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22 June, 2010

Kids, Try This At Home

I've been off this site for months, and that's no good. It's time to get back into a regular posting schedule, if possible.

Might be tough, though. I've been having what one might call motivational difficulty, a.k.a. "failure to give a damn". Toying with certain variables in my daily life seems to offer the possibility of ameliorating or exacerbating the problem, but it can be difficult to ascertain connections between any given cause and its effect. That's bad enough when I'm only considering myself, but then, just imagine the project on a larger scale ... but, we don't have to imagine! Dealing with the unpredictable behaviors of our fellow humans is a daily activity. And it's fucking hard.

In nonmonogamous relationships, the variables increase at a terrifying rate. One needs to consider not only what one's mate thinks of oneself, but also what one's other mate thinks of one's antecedent mate, what one's antecedent mate thinks of one's other mate, what each thinks of oneself, what one's antecedent mate thinks of what she thinks one's other mate thinks of oneself ... and by the time one gets into third-order theory of mind in a triadic interaction, it can all get a bit messy.

Communication can help, that's one well known item in the toolbox. But communication doesn't solve every problem, especially if some folks in the extended relationship network have conflicts. Perhaps sitting down to council allows those who are more or less already on the same side to iron out minor problems, but it's both impossible to convey the entire contents of one's mind and unusual that any given person conveys so much as a bare majority of the thoughts to which they even have conscious access. In other words, even when your partner is working to communicate, they may miss something that, had you known it, would have altered your behavior in the perfect way. With that one fact missing, though, some conflict springs up and it's back to the drawing board.

Communication isn't the only necessary tool. The attitude with which one approaches that communication can completely alter the course of subsequent events. I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that, at least in long-term relationships, the key to satisfying human interaction, assuming in good faith that the reader has mutual satisfaction as a preexisting goal, is trust.

If you and your partners (and partners' partners) all talk together and work to hash out some problem you've been facing, there are at least two directions in which the conversation could easily go. In one, people assume that whatever's being said isn't the whole story. They assume that no matter what each other person says out loud, there are secrets, resentments, hidden agendas and attempted manipulations. They believe the task of the meeting to be seeing through any attempted deceptions, predicting the mental states of the others at the table, keeping their own secrets, and saying little more than what they think necessary to make sure that their own goals are met. I don't mean to sound Machiavellian; if I do, I imagine it's because of the paragraph's directness. My intention, however, was to describe a normal conversation.

In the other scenario, all that changes is the assumption. Instead of assuming deception, this scenario's population assumes frankness. The participants assume that, whatever's being said, it's as true and as complete as the speaker can make it. Such an assumption demands reciprocation. And that's the key, right there.

If reciprocal honesty is a premise, genuine communication can begin. Honesty is dangerous, though; we all know the truth of that. If I'm talking with the only other person who has a serious love relationship with the person I hold dearest and that other partner does have it in for me, being honest about my feelings could put me in a world of heartache! If folks are reluctant about perfect honesty, that's no surprise, and I don't want to imply any censure of folks who hold back! I do think, though, that the key to getting from a collection of relationships to a group of stable allies is reciprocal trust.

One problem is that even telling the truth isn't enough, if one's conversation partner believes one to be dissembling. Trust on the listener's part is necessary if one is to be believed. But, lacking direct access to that other person's thoughts, one can never really know whether that listener believes and trusts. It's a bit of a dilemma. One doesn't know what the other party is thinking, but one does know that the best outcome is one in which you each choose to trust each other.

That's the moment in which one takes a leap of faith. I honestly don't recommend so much as thinking about this in a short-term relationship; those are what they are, and they differ so greatly that I'd be a fool if I thought I could give general advice (beyond "use barriers during sex"). But, in long-term relationships, one wants them to be as satisfying and as free of worry as possible. So, take the leap. Trust is a fiction, but when all parties buy in together, it's a self-fulfilling fiction. By choosing to trust each other, the group creates a situation in which their trust is deserved.

Each person knows that honesty, that total trust, will lead to the best situation for everyone in terms of communication and thus in terms of outcome. When we trust each other, we can frankly discuss our emotional needs without fear of rejection; we can ask for affection or distance or a roll of toilet paper, whatever, and retain the security that comes from believing that the person whose hand you're holding will always be on your side. Each person has no reliable way of knowing what any other human is thinking, although we get good at guessing about people we know best. Make no mistake, one defector is all it takes to sour the system. When someone breaks a trust offered unconditionally, even if the break is a genuine accident, repairing the emotional fallout from that episode might take an exceptionally long time. But, and this is why I qualify my recommendations as advice for the longterm, these are the people with whom you've chosen to spend your life. If that's true, trust each other enough to make that first leap together and become unquestioned allies. And, once that step is taken, honor it.