Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Reasonability of Chemistry

I am completely hooked on the old television show Northern Exposure.  One of the many running themes in the program is attraction. Maggie O'Connell hates that she is attracted to Joel Fleischmen, and as she agonizes over his "misogynistic" and "mean" ways, Shelly Tambo offers her a bit of advice. Shelly describes a time in high school when she was torn between two men: the tall, handsome, and cool athlete vs. the president of the chess club, stereotyped as usual. She wanted to be attracted to the athlete, but found that he just didn't excite her. However, she couldn't keep her hands off of the president of the chess club. Shelly concludes, "The bod wants what the bod wants."

The realms of reason and rationality often live in tension with those of desire and emotion.  I know that eating chocolate to the extent that I do around Easter will make me feel tired and even cranky, but I want it. I can explain to you that teddy bears don't feel emotional or physical pain, but I can't stand putting my Emmie bear in a plastic bag where she can't breathe. When it comes to my chocolate eating and teddy bear protecting habits I find that reason isn't enough to change my actions, or at least not for very long.

Emotion seems like a wild and unruly creature capable of leading us astray. Yet, when putting reason ahead of emotion becomes a struggle, which often leads to more emotional turmoil, maybe reason simply is not worth the trouble. Imagine if we always put reason ahead of emotions: the less than lucrative worlds of art, music, and literature would take major hits without artists who were irrationally dedicated to investing their lives into creative endeavors. If we all put reason ahead of emotion, we'd all be like Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, funny, but not exactly who I aspire to be.

When I've asked strong couples what keeps them together they usually say "chemistry."  Apparently, when my parents met, my dad always wore cowboy boots and usually had car grease in his hair from working in auto-shop. My mom found this to be a weird combination. Nonetheless, she liked him, as she says, "for no good reason." Owen and I resisted our good chemistry for over a year as we both found plenty of good (or not so good as it turns out) reasons not to like each other. We each felt, rationally, that the other lacked certain qualities that we wanted in our partners. Sometimes chemistry is just irritating and makes us flirt with people who we don't care to flirt with.

Sondre Lerche wisely sings, "Baby, be prepared to be surprised. It's all I know." If you haven't yet found "The One," my first bit of advice is to throw out any ideas you have of your perfect significant other. A long list of reasons and overly-rational thinking can severely limit your options, and stop you from finding unexpectedly great people. Given that each of our minds are limited by our own experiences, we cannot even imagine all of the good qualities that we can find in partners with completely different life experiences. When you get to know other people with an open mind, you will find that most are pleasantly surprising, and usually their perceived flaws  don't seem so bad in the context of the whole person. And actually, keeping an open mind doesn't seem so irrational; perhaps reason can also lead us astray.

This feeling that we call good chemistry boils down to this: do you enjoy the time that you spend in the presence of this person? Seek to make decisions that give you peace of mind, which is located somewhere between reason and desire.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Finding Equality

My parents never treated my sister and I as if we didn't understand something because we were kids. They treated us as equal human beings as they spoke to us, taught us, listened to us, and learned from us. Yet, they maintained a sense of parental guidance; they were still the leaders.

To create equality among apparent unequals, such as a children and their parents, requires consistent democratic thinking. As children, my sister and I were always able to share our opinions, and our parents took them seriously when they made decisions, often putting our opinions at a higher priority than their own. Equality is not a simple equation, like 2+2=4, it's an incredible balancing act, like 3.4+8.7+2.3-10.4=900x8/1800.

This balancing act of equality as democracy is vital in my relationship with Owen, in both daily life and when making big decisions.  In daily life, this equality keeps us both sane amidst all of the domestic work that the two of us are still adjusting to. To say that Owen and I should share the cleaning equally does not make sense because he has more work to do outside of the home than I do. To say that I should do all of the cleaning also does not make sense because every day is different, and sometimes he just has more energy than I do. We have to strike a balance between time availability, stress levels, energy, etc.

As far as the big decisions go, balance finds itself somewhere between the strength and practicality of our individual desires. Before we knew where Owen and I would be accepted for graduate school, we determined that we would stay together. The results came in: Owen was accepted to Minnesota and Iowa, and I was accepted to two Colorado schools. Though as an individual my best opportunity lied in Ft. Collins, when we looked at the situation as a couple the scales weighed heavily toward Iowa. At that point I had to make the decision that in my life story Owen and his needs would take an equal footing to my own. I believe that equality within a relationship is not that each partner receives equal opportunity at all times, but that each partner holds the other's needs and desires at that same level as his or her own.

Our situation may appear to favor Owen, since I gave up my acceptance in order to pursue his. Yet, we have to remember that everything comes in time. For now, I am in Iowa, and in the future Owen promises to follow me wherever the opportunity for further education lies. I know that he will follow through because he respects me as his equal and therefore puts my desires and needs at an equal priority to his own.

Recently, I've witnessed older couples face the inevitable situation wherein one partner declines quicker than the other, so that one partner must take on a caretaker role. If anything has made me question my sense of equality in marriage, it is this. How can married people maintain equality when one partner cannot function as highly as the other? I've determined that this apparent inequality is no more a hindrance than finding equality between any two people. It's still a balancing act, albeit a more complicated one, which fully exhibits the importance of putting your partner's needs and desires at equal priority to your own. Though one partner becomes the primary decision maker, the importance of the other's emotional and intellectual desires within the decision making process need not decline.

