Entry 63

Meaningful Relationships (Part 2)


»There is an epidemic at large in society…
that threatens more than 40% of the population. Its impact on our health is equal to smoking. It is worse than obesity. It puts us at greater risk of heart disease, dementia, depression and anxiety. It inhibits our task performance, creativity, sound reasoning, decision making and willingness to be vulnerable and trusting. Untreated, it is exhausting. The bottom line, it reduces our lifespan by leading to premature death, if not suicide. This epidemic derails our ability to live and work epic.
The epidemic is loneliness.
Our society is sick. People at large are struggling with loneliness and depression and feeling increasingly isolated and alone. Look around, fewer people are marrying, divorces are rising, addictions are up. Required isolation, work from home and virtual connection is the new norm. And, the economy is struggling. Just a few years ago, when people were asked how many deeply meaningful relationship they had, the majority responded, zero! People are lonely.
Our sense of community is eroding and we need to fix it. Loneliness is contrary to how we are wired. We’re wired for connection and belonging. You can’t do this alone.
If you want to know how to deal with loneliness, don’t be fooled by deceptive confabulations telling you it’s safer to do life alone. Don’t be guided by conspiracy theories claiming that no one has your back and most people are selfish and out for themselves. And do not buy into bullshit beliefs suggesting that asking for support is selfish, weak, vulnerable or dependent.«

I didn’t write that.
The above quote is from the website¹ of Drs. Jackie and Kevin Freiberg, who are currently highly renowned and popular authors, consultants and speakers in the USA.
Sometimes, as a bLogger, it is good to take a look at what is called “the blogosphere” on the “World Wide Web”: the through interactions linked network of weblogs worldwide.
Using the keyword ” meaningful relationships” I received quite a number of hits there, the contents of which were surprisingly unanimous – even though the authors were, by nature, drawing on a wide variety of individual motivations and sources.
The Freibergs, for example, who are currently something like “celebrity coaches”. Since they are used to literally “taking the bull by the horns” rhetorically through their appearances at large events and in front of JetSet or “IT!” audiences, they have unmistakably highlighted a large part of the concepts that have been so important to me in Oligoamory since the first hour in just the few lines above: Individual isolation vs. community building, the choice of true “affiliations”, the erroneous “praise of aloneness” (including its negative psychological and physiological consequences) – and all this under the keyword “meaningful relationships” [to which they add after this introduction a 6-issue strategy: 1) Dare to open up / 2) Grow your self-awareness / 3) Be Courageous / 4) Be Curious / 5) Be authentic / 6) Be Humble ]. Just reading the headlines of their 6 issues, I couldn’t nod my head more vigorously: Right, that’s exactly what we need as ” toolkit” to be capable of estabishing meaningful relationships.

The bLogger Matt Valentine comes to a quite similar assessment on his bLog “Buddhaimonia²”. He summarises:
»It’s one of the coolest things in the world to see people helping to push each other forward, not to mention one of the most powerful as well.
We all seek meaningful relationships, but most of us go about it all wrong. It’s not our fault, the conditioning we’ve received through decades of life has left us needing love, confidence, security, and spontaneity in various quantities and that often affects the way we pick our relationships in a way that ends up hurting us.«

Mr. Valentine for his part focuses on 4 basic requirements in his contribution to “Meaningful Relationships”, which he calls 1) Trust [or the potential for it]; 2) Acceptance of each other’s imperfections; 3) The willingness [and ability] to be yourself; and 4) An undying support.
The overlaps with the Freibergs above are obvious – though Matt Valentine puts a little more emphasis on the “interpersonal level”, to which I also dedicate a lot of attention in my Oligoamory. In fact, like me, he points out in particular (see Part 1) that in “meaningful relationships” we need to experience that we are fully accepted in our “whole being”, without ifs and buts, PLUS the factor of encouragement of being allowed to strive for the best version of ourselves.
In his previous quote, Mr. Valentine also points out (as I tried in my barrel-stave-example concerning happiness in Entry 58) that this is unfortunately not our predominant experience of life at present, in which we often choose our current relationships purely on the basis of situationally felt “neediness” (or rather in order to temporarily eliminate this neediness). As a Buddhist, he too regards this, in a sense, as a result of our present “Reality of Separation” (see Entry 26), in which we are normally accustomed to choosing such strategies as a way of securing our “need fulfilment”.
In this way, however, we will not be able to build or even experience meaningful relationships, much like the Benjamin Franklin quote: “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
Even more: in meaningful human relationships, “liberty/freedom” and “safety/security” form a pair of opposites in which one simply cannot be obtained for the sake of the other. The important relationship building blocks “trust”, “loyalty” and “unwaveringness” (wonderfully old-fashioned word: combines “commitment”, “honesty” and “perseverance”!) actually can only arise from freedom. “Security”, on the other hand, is something that suits a financial institution rather than a beloved person, because in the light of day, “security” ultimately means that there is obviously a “residual reservation” regarding our trust, a not-quite-complete confidence, concerns and anxiety concerning the true quality of our fellow human beings…
And if this is so – how could we ever fully support our loved ones on our part – or accept support from them with an open heart?

