Defining Relationships & Breakups: Musings & Ramblings

Part of a journal entry I wrote like 3 months ago,
when these thoughts were fresh and raw in my mind.
A bunch of stuff has been added and subtracted
for the sake of clarity/elaboration

(and of not being too personal :P).

Generally, just because people go through rough patches or “more friendliness than mad desire” patches, they don’t just break up. However, what if one’s not enmeshed in what’s considered a traditional romantic relationship (or even a traditional breakup)? What if there was no big and official “want to be my girl/boy/x-friend?” What if there’s no “finality” to a split and there’s always the hazy possibility of somehow getting back together on any/some level? How does one define a breakup there? What exactly is there to break off, first of all? “How do you ground that which is ungroundable?” (shameless South Park reference; goth episode) If a couple hasn’t created a set boundary around them that they can just topple if the need arises; if they haven’t wrapped themselves with ropes that can be severed if shit comes to that…

Sometimes the words “breaking up” aren’t even uttered, and the shift in a relationship begins its demarcation through the “Uh-oh, where do we go from here?” An answer to such a question–particularly in the case where both sides wish to remain friendly and are breaking up for non-spiteful/dramatic reasons–would probably consist of defining expectations (or a lack thereof, which I think is an expectation in itself, anyway) and talking about how the involved parties would interact with each other “post-breakupwhateverthisis” more than anything else. “The Talk” in such a case would not be about about not seeing each other again, or “breaking up,” or anything of the sort. It would be about the repercussions of such a decision–the ACTIONS that would come as a result, and thus, it would involve setting clear expectations and boundaries, essentially redefining the relationship. Or something like that. Because sometimes, some people don’t like boundaries and expectations, or have little regard for their own, so that makes things at once easier and a thousand times more difficult for the other party. But I digress.

Even the words BREAKING UP sound a little harsh, no? The connotation of rupturing something, of violence, of pain. In Spanish (at least where I’m from), it would be more like “we left each other” or “X left me; I left X.” It’s more about the act of separation than a violence of breaking something (off) or someone being left in pieces. Then again, saying “s0-and-so left me” sounds really sad, too, so I guess I’m just focusing on the “mutual” terms–“we broke up” and “nos dejamos.” Maybe it’s just my experience, but to ME, “nos dejamos” sounds way less “explosive” than “we broke up.” I guess a more neutral way of putting it in English could be “we’re no longer seeing each other” or “we’re no longer together” even if those aren’t literally accurate (especially the former). Meh.

With that in mind, explaining a breakup is so strange, especially because a lot of people usually expect it to be a shitshow–crying fits, pints of ice-cream on Friday nights, awkward drunken dialing weeks afterward, gossip smacktalk, people begging to be taken back, keys scratching sides of cars, spiteful exes…DRAMA. If it’s not that, some people just wait on the sidelines, waiting for the shit to hit the fan (or someone’s head). This is…sometimes realistic? Since breaking up IS often a messy affair, I guess? But it’s also detrimental, I think. Having one’s friends constantly waiting for one’s ex to fuck it up? When a breakup “goes well,” having friends say “just wait” because “your ex is going to shit on your head”? Like…no. That’s not helpful. I understand where it’s coming from, but it just seems so negative to stand there waiting for bad shit (especially when the people doing are not even the ones who broke up, but their friends). It’s good to be realistic and acknowledge the possibility that parties involved in a breakup may turn to asshattery, but the perverse “waiting for it with an expectant smile” seems unhealthy to me. It’s no longer being realistic; it’s being pessimistic and masochistic. I think a better approach would be to say “yes, shit may hit the fan, and we’ll deal with it when/if it does, but for NOW, let’s just deal with what’s on our plate at the moment and not get ahead of ourselves.”

So, in the case of a “non-traditional” breakup (regardless of why it’s non-traditional and all the “but what does traditional even MEAN?” whatnot), especially one that is more about redefining a relationship than cutting it off entirely, the whole language and connotations surrounding “breakups,” I feel, are inadequate. But maybe that’s just me.

Moving on a bit–defining (or not?) relationships based on their little spurts and little individual moments is not something I’m used to–like, “we don’t have a label, but oh, today we’re more like romantic partners, and oh, today I feel more like ‘just’ friends.” That can work…but it also has its pitfalls. I like having that safe blanket-statement that covers and defines as a WHOLE what a relationship is. I’ll admit, it feels liberating and wonderful to NOT have that definition, because sometimes there’s just no need for it. But sometimes…it’s good and useful and safe to have it. But…relationships are fluid, I guess, and things do change, so an inherent label fluidity there is also useful. BUT what if the two people aren’t on the same plane and don’t talk about it? Pain and angst can ensue. However, that can be curbed with open, constant communication so one person doesn’t think “oh we’re together” when another thinks “oh we’re just friends” or something like that. I guess both have their pros and cons. The key to all of them is still communication, though, and NOT just making assumptions all the time.

