[autumn grasses at the wildlife center]
I have been thinking hard about relationships. First, I have decided, they do not have this hard existence we sometimes give to them, especially to the painful ones. Show me that relationship I thought, in a Zen way. You can't hold it in your hand. What there is, is the moment when I am with somebody, and attention and energy flow back and forth between us. Then we say goodbye, and it does not. Thinking about it does not keep it alive, though we often believe that. (Ask any grief counselor.)
Yet, the relationship also does exist, it has been built. My mind and that friend's mind hold the memory of every meeting, every word spoken, every event shared, every laugh or tear, though we have each perceived it differently. There is this heap of relationship in our minds, I guess, even when we are not thinking about it.
What has me thinking about this was a homely event, something that happened this year: a lost friend renewed contact. A precious friend, the last one left from junior high days. Hearing from her generated a thrilling kind of warmth that seemed to be mutual. We wrote back and forth, excited to catch up on our lives, to send pictures of our pets, that kind of thing. Then it stopped. A month went by and she didn't answer my last e-mail. Two months. I wrote. You know, RU OK?
She wrote back after a while, and said carefully that I needed to understand she doesn't answer e-mail promptly, that things can sit a long time until she feels like replying. With this some things fell in place about the relationship we'd had long ago, the one that had just dwindled away and died without being buried. I recalled the less attractive parts of our past years, our differences. How hard I'd try to be available with her when she showed up in town, how she then would go home and then I wouldn't hear from her.
What about this? I have friends who would point out that Wun has the right to define boundaries in a relationship exactly as Wun chooses. This is true. But it is very important to realize that both people have that right. Uh-oh.
It's not that my way is right and hers is wrong. In fact, I think that back in the day I remember having relationships like that. Saw old friends now and then, nobody much wrote; I was never good at non-electronic letters. We were all young and crazy and doing exciting things.
When Tom and I were about to get married, we had the minister to dinner, can you imagine I'm that old? He told us he liked to ask a couple, "What will you do if one of you wants the thermostat up and one of you wants it down?" At this time I didn't know anything about negotiating, which is actually a set of skills. I thought morosely, I guess I'd put on a sweater. Oh, uh-oh again.
Negotiating levels of intimacy and commitment, which is what I'm talking about I realize, is more delicate than that. Later in my learning curve, a therapist informed me that in any relationship the person who wants the least intimacy always wins. Think about it.
Where does that take us? or me, for I have written this to clarify what it's about. I think the salvation, when a conflict is this primal, is to step back and think like a Buddha. We both want happiness. We each have our own ideas about what makes us happy, our preferences. We respond to life with our own temperaments and all our conditioning. And, oh yes, it's not all about me. That should take me somewhere.