The best and most like-minded entry I have found regarding “Meaningful Relationships” on the WWW was provided by bLogger Elle on her site “ofironandvelvet.com³”.
She writes on the above question:
»The most important thing I’ve learned in trying to build more meaningful relationships in the past 2 years, is that you cannot do it successfully unless you are willing to let them go.
Deep and secure relationships are not built on fear. You cannot hold on to someone simply because you fear you might not find someone else or worry they might never come back.
It is important to understand that (and behave as if) the most important relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. The same goes for the other person; they have to be free to do what is best for them, and you have to be willing to accept that even if it hurts at first. And if you are not willing to accept it, then let them go.
Let go of trying to control other people’s actions; let go of fear and attachment. By doing so you may lose some people along the way, but it will most likely be the weakest contestants. You know, the ones that made you feel like you didn’t have real, meaningful relationships in the first place?«

The bLogger Elle takes a similarly broad view on creating “meaningful relationships” for one’s own life as I do by Oligoamory; in her introduction she writes, i. a.:
»For as long as I can remember, I’ve always craved deeper, more meaningful relationships in my life. Be it with my parents (who were kind, but sort of distant), my siblings (geographically far), my cousins (scattered across different countries), and with my friends. […] I had other friends or relations, but it was always sort of… shallow.«

In her ensuing text, it is therefore hardly surprising that advice No.1 is “Get to know yourself”, which of course reminds me of the core theme of Oligoamory par excellence, which I first described in more detail in Entry 46.
In addition, however, Elle’s bLog-entry on “ofironandvelvet” contains two additional points of interest that in my view are also central concerns regarding Oligoamory.

On the one hand, there is “interdependence” that has often been emphasised on my bLog: in addition to “mutuality” and “interrelatedness” – which were also mentioned in Part 1 –, Elle points out that exactly this “interdependence” also involves two further important consequences:
It emphasises – firstly – that interdependence only really harmonises if it presents itself as actual reciprocity. She explains that all participants in a relationship must therefore be willing to invest in the relationship of their own accord and thus take the necessary steps to do so.
From this she concludes – secondly – that in “getting to know ourselves” we have to put ourselves previously in a position to define our own boundaries AND to observe them if necessary. By which she thus calls for solid individual “quality management”, quote: »Decide what you are willing to accept or not from someone else and stick to it. Of course, this is not about anticipating every possible outcome, but it’s important to understand your limits. […] Unfortunately, I feel like we only learn this lesson once we get burned.« [As a highly sensitive person, I can only agree from the bottom of my heart.]

On the other hand, Elle advocates with the introduction to her article for a “category-free approach” towards “meaningful relationships”, which has also been part of the “DNA” of Oligoamory from the beginning. In contrast to the concept of Relationship Anarchy, which mainly refers to a lack of categories with regard to the “nature” or the ” mode” of a relationship, concerning Oligoamory it is rather a question of our “social circle(s)” (see also Affiliates or Dunbar Circles) to which I refer with the phrase “lack of categories”.
So what do I mean by that?
The ” Reality of Separation” of the present, which I often lament, has also strongly influenced our thinking about “close/intimate relationships” – and thus our approach to them – and has arranged or categorised them according to measure.
The vast majority of people I know thus strictly regulate both the permitted range of their feelings and the extent of their (self-)permitted horizon of expression and experience in their relationships.
And what do I mean by that???
For example, that I am only allowed to share my bed with only one person (preferably in wedlock!), that I can have at the most an intimate conversation with my best friend (and nothing more!), that I can only be seen arm in arm with the rest of my friends at a party or in the soccer-arena (socially acceptable!), and that I am not asked to do more than admire the embroidered floral tablecloth and listen to gossip during teatime with my family (wipe your mouth).
Could I actually be friends with my mother-in-law? After all, she is “part of the family”…
And would I overwhelm my soccer-buddies with a real emotional confession? We are “just friends”…
And my “best mate” – how would he react if I admitted that he was allowed to hold me for a while and that he somehow smelled good? Nah, that’s not possible…
And then there’s my wife, I can’t talk to her straightforward the way I talk to my friends, but we have sex and because of our wedding she’s also family now…
So confusing…
Why do we think like that? Why do we impose limits on our relationships in a way that defines in advance what is possible there and what isn’t? Or rather: Why do we unquestioningly adopt social categories that are obviously meant to determine what might be feasible for us in a certain kind of relationship? All the “classic” characteristics of a “Reality of Separation” are apparent to me here: Anxiety, control and compartmentalisation.

If, in contrast, we wish for meaningful (close/intimate) relationships as fully encompassing relationships that involve the whole person (and by intimate relationship I refer with Robin Dunbar to the small handful of people with whom we want to share ourselves, our lives, completely), then it is clear to me from Part 1 and what has been compiled here today that, in the light of the aforementioned weighing up of freedom against security, I no longer wish to adopt these “socially established categories” unquestioningly any more.

For example, the woman who currently lives with me is for me an intimate lover, a familiar favourite person, my best friend and family at the same time. But in contrast to the often common socially normed categories, regarding myself none of these positions is thereby “fully taken” in the sense of “already occupied”. Because in my heart I would rather have “accessible spaces” instead of “one-off assignments”.
In this way, I hope to represent on a small scale – that is, within myself – what I also wish my network of relationships on the outside should be: an organic, integrative being.
If I wouldn’t do that, it would mean that I would always be holding back some part of myself because of fear or caution. And that would mean not being able to come to terms with myself either, preferring to remain in obscurity – secure in the shadows of artificial, lifeless categories.

If I have understood anything today from consulting the various bLogs, it is that for me this ill shadow provides the social dilemma of our ubiquitous present social loneliness, including the sense of isolation within alleged “company”. If we do not want to fall victim to this epidemic one of these days, it is up to us to start today to strive for truly meaningful relationships in our lives.
For me, at least, there is no better medicine.

¹ The website of the Freibergs: epicworkepiclife.com; the quoted excerpt HERE

² Matt Valentine’s website: buddhaimonia.com; the article in full length HERE

³ Elle’s bLog: ofironandvelvet.com; her full article HERE

Thanks to Anna Shvets on Pexels for the birthday-picture!