The Dangers of Avoiding Responsibility

I have been half-watching the Royal Wedding, and was just driven to distraction by part of what was said to William and Kate by the Bishop of London.

No quote-marks, because I don't know the exact words, but something to the effect that:

Those who neglect the reality of God put too much weight on their partner. Followed with some blech about how God is the one who will sustain their relationship...

No. I'm sorry, Mr. Bishop; at least you aren't a Catholic, so you may actually have a wife, but you are talking out of your pointy hat on this one.
Responsibility for what happens in your relationship lies between you, and your partner. Not God, not your parents, not your friends, not the government, not the world.

Other people can influence you as an individual; they can influence your partner as an individual; but the connection between you and your partner is yours and his/hers alone. What is wrong with it is either your responsibility, your partner's responsibility, or an emergent property between the two of you. What is right with it is thanks to both of you.

Teaching people to pass the buck:
1) Infantilises them
2) Prevents them from actually sorting out the problem or problems
3) Prevents them from deservedly taking credit for what they actually get right.

Good work Bishop. Gah.


How do I know if I succeed (continued)

I realised (just after posting that last entry) that I had only answered one of the two questions posed in my title.

The one I failed to address, was the second: how do I judge the success of my efforts to treat my partner as well as I can?

The first and most obvious answer to this is: ask her. However this is an incomplete solution; not everything that she likes about something will be easily put into words or necessarily immediately obvious to her. The key shortcoming of this approach is greater still: her expectations are sometimes sufficiently low that all the options I am considering would meet with her approval.

Now, in saying this I do not mean to imply that Rho has been abused or seriously taken advantage of in previous relationships. She has not. This does not prevent her previous boyfriends from having been fairly crap in certain ways, however, and her expectations for me have been shaped by her past experiences.

For instance, she is obsessed with writing, and loves creating and shaping stories. This is something none of her boyfriends have shared, and she had grown used to the idea that her partner would not share the world of writing with her. By being somewhat interested, and actively becoming more interested, I have brought her joy she had not expected.

On a more trivial level, I am quite neat and tidy, and look after myself quite well. Laundry is something I do, and now we live together, she assists me with sometimes. While she is no doormat, and would never put up with living with someone who didn't do their part, she honestly expected to have to bully me into doing close to my fair share. If I were judging my contribution merely by how she felt about it, I would do much less around the house.

Essentially, she had become used to being the mature, sensible, organised one. She expected to have to stay on top of everything that needed doing, then make clear to her partner what he was required to do, and make sure he did it. She would have been quite happy with me doing what was on that list well, and without complaint; which is so much less than taking responsibility for something and sorting it out without her needing to be aware of it. There are other examples, but I think these illustrate the key point: her expectations do not fully reflect the part that I can play in our relationship, and so they are not a complete guide to what I can do to make our life together comfortable and happy.

How do I know how to treat her well? And how do I know if I succeed?

Obviously, how to act within a relationship must spring from my broader ethics on how to relate to other people. However, just as I do not think through from a core ethical principle in order to decide how I interact with someone I run into in the street, I like to have some broad rules to guide how I interact with my partner.

I guess the analogy could be: in order to understand how to make my computer save my work, I could learn programming, and discover exactly how to assign a region of memory, and then fill it bit-wise with my work.
Alternatively, I could do some playing around in Office until I find out how to say 'Save'.
Of course, for a full understanding I should learn programming - I'll be less likely to go wrong, and my understanding will have a surer foundation which I can more readily apply to similar but distinct situations. Nonetheless, the fast and dirty method has it's uses, especially when a response is required quickly.

So: the complete method requires both rational thought and empirical observation of how interactions between us work, and what outcomes will maximize the good. And, you know what, I am (perhaps better to say 'we are') working on that. However, that's based as much on direct experience of what works well between us, as it is on general principles.
In the interim, I do tend to judge what I am doing on a few criteria.

1) Priorities.
My partner is not everything, and she does not get all my time, effort or energies. However, she should have first call on them. I am more confident and more forceful in expressing my desires than she is: therefore on balance, I must put her desires first. I must certainly encourage her to fully express her wishes, and listen to them carefully.
We are getting better at this, but it's something I do have to keep in mind.

