Tuesday, 10 July 2007

Relationshipping: a sidebar comment

Fact of human existence #1: Self-care is the hardest work you will ever do.

I've come to accept that to love another person, to be in a relationship with another person, is to walk a fine line between caring for that person and caring for yourself. Sometimes self-care can be found in caring for the other person, but sometimes it can't. If you are lucky, or devious, or deciduous, you can find a person to love who also gives you the space and encouragement for self-care. But maybe I've been going about it the wrong way.

I used to think that ideally, people are the best friends when they want to help you get to the person you want to be, when they see that future you as clearly as you do, and when they can insert a relatively-objective 'game-plan' by which they can help you get there. But what does this really mean? How does it flesh out in real practical life?

I think of myself as something like a heroin addict. Not a real heroin addict, but the kind of heroin addict you see in movies - good heart, can't break his habit, needs a tough-love kind of friend to do some work for them, lock them in a room, be there through the recovery, etc. I tend to care for myself with the tough-love strategy, and I guess I thought it best to have someone who would do the tough-love thing with me. But the heroin addict, at some point, antagonizes the caretaker. There is something about him that doesn't want to change his behavior. This antipathy might be temporary, during the recovery process, or it might last longer. Is it right to risk this kind of reaction with a loved one?

And this is why we hire therapists - someone with whom we are not afraid to have mixed feelings, who will help us be more genuine to our ideal self. Therapists help us avoid putting our partners, our families, in the caretaker position. But what did people do before there were professional therapists? Certainly there must have been some reliance on family and friends for support.

But I also begin to think that this reliance on others for caretaking is not universal, and perhaps a detrimental character flaw. Maybe I am refusing to 'man up' and do the work of self-care myself, for fear of seeming selfish or rude. Certainly, the best self-caring I've ever done was when I was living with a person with whom it was a joy for me to be completely selfish. So maybe I should be that selfish, not feel guilty about it, and, partner-wise, be looking to find someone who is happy with my (inevitably enhappying) improprieties.

Now there is a selfish post if I ever saw one :)

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