“… I know that that sounds ridiculous but that’s how I feel.“
Before I even had a chance to respond, let alone breathe, he continued.
“Relationships don’t work. Look around,” he said, gesturing with his hands as if his point were evident and proven. “Forget marriage and all the divorce statistics. I am talking about all relationships.”
“I understand,” I acknowledged.
“Just tell me- how many couples do you know who are really happy?” His question was a challenge and I chose to remain silent. He continued his argument by asserting, “You know I am right. I bet you talk to people all day long about their relationships. Are any of them happy? Seriously. Any of them?” The taunting dialog persisted. “It’s too much work. Why would anyone want to be in a relationship?”
With a slight change of feeling, he continued. “All my life I thought I wanted to have a relationship. You know like the kind portrayed in the movie The Notebook. Do you know that movie made me cry? It’s just another chick-flick, I know, but it got to me. I don’t tell other guys about the crying thing but you’re… I think you understand.”
I smiled respectfully.
“You know what I mean,” He said. I nodded, encouraging him to continue. “I just feel like the whole thing is way too much work. You know?” He asked loosely, “What do you think?”
I was happy for the invitation to speak.
“Do you feel hurt?” I asked.
“No. Well… maybe? I want to love and be loved without all the work and drama – you know?” His tone softened. Then, endearingly, and in a quiet voice he said, “I love her you know. “
I smiled again. “Do you mean your girlfriend?”
“Do you think she wants something from you?”
And then, like oxygen ferociously fueling a small fire into a five-alarm disaster, all the emotion and frustration surfaced with fury. With anger in his voice, he raged. “Yes! She wants us to be more of ‘a couple.’ You know what that means!?” My face held no expression of understanding. “It means that she wants to get married!”
“Oh,” I said. “That’s what she meant by being more of a couple?”
“Sure- that’s what they all want!”
My face and body language once again held no expression.
“I’m just…” There was a long silence. “I’m not ready…”
“Not ready for what?” I asked.
“I’m not ready for marriage.”
“Have you guys talked about marriage?”
“Yes, but it’s all happening so quick. I feel like I’m being pushed sometimes- you know?”
“Is there a pressure that you’re feeling to speed things up?”
“Well, not from me! But it feels like this when we talk about it. And then I think ‘how can we make it when everyone else can’t?’” And with that comment, the dam broke and the young man cried heart-felt tears.
“Is there some part of you that feels that you can make a mistake?”
“Sure!” He said, still wiping tears from his eyes. “I just don’t want to end up like them.” He said, waving his arms wildly.
“Who is ‘them?’”
“You know, everybody! I’m not even sure I want to get married. What does my loving my girlfriend have to do with getting married anyway?”
“I’m not sure we’re even talking about marriage here. Are we?”
“You’re RIGHT! I don’t want to get married.”
“…What I was trying to say was…”
“That you think I should get married?!” Instead of talking, I remained silent.
“So, what do you think you’re afraid of? You said in the beginning that ‘you weren’t sure you believed in relationships?’”
“Do you still feel that way?”
“Yes, at least about the marriage part”
“Can you be in love without being married?”
“I don’t know. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”
“Forgetting the word marriage, would you like to be in a relationship?”
“Yes. Maybe. I’m not sure.” Confused, he sighed, feeling deep resignation.
“What do you fear most about being in a relationship?”
And then, like someone who had just awakened from a deep sleep, he said, “Being me…”
And no longer needing assistance, he continued. “You know it seems like everyone I know who is in a relationship looses themselves. I see it all around me. I’ve got a friend -and we were good friends- and when he got together with his girlfriend he suddenly started acting different.
I know that he’s in love but why can’t he be in love and still have friends? It got worse when they got married. Now all my communication with him needs to go through some ‘we’ funnel. You know, ‘let me talk to her about that.’ It’s not like I’m asking him to do something he hates. And it’s not like I even call him or invite him to the movies that often.
Before ‘her’ we just hung around and did all kinds of fun stuff. And it’s like all of this suddenly stopped. It wouldn’t be so bad if I thought he were happy. But he doesn’t even do the fun stuff that we used to do with her either. It’s like he’s lost.”
“Is this what you’re afraid of? That being in a relationship will cause you to get lost?”
“Sure, I already feel like that! Don’t you?” And after another long silence, I replied.
“Why do you feel that you need to give up being you in your relationship?”
“Is that what I said?”
I inquired, “Is this what is required of you to be in relationship? Are you ‘supposed to’ do something to be in your relationship?”
“Yes, doesn’t everybody? My friend is exactly like everyone else I ‘used to’ know. Even girls become somebody else in a relationship. It’s like everyone has swallowed the same pill and they all begin to act like people I’ve never known. It’s weird and I don’t want to do that…”
“Become somebody else!”
Interested, I asked, “Are you acting different in your relationship? Are you being you?”
Instantly defensive and aggressive, the man accused, “Have you been talking to my best friend? Or my brother? Did they tell you that? Did they tell you that I’m acting different in my relationship with my girlfriend?” Attentively, I remained quiet with no response.
My thoughtful silence provided the man space for introspection and he then asked, “Are you suggesting that I’m mad at myself because I’m not being me in my relationship?” The man lay blame on himself in a strongly judgmental manner .
“That may have something to do with it,” I said, while obviously holding in a big grin.
“What do you suggest that I do?”
“What do you want to do?” I responded lovingly.
“I just want to be me.”
“There we go! That can’t be so hard… is it?
“No,” came the sheepish reply. “That seems too easy. Doesn’t it have to be harder than that?”
“Okay, if you insist…” I replied, now with an even bigger tempting grin. “How hard is it to be the real you? Anything less is just an act, right?” Giving him no real chance to respond, I continued. “Acting like someone else is a guaranteed way to kill your relationships. If at one time I did like you, even love you, then when you choose to act like someone you’re not, I’m not really in a relationship with the same guy or girl. Are you following me?
A slow pause and then, “I think so.”
“How much of the time are you acting in your relationship?”
“Every time I have to compromise!” The man said passionately.
“Who said you have to compromise in your relationship?”
“Are you saying I don’t have to compromise?” Again, I say nothing. “What are you saying? Everyone has to compromise! Otherwise there would be no relationships! Right?”
“Why?” I said coolly.
“…because then nobody could…I don’t know…” his mind starts wandering off. “What are you saying again?”
“I am suggesting that you don’t need to act like someone else in your relationship. Even if you want to do something different than your girlfriend- just be you.”
“I don’t get it…”
“Yes, you do. All I’m suggesting is that you be honest.”
“This is another subject all together, don’t you think?”
“I guess it could be… but isn’t being you, the real you, just being honest?”
“Oh, yeah… didn’t think of it that way.”
“Does your girlfriend love you?”
“Yes, I know she does…”
“Do you love her?”
“Yes, but I don’t like it when she starts acting…”
“Yes- acting in a way that’s not her! Do you get it? Perhaps she is unconsciously mimicking her parents. It doesn’t really matter. The point is she starts acting unlike herself.
“Yes, this makes sense… I think I get where you are going here.” The man replied with both relief and understanding. “All I need to do is be me!”
“Yes,” I say in a soft reassuring voice while leaning forward. “After all if she really loves you, it’s the real you she adores. Right?”
EDITORS NOTE: Why is there such mystery in creating or mastering a relationship? Relationships that encourage integrity, by being you, will attract the best of friends, lovers and family. Don’t you think?
The only reason we put on “acts” in our relationships is because of the possibility that someone won’t love us for who we are. Instead of sabotaging yourself in your relationships, now or in the future, just be you.