2) Interaction and shared pursuits.
We need some space and separation from one another, so that we don't become the couple-morph chimera beast. That said, there is much to appreciate about having some project that we can share. At present the main one is planning out our wedding, but we have also collaborated in running a charity fund-raiser. Less equally, she is writing a novel; I act as main sounding board for ideas and revisions, and occasional walking thesaurus. When I am reading a work of philosophy, I improve my understanding by talking through particularly interesting points with her. And so on.

Basically, while we are entirely comfortable with each other in silent concentration, doing our own thing...that would get boring if it were all we did. Likewise, conversation runs dry if I am only telling her of things I do, and vice versa, rather than exploring or creating something together.

3) Contribution of the random.

Inspired by Danny Wallace (of Join Me! fame), I try to not just get things right, like helping Rho out and supporting her when she needs it, but also to occasionally sweep her off her feet.
Examples include: when I agreed to sort out lunch, rather than bringing her a sandwich, taking her for a picnic in the park; when I sat back from my computer and looked over at her, only to be reminded of how lovely she looks, writing her a note to tell her so and then hiding it somewhere she'll find it later; when I've gone to the supermarket for bread and milk or similar, coming back with those and something she really likes.

Once again, there is more, but this post is getting pretty long, so until next time...


Beginning and Becoming

I keep starting posts, and not knowing how to begin; this blogging lark isn't as easy as it looks.

So I'll just start with a conversation I had last night, and see where it takes me. I was talking to my first girlfriend last night, who for the purposes of this story I will call Talya, and the conversation came round to our relationship - which was fairly brief, and about six years ago now.

The outline story is that we met at a small indie night through mutual friends and had an immediate physical chemistry (mental chemistry is harder to judge over the music :P). I discovered Talya's name by asking her friend, as she wouldn't tell me herself. I then found her on myspace (ahh, the old days! Hehe), and we did decide that seeing each other again would be a good idea. We had a few trips to the pub, and quite a lot of hanging out at my house. About a month later she wanted to split, but we've stayed in touch and get on pretty well.

A fairly un-exceptional story, I would think, but there are several things I took away from the whole experience:

1) It is quite easy to be friends with someone after you've ended a relationship with them*. A lot of people seem to disagree: ever heard the line "I don't want to ruin our friendship."?
Now anecdotally I assume that there's usually at least an element of "I'm just not that into you" behind that sentiment, but I expect that it's so easily used in that way because people do see it as being difficult or unlikely that you'd be friends with an ex.

2) Yes, there is such a thing as an attractive woman who finds me attractive. It sounds silly, but my confidence took a major boost. I'm no model, and being a man get much less bombardment of "YOU ARE UGLY. LOOK, THIS IS A BEAUTIFUL [carefully dressed, made-up, posed and then airbrushed] PERSON. COMPARE YOURSELF WITH THIS" in the first place, but I think I'd still internalised it to some extent. It helped a lot to think through:
A) Talya is an attractive young woman.
B) Talya seems to find me attractive.
C) Talya's aesthetic judgements seem sound to me in other cases.
D) Therefore I must look at least okay. Either that, or my personality is fricking a-mazing.

And finally**
3) Talk. About. Everything.
Respect for your partner demands that you give them some space, when they ask for it or you think that it would help. However, there should be no subject that is always taboo, only more or less appropriate circumstances to bring it up. There were quite a few things I really didn't feel able to talk about with Talya, and I'd be quite surprised if she didn't feel the same way. Thing is, I don't know that, because we never discussed it...a conversation of a few minutes with her last night has given me a better understanding of her side of the story than I ever had at the time, and there is no real reason why I couldn't have had that conversation with her at the time.
No big deal when it's your first relationship. There will be others, and you've got to learn somewhere. But when it gets to the point you're wanting to, say, live with someone you really have to have that sorted. (speaking of which, I will come back at some point to co-habitation and why I heartily recommend it).

*I am generalising broadly, not saying it is possible or even desirable in every case. If, say, your ex- was abusive then arguably you shouldn't even try.
**There are many other things I could have listed, but this is the biggy.


The Why:

I am starting this blog, because I want to think through and set down some of the changes in my thoughts, opinions and attitudes that have resulted from my recent experiences - especially my relationship with my fiancĂ©e.

I appreciate interest and comments, but bluntly this is for me, so if no-one reads or comments...meh.