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Saturday, 18 May 2013

Knowledge and Familiarity and the Four Worst Relationship Words

For some reason, in the pondering that took place during my usual nighttime wakefulness, I focused on the difference between knowledge and familiarity. I suppose it has to do with a conversational gambit between myself and a friend regarding our knowledge of one another's flaws. It was a joke, of course. Neither of us has flaws. Kidding - relax! It did make me realize something, though. I noticed that any flaws in people are quite often seen rather quickly, but it takes time to figure out whether you feel an acceptance or comfort with those flaw, hence the difference between knowledge and familiarity.

If you're not the type of person to be completely blinded by people, you're going to see their flaws right away if you spend any time with them. The first time it happens, though, you gain knowledge. After you've seen it a few time it simply becomes a part of them, and so you gain familiarity.

This doesn't just apply to flaws, of course. It applies to everything in your life. The first time you view an apartment, even, you learn its floor plan and gain knowledge. If you move in and live there for a while it becomes your home, but it take a while for that level of comfort to appear. We all feel a little strange for the first little while after moving into a new place.

Now, apply that to human relationships. With either friendships or dating it's a similar experience. You meet someone, you hang out for a while, you get to know them, and then they become familiar. This is highly visible when it comes to dating situations in particular. You can see someone and be instantly attracted, but is it really love at first sight? Maybe, but unlikely. In most cases there's no true knowledge of the other person yet, let alone familiarity to the point of acceptance, which to me is required for real love of any kind, whether it's friendship or a more romantic version. After all, if people haven't reached a point of acceptance, they're still hoping for changes. If you're hoping for changes then you love someone's potential and not who they are already, so you don't actually love them.

Even parents experience this with their newborn children. You can love your child right from the start, but you don't know them at all at first. They change so rapidly at that stage that there really isn't a way to get to know them. It may not be that they have no personality, but that it's just developing and switching on a constant basis, having a great deal to do with developmental needs at the time. Once the development slows down, a personality emerges. Once a child starts to talk, of course, that personality really begins to shine. It is still changing and developing, however, and some children turn out to be the exact opposite of what their parents expected them to be like. Kids who were constantly into things and would never listen sometimes end up becoming very self-disciplined, whereas kids who are 'good as gold' can end up getting into trouble all the time later on.

Sadly, a lot of parents never reach the acceptance phase with their children. It may be that they don't approve of the career they've chosen, or the tattoos and piercings they have, or it could be something more serious and more basic. Maybe their child is gay or transgendered. When I say that those things are more basic, I don't mean to say that it's silly or meaningless. I actually mean that it's at the very root of who a person might be. Your sexuality and gender-identity is a basic part of who you are, necessary and vital.

Of course it's also sad that most people don't reach the acceptance stage of familiarity in many of their other relationship, including the one with their spouse or partner. Nobody is saying a person has to like every single thing about their significant other, but for real love there has to be that acceptance.

I've found myself on both ends of the spectrum when it comes to relationships. For many years I was the one unwilling to accept. It wasn't until my most recent marriage (failed), that I found myself being the one who wasn't accepted. It was then that I saw how cruel it was to expect another person to mold and change themselves into something they weren't, and how painful it is to hear, "I just don't love you the way you are; you need to change." It's not usually said quite that way, but it's interpreted and felt that way.

It was within that semi-recent experience that I also learned to hate four words. (Not four-letter words. Those I find completely acceptable in daily living. Mouth of a trucker, don'tcha know - my apologies to truckers, as it was something someone said to me once.) Those four words were the result of lack of acceptance. I know, the suspense is killing you, right? What are the four words, you ask? They're, "We need to talk." I used to be a proponent of those words, but eventually the sentence became my arch-nemesis. Whenever someone says that, you just know that nothing good is going to come out of their mouths.

It isn't always a romantic relationship thing, because it could be your boss who's about to fire you, or your mother telling you she has breast cancer, but it's almost never a good thing. At least not in the tone of voice I hear in my own head. I suppose there are those who shout it out in restaurants like a, "Let's do lunch," sort of thing, or maybe a gossip thing on the phone, but it's somewhat the exception. With the serious look and tone, though, you know it's bad.

Following those words we often hear things that denote lack of acceptance from someone. One of those things might be, "Things aren't working between us. I really need you to stop playing computer games so we can spend more time working on our relationship." I suppose that may be more common for a woman to say it to a man, but I've had it said to me. However, there are a few things wrong with that whole discussion. One, if I'm playing games at my usual level, it's part of the way I live my life. Accept it or don't. Two, if I'm suddenly playing a lot more games it's because I'm avoiding something, which is most likely the relationship - and possibly I'm trying to sort out whether or not I even want to be in it. Three, forcing time to work on a relationship, well, means you're working on it and it's an obligation. Basically it boils down to deeper problems than what can be dealt with in a conversation that begins with, "We need to talk."

There are no absolutes there, obviously, because there are conversations you can have that will actually be helpful. I think it would be better just to tell someone, "I think we're drifting, and I think maybe the part I'm contributing is [XYZ] and I'm going to try to do [ABC]. What do you think?" Or, maybe not even talking about it at all and just doing it. I'm not qualified to give any kind of relationship advice, so I have no answers. Truthfully, I'm not even sure if I'm qualified to make goo-goo eyes at someone. I only know what I feel when I hear, "We need to talk." Somewhere in the back of my mind is the mocking little voice that says, "I can't love you the way you are."

Scarier, perhaps, is being on the other end of those words. Like a teenager who needs to confess that his girlfriend is pregnant, or a woman who needs to tell her husband she wants a divorce. You  have absolutely no control over the response of the other person who quite possible has the same reaction to those words as I do. If there was a way to avoid the fear of those words entirely, I think the answer probably lies in acceptance. If we know another person accepts us, hearing those words won't bother us because we won't be expecting a divorce or a criticism. We're loved. Saying those words won't bother us, because we know the other person will still love us after we say what we have to tell them.