A relationship can look equal in every way, and yet not be equal. Even if we appear functionally equal in our relationships, if in our hearts, we hold our partners' needs at a lower level, they will sense it, through those things that we say in moments of passing, or the words that we don't listen to.

We have no way of listing every positive and negative attribute, every strength and weakness, every responsibility that each person takes on. Thus, we have no way to empirically determine that two people are equal. Therefore, equality must be felt. If both people in a partnership feel that they are equals, then they are. Perception is reality.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

You Don't Complete Me

 If I were a circle, you could follow my perimeter steadily around for a long time before coming to a sheer, unexpected cliff. One such cliff is the place where I struggle to speak.

I generally like myself, and I am confident in my intelligence and relationships, but sometimes I become tongue tied, shy, awkward, and anxious. My own mother has expressed confusion about this aspect of me, saying, "you are so confident, why do you freeze up like that?" This awkwardness had long caused me to feel incomplete, as if I just need to develop or find the rest of my circle. This cliff causes me disharmony, stress, and frustration with myself.

Recently, I have been working with a psychologist with the desire to banish anxiety from my life, so that I can complete my circle. During my last session however, I gained a greater understanding of my incompleteness.

In my mind, I pictured my incomplete circle-self. Next, I saw Owen's incomplete circle. I found that we filled some voids for each other, but even together, we were incomplete.

As Tom Cruise speaks the famous lines, "You complete me,"to Renee Zellweger, I don't find myself swept into the moment so much as thinking, "That doesn't make any sense." Even when he is with Dorothy,  Jerry Maguire seems incomplete. He's still moody. He's still selfish, though maybe less so. What does he mean by complete? Obviously she doesn't make him into a perfect person. I doubt that she makes him completely content.

When I think about it, being together has not completed either Owen or me in any sense that I can come up with. Both of us still spend time feeling inadequate or discontent, though I'd say that each of us spends less time that way now that we are together. Earlier in our relationship, when Owen and I would have communication errors, I wished that we didn't have such gaps between us. I wished that we shared a body and brain as a complete circle. Yet, with more reflection, I realize that at that point, we would only be one person and alone.

If we were both complete independently of each other, we might looks something like this:
Notice how perfect circles can only touch at a single point. Only when the circles are broken and flawed, such as the blue circles above, can they make more contact. When the circles are broken, they can join together. My closest friends are those with whom I have shared vulnerability. These are the friends who make fun of me for being awkward, or those who have listened to me rant about the rampant elitism that pokes my insecurities.

I have determined that my anxiety makes me human. This anxiety, though it cramps my style, provides me with some of the flaws necessary to be in community with others.

Perhaps if humanity were a tapestry it would look something like this:
Imagine that every circle in the picture above has its own unique pattern or color, and imagine it with millions of these broken circles. Through the gaps that remain behind we can see the light.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Ever Persistent Change

"This is your time and it feels normal to you, but really, there is no normal. There's only change and resistance to it and then more change." --Meryl Streep

My husband is a fourth generation "Owen." His name is a symbol of tradition. He is Lutheran, as was his family before him. Owen stands firm in his Scandinavian heritage, planning one day to live in Finland, as did his parents and grandparents.

The name "Summer" reflects the change of the earth as heat replaces cold and is again replaced by cold. Baby books describe my name as borderline hippie.  My great grandfather was excommunicated because he desired the church to change; my family has been Lutheran, Catholic, Evangelical, and Lutheran again. I have over eight different lines of heritage.

When Owen and I first addressed our attractions to each other, Owen told me that he hated and feared change, and I, a lover of change, did not understand. He feared that change may bring the "black hole" of lost friendship, but I accepted that everything would change whether we acted or not.

Despite Owen's resistance to it, change came. Together, Owen and I have faced the change of moving from friendship through dating to marriage. We faced graduation and moving to a new life in Iowa.  I have faced the change of no longer being a student. As the world swirls around us, we hold onto each other that much tighter.

Just as we are settling into our new lives, change knocks at our door once again. As the school year winds toward an end, so does our lease, and Owen and I must move. We find ourselves drawn to houses near where we already live, though we can logically determine that the houses on the other side of town are actually nicer for the cost. In this instance, I am with Owen; we have been in transition for nearly a year, and we don't want to prolong it. Stability has its place.

Yet, more changes lurk outside of our control as we and our families continue the persistent process of aging. My sister is graduating from high school and will be attending college in the fall; my parents have an impending empty nest; my grandparents are preparing for their fiftieth wedding anniversary; and my great grandfather has just entered hospice care.

Knowing that I cannot avoid aging, I've decided to age well. I am excited to experience middle age and old age. One thing that I've realized lately is that you can't have a fiftieth wedding anniversary without being seventy years old. Being only twenty-two, I can't say that I know how to age well, but I have some hypotheses. First, stay healthy, love people, and accept yourself. Second, bask in the goodness around you, and when life changes don't mourn the loss of what you had, but seek a fresh sense of goodness.

I think of Ecclesiastes 3 (this selection includes verses 1-4):
"There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance..."
In the spirit of this passage, I think we can add, "a time to change and a time for tradition."