still have personalities that don’t understand each other. Working at the relationship shouldn’t be HELL. It’s just 2 people adapting to the ways other people do things. … If you feel so frustrated the other person won’t understand u & u can’t understand what they’re doing/thinking — then maybe ur not meant to be. …”

No one who commented on my status message had the end-all be-all answer I was looking for. The ones I quoted above came close.

But none held a candle to the response I received in my Facebook inbox, a more thoughtful reply from someone who had been searching for answers for herself. And it stayed with me throughout the whole year and brought me where I am today.

That’s coming up in Part 2. Meanwhile, what are your thoughts? Has your perspective changed over the past year for you, too? Please feel free to comment.

2 Comments

  1. David and I will be celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary this year, and 31 years together as a couple. So as far as relationships go, I think it’s pretty safe to say that we have a “good relationship.” It hasn’t been always smooth sailing — and the “good relationships” I know of got that way because they worked through their tough times. So what’s the magic formula? Tough question, and I doubt there’s any one good answer. From my perspective, I think it’s to be as as healthy an individual as possible. For one, I mean never expecting David to change for my sake, and never expecting him to fill an emotional void in me that only I can realistically address (e.g. self-esteem). In all the ways that I need to be strong in my own right, I can’t expect him to prop me up. On the flip side, I have lots of love and support to give him, and do so freely. It’s a partnership of two people who can stand up on their own, but support each other fully and willingly.

    That’s not to say that one of us won’t go through our tough times and need more support than usual. We’ve traded off through the years where one is doing more of the supporting than the other, helping him/her to get through it. That’s the give and take of a long-term partnership.

    Of all the comments I’ve read above, I think I agree with them all except for one. A long-term relationship isn’t going to always be easy-going and stress-free. That’s unrealistic. But when two people are fundamentally committed to working their difficulties through, THAT’S what makes it last.

  2. It’s kinda like mixing a drink. Part 1: You. You have to be happy with yourself, and know yourself. Would you want to date you? Part 2: The better half. I think that there should be some level of commonality, but being identical is too far. Both sides should take interest and be supportive of the other. Most of all, your partner should inspire you to be a better person; they should be your better half. While relationships aren’t all wonderful, fairytale moments, there should be more good times than bad times. At the start and end of the day, you should feel happiness that you are with this other person.

    Sex and the City may have said it best. There may not be that one perfect person and instead a number of good friends who fulfill who you are.

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