Monday, January 21, 2008

The Unchanging Nature of Change

A friend of mine has been bouncing off the walls for the past few weeks, mostly due to a new relationship that went south faster than he ever envisioned. When the relationship started, I warned him to go slowly and take one step before planning the wedding. Unfortunately, he barely got to step three with the object of his affection, and while that is, frankly, a good thing -- as I explained to him -- he couldn't understand how things went from all systems go to the relationship being in the toilet and the flush button pulling everything into the Mr. Tidy Bowl undertow so quickly. "How could things have changed so quickly?" These words will probably occupy his semi-conscious thought for the next four weeks or until he finds someone to replace his now ex.

Funny thing is, relationships are, for the most part, two-people vacuums of constant change. Like many people, he thought he knew the person with whom he was getting involved and couldn't understand why things appeared one way and then, so suddenly, reversed course. I tried explaining the nature of relationships to him. For the most part, once we reach the age of 18, we as individuals rarely, if ever, change. Once we've become adults, we may be able to tweak ourselves much like a car manufacturer does from year to year, but it's pretty clear that we are who and what we are. The change, of course, is what life does to the relationship. So there are, essentially, three factors in most relationships: him, her, and life. And life, essentially, is ever-changing...sometimes for good, sometimes for bad, but essentially, a constantly-changing variable. That's why relationships between two or more people are more difficult than a single person dealing with shit in general: I know how I will handle a given situation, but how another person will handle it, within the confines of the relationship between she and I, are imminently less clear.

So when I heard the details surrounding the dissolution of my friend's impending and imploding relationship, it didn't shock me, although on some level I must admit I was disappointed.

A lot of people I know, including the above-described friend, complain to me that they hate dating and they're much better when they're in a relationship. Problem is, I typically answer, dating is necessary to determine which person with which you want to enter into said relationship. If dating were a non-necessity, everyone would just go out and get married and then divorce if it wasn't a good fit. Hmmm. Nevermind.

It's just that it's increasingly rare these days, at least based on the experiences the people I call my friends share with me, to find the right fit. Finding a partner for sex is not the challenge (although I'm sure many of you reading this might suggest otherwise). The real challenge, either way, is finding a person with whom you want to wake up.

Case in point: another friend contacted me about an ex, and I was very forthright, as I didn't want him -- or anyone -- to have to handle the monumental disaster that I had to face awhile back. He thanked me for the heads up, although he seemed a bit hesitant to agree with my assessment and suggested she might have changed. After all, he said, it's been a few years -- maybe she's finally managed to reach the finish line vis-a-vis sanity, self esteem and sobriety. My answer: "highly doubtful."

Of course, two weeks later he called me to detail an episode where he overheard an alcohol-fueled meltdown in which, as he described, said ex ranted and spewed and bristled much as I'd experienced first-hand. In between chortles, belly-laughs and wheezes he managed to ask me how I knew it would happen again. My answer: "people don't change."

So to my friend who is in the process of surviving a break-up, I'll most likely skip the "give him a fish" part and try instead to teach him "how to fish" and suggest that he's better off learning to see people for who and what they are rather than for who and what they could be. I think we all, on some level, need to do that, and I am happy to admit I learned this lesson a few years ago and I know I'm much better off having had the opportunity. Granted, I wish I never had to learn this particular lesson amid such an awful, repulsive situation or from such awful, repulsive people, but the bottom line is that once you've learned to see people for who and what they are, it's a lot easier to accept them, and the situation, for what it is.

Or, as Rush once observed, nothing is permanent, but change is.

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