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If you think about it, who you are today is simply a product of your genes and past life experience – neither of which are in your control. Some might disagree with me by arguing that we are conscious humans who are capable of making decisions and choosing our actions – but what are these decisions and choices based on? Genes and past experience.

Let me illustrate my point with an animal story (everyone loves those): We have a pet dog named Jimmy. One day Jimmy bites a kid. We don’t go blaming the dog for being “bad” and exacting some kind of elaborate punishment in the name of morality. Everyone understands Jimmy was just following his nature, we accept that this is the way he is because he is a dog with a disposition for biting. We have to take a calm approach to this; maybe we can make Jimmy wear a muzzle, maybe we can train him to be more friendly, maybe we will have to put Jimmy down because he is part wolf and will probably strike again. We don’t hate or blame Jimmy, we accept and manage the reality of the situation. Why treat people any differently?

If we take this point of view, then it becomes difficult to feel anger towards anyone. A more constructive approach of understanding and acceptance becomes the default – this is compassion.

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I’ve developed a framework for thinking about the depth and quality of relationships and came up with a kind of “relationship spectrum”.

Why do I develop these frameworks? What’s the point? I find it helps me see things more clearly particularly in the blurry area of interpersonal relations. You can plan a path forward with the current and new companions in your life. You can decide if the quality of your relationships is good enough and what to do about it (try harder or step back). You can better prioritise who to devote your limited energy to.

From the first meeting you gradually advance through these levels eventually settling on one. Sometimes the level can recede. Sometimes it can fluctuate up and down. Often we will think we are on a higher level that we are due to certain illusions.

Which level the relationship is on can be analysed using the 4 Elements framework.

Level 1 – Apathy: You either don’t know them or you know that you don’t want to know them. If someone stays at this level then they have probably shown signs of significant incompatibility.

Level 2 – Sympathy: This person seems “all right”. You care and feel some compassion. You genuinely wish the person well from a distance. You don’t make time for them but aren’t adverse to small doses. They might even make it to your facebook.

Level 3 – Friendliness: You like the person but there isn’t a real connection. You might hang out now and then. Perhaps often. But there is a lack of depth. Most people start to use the word “friend” at this point. Conversation doesn’t get very personal and generally remains on a superficial level. These relationships do not rely on any high degree of mutual understanding and are usually just to fulfil basic needs of connection. They provide comfort and a sense of belonging. Some people who have problems forming close bonds with others will often have a lot of these with nothing much above. This relationship is generally reliant on regular contact and therefore as one goes through life many of these relationships tend to come and go.

Level 4 – Affection: This is where feelings of love begin. You “click” conversationally. You have decent chemistry and hang out quite a bit. You are “good friends”. You confide in each other but still keep a lot to yourself. If you move apart you will still keep in touch on occasion. People who you have a lot of shared history with but have drifted away a bit may sit here.

Level 5 – Attachment: You have strong feelings of love and attachment for this person. You miss them if you don’t see them for a while. You may Skype them regularly if you move apart. Most average marriages are at this level as are longer term friends.

Level 6 – Devotion: You are completely devoted. You think about this person a lot. This is a pretty high level of relationship except that complete understanding is not achieved but there is still a high level of it. Good marriages are at this level and so are most life long friendships. You can only maintain a few people in this category at any one time and some people will not have any.

Level 7 – Complete Bond: There is nothing between you. No secrets. No misunderstanding. You desire to know every little detail of each other. To be capable of having a relationship of this type requires both people to have a high interpersonal intelligence and be very outwardly focused. This kind of relationship is extremely rare and most people never have one hence the saying “we are all alone”. I can only think of about 3 people I know who are at a high enough level of development to be able to get to this point with anyone.

What do you all think? This seems to make sense to me. Share any adaptations you might make for yourself.

 

This is an amazing short animation based on a talk by Matthew Taylor – Chief Executive of the RSA.

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce): an enlightenment organisation committed to finding innovative practical solutions to today’s social challenges. Through its ideas, research and 27,000-strong Fellowship it seeks to understand and enhance human capability so we can close the gap between today’s reality and people’s hopes for a better world.

See more at www.thersa.org

Over the Christmas of 2012 I had just moved to a new city, I knew no one and my office was closed for the holiday. I had 11 days off alone. I was filled with a deep feeling of loneliness. Although I knew it would pass and I was pro-actively engaging in making new friends the feeling persisted. So I wrote down the following thoughts to analyse my feelings and why:

This 11 days off spent mainly alone with no one has forced me to contemplate what loneliness means to me. Why do I need to spend time with other people? Why can being alone depress me? I feel the need to share my experiences with others (and even more importantly I want to share their experience), it is almost like the experience is wasted if not shared with another.

However, this is only the case if the experience is shared with a person who is in my life permanently. Not just some temporary relationship. This is why I currently feel unfulfilled in this aspect of life and have made finding a partner so critically important. Only a partner can fulfil this role, a person who will always be there to share experiences with. Of course children will also be there to share experiences with eventually but one comes after the other.

Now I ask myself, what role do friends play in this? Well a temporary friend is not fulfilling at all in this sense because they will go and the importance we place on each other and the experiences you shared will dissipate. A good and close friend, this can be fulfilling and it can last, because this friend will always be your friend even with long periods of scarce communication, you will always have that link and maintain those shared experiences. However, this is still not as fulfilling as a permanent partnership in which all aspects of life are shared. There is one important aspect to friendship here that should not be overlooked, it is the access to new ideas and perspectives on reality, and for this it is still important to have friends and meet new people, as long as you actually talk about these things.

This has got me thinking even more about who currently counts in this way to me? Well the answer is simple, the people I have shared the most experiences with so far are my Family, and through them I am linked to my childhood, especially through my mother, sister. Although they do not fully understand me and are probably not capable of this, the fact remains. Others from my past, good friendships but not with complete mutual understanding also link me to other experiences, such as school and work life. These memories we share bind us, and to some extent we lose these memories if we lose the people. And what is your life to date but a series of memories? If you lose memories you are losing a part of yourself, a part of your life! This is why people take pictures and write Journals and write books and talk about old times. They are clutching onto their lives, because to lose a memory is to die in a small way.

The next question is; should I think like this? Is it healthy? Shouldn’t I be satisfied with just myself? I think that obviously I would be better off not caring, and could in some ways stop thinking like this now that I realise that I do think like this. But I am not sure that I can because I think it is a hard wired aspect of my mind and not only that, it is to some extent a hard wired aspect of everyone’s minds. It is something that many people do not ever get completely fulfilled in (either not at all or partially). It is only possible for me in a partnership with complete mutual understanding and the ability to talk through everything and reach agreement through logic.

Our capacity for close relationships is limited by our brains, it simply takes too much mental effort, memory and time to have close relationships with people that our brains can only handle so many before the quality tends to diminish. I do believe that the research states this number as being 6 people.

So what am I doing about this? Well I am meeting as many people as I can through various ways, focusing on women -because I want to find a partner. Eventually this will be achieved. It is only a matter of time before we find each other.

Even though I already knew a lot of these things, I feel this explicit self-realisation, where I tie everything together has helped me to understand a lot about myself and because of this, these 11 days of semi- solitude have been extremely valuable.

Further I now look at who I shall send this letter to. Interestingly by sending this to people I am sharing an experience and thus mitigating my aloneness in some way. I am also thinking that by not sharing this thought then how can I validate it and also if it isn’t shared then it is just like an unshared life experience – worth a lot less.

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