If you love somebody…

18 10 2009

“If you want to keep something precious

You got to lock it up and throw away the key

If you want to hold onto your possession

Don’t even think about me…”

“If you love somebody, set them free”

Sting  (Dream of the blue turtles 1985)

You’ve heard the rest of the track. And you certainly know the end of that quote.

I believe in freedom, independence and giving people the power to choose. I also understand that freedom, independence and the power to choose are all huge concepts and in practice they are necessarily limited by numerous factors – colour, race, religion, income, social rank, geography, environment, genes and personal history. But I still believe that there is a gap between the degree of freedom each of us could have and what we actually dare to embrace. And maybe more importantly – a very clear limit on how much freedom we are willing to give other people in our lives.

By freedom I mean personal space, physical space, an absence of suspicion, jealousy, insecurity and all the anxious and controlling behaviors that seem so common in love relationships. People often seem to require constant attention, interaction and incessant reassuring communication while demanding conformity to accepted norms of behavior. We have a need to change the other person ‘to fit’. Even worse, the absence of this sort of possessive control in one person is often perceived as lack of care by the other.

There are clear boundary lines drawn on every interaction, acceptable opinions, fashion, eating habits and life style. And so partners in both gay and straight relationships often seem to end up with identical political views, religious convictions and sense of humor. Is it why they are together in the first place? Is it just more convenient that way? Or did it all come on over time…as part of that relentless melting of one personality into another that inevitably takes place in most relationships?

People make compromises in life for many reasons, especially when they marry or enter a relationship, however superficial. Reasonable compromise is necessary to maintain any relationship, a sort of oil in the gears – assuming the other factors such as sexual compatibility and affection are already present. But how do we decide what’s worth giving up? Do we gradually become conservative from being a liberal? Do we change our religion – become born again or buddhist? Turn vegetarian? Stop wearing short skirts? Give up our friends? Stop talking to ex-lovers? Change jobs? Get pregnant? Stop working? Move in with the in-laws? Or visit them every Sunday? Do we stop eating sushi? Give away the dog? Start wearing make-up?

Do we chuck our Celine Dion CD’s? Lose weight? Stop reading? Stop smoking? Colour our hair?

What do we have to do and how much are we willing to give up in order to keep that special someone in our otherwise lonely lives?

Someone always gives up something and too often it is a one-sided stream of sacrifice by women on behalf of their men. Observe the patient girlfriends at rugby matches, wandering around car sales or watching league football on tv? Is that ‘sharing’? Or ‘pleasing’? And are the men ‘letting’ them have their little entertainments…girl’s nights out or the spa on Sunday morning?

On the other hand are most women just filling in the time till the right man comes along with Saturday plans for the car sale, rugby and footie? And is the real unseen exchange the Child that virtually every woman seems to need and desire so passionately? In exchange for which the men get an uncomplaining wife and the power to rule unchallenged, as long as they continue to protect and provide?

These quiet manipulations are not necessarily gender biased or dependent on sexual orientation. Queer relationships are often very emotionally manipulative and controlled too. Everyone does it to everyone else all the time to different degrees and in different ways. And often the personality that gets swamped is quite happy to be that way – passive, accepting of guidance and the state of benevolent dictatorship that guarantees the comfort of the relationship. It removes responsibility and the need to make decisions. Often it guarantees that one person (usually the woman) need never have to work for a living again. It takes away the need to think for oneself. It fits into and wins approval from society. And so, in exchange for uncritical support you get a socially acceptable, comparatively peaceful life.

But why can’t we arrive at the same place while accepting or even insisting on our own and the other person’s right to be independent? Surely this is something to aspire to? How can we become fully developed personalities if we get sidetracked on the way by the desperation of our need for love, sex, social acceptance, escape from parental control, maternity or companionship? None of which are available without the accompanying sacrifice of a degree of our thinking selves? How do we become accomplished writers, artists, scientists or musicians – or even simply free-thinking individuals, if we have taken this smooth path to hell?

The alternative is terribly difficult. It requires constant effort to find a balance between necessary compromise and independence of spirit. It is hard work to defend one’s beliefs if your partner does not always agree. The battle for freedom to live in the way that makes you happy can often be fatal to the relationship itself. But this is surely one of the finest efforts in life? If one has the slightest interest in personal development, surely this is the place to start? Neither to bully nor go under but to find a way to live with someone else as two individuals together, different but equal.



3 responses

19 10 2009

i appreciate your point of view, but in my opinion while you have some valid points, i think your outlook comes across as bitter and cynical rather than analytical and fair.. im not trying to be harsh, and i agree that while some men may have that kind of attitude towards women and their girlfriends/wives, it is unfair to generalise that way.. in your view, you make it sound as if marriage and any relationship is just a way to stop self-improvement and development, and i think that is foolish.. being in a relationship teaches us a lot more about ourselves than other situations.. i know men who were total slackers b4 marriage, and overnight transformed into mature, responsible, caring and sensitive husbands..

but i digress.. like i said, your views have weight, im not denying that.. but perhaps such a cynical and negative outlook is perhaps unnecessary..

19 10 2009

I can understand why Gehan feels that it is a cynical piece. We don’t want to believe that there is so much blackness in something as beautiful as love. And I agree that being in a relationship teaches us more about ourselves. I do think, though, that the post is not just about straight relationships but about any relationship, including gay and lesbian partners. All of us make changes to accomodate the person we love. It may be something that you don’t mind doing/not doing. Or it may be something more important to you. But at the end of the day, we do all make those changes.

I think the problem is not if you change. We all do. The issue is how do we change, and where do those changes lead us, because you can’t make one change and be the same person. One day you might realise that the person you fell in love with is not the person you are with now, because so many changes have happened along the way. To me that is the danger of trying to BE the person your lover wants.

20 10 2009

I don’t think the tone of this is really relevant, if the points made are valid. The subject is sensitive and the analysis may be disturbing. But i certainly agree that relationships of all types are always learning experiences and the best ones add immeasurable joy and value to anyone’s life. This piece was not intended as an attack on the world of straight relationships. It’s not even an attack on male chauvinism, although I do feel that women tend to give up more and give up more easily. It is just a description of a dynamic that exists whether we like it or not, in every relationship in different degrees, healthy or otherwise – between lovers, husbands and wives, parents and children or even close friends. Because every relationship however loving it may be, is also a very subtle and complex negotiation of power.

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