Still, I do think that those blanket-statements can be good; they define the commitment the two people have toward each other, y’know? Regardless of how individual interactions play out, there is an underlying base there. If it ever needs to change, it CAN, but it allows the couple to operate under a certain set of assumptions and expectations (they define) while the label is in place. For example, within a marriage, there will probably be an ebb and flow of erotic desire and all that jazz, but underneath that, there is a commitment and there is a love and there is a fixed label. That’s the point I’m trying to get across. Just because the romance isn’t always there doesn’t mean there is NOTHING there at ALL. But in order to have those blanket-statements…one would have to pinpoint the place(s) where a relationship morphed from something into something else. How did a couple move from acquaintances to people who had sex with each other / friends to people with a more emotional…I don’t even know? And…fixed labels are such a terrible idea anyway…lol. I guess what I’m saying is that those “fixed” labels (such as wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend) require an acknowledgment of some sort of transition between spaces/other labels and NECESSITATE those distinctions in the first place.

Those fixed labels provide some form of “security” and “proof of underlying commitment.” However, they can mean whatever one wants them to mean, I guess (e.g. for some, a serious relationship implies exclusivity, but for others it doesn’t)…so the terms are devoid of inherent and universal meaning (nothing new there?), except for the implication that there is SOME sort of relationship there…and thus I guess it works out fine in the end, as long as one approaches the terms and labels in such a fashion and acknowledges how they work (or don’t).

So where does one draw the line between a lover and a friend, though? (And now I’m obviously going to be speaking for myself and my own desires, expectations, and boundaries) That’s the thing. 🙂 I don’t know. Before, it was easy. It was easy because my definition of love was pretty much singular. Now that my conception of what love is/can be is broader, it’s harder to draw little lines between things like “lovers” and “friends.” I mean, my lovers ARE friends, but not all my friends are lovers…so is the only difference the sex? What about FWBs? Those can be friends AND lovers, but lack a certain…spark, I guess. Is it a lack of sexual/emotional/romantic commitment and/or desire? Maybe. I think that’s part of the key. Who knows. The difference between love and in love under my new parameters? These things are all fuzzier now that I’ve embraced a more non-monogamous perspective, too. If before I might have defined the divide between a friend and lover with arising feelings of jealousy or possessiveness or a desire for exclusivity (especially the latter!)…now I can’t use it to define relationships because I DON’T feel that way, or don’t feel that that way is the ONLY way to construct a healthy relationship. So…ultimately—the line dividing the love between lovers and friends…is actually unnecessary in many cases. It’s a fluid line ANYWAY, which at any moment could potentially “be crossed,” so when it comes down to it…whatever. The line between who is considered a friend and a lover, however, I do feel is more important. Again, because of its relevance to relationship status and “official” shit, especially with monogamy.

A few examples I read about on an LJ polyamory group I follow:

A. The best I can come up with is: With your significant other there is an expectation of a certain level of communication and priority that goes beyond friendship. It has aspects more closely resembling a partnership, where final decisions are made together with the partner’s needs and wants a high priority. For instance, if I invited my best friend to Christmas, but he told me he was going to spend Christmas with his girlfriend and her family, I would bow out without complaint and wish them happy holidays. His girlfriend has priority. No problem. If my [primary?] boyfriend told me he would spend Christmas with another girlfriend without discussing it with me, I would be hurt that he hadn’t talked about it or wanted to negotiate.

B. An SO is a romantic partner whose needs I consider if I get sick of a location and decide I want to move. (Though I think this varies a bit if a person has hierarchized primary/secondary relationships and stuff, especially if they’re married? Though considering needs doesn’t mean making them priorities, so I guess that works…)

C. For example, if I want to quit my job, or move to another city, or have a child, or yadda yadda. Friends, fuckbuddies and similar people in my life might have input and I value their opinions. However, what they say will not have a deciding vote on my decision. The people who I consider to be my partners are those whose input will affect my final decision on those kinds of matters. (Again, the primary/secondary hierarchy, if in place, would matter here for some people.)

D. It’s an extra level of connection and commitment – I love you dearly, and share my life with you, and beyond that, we will work together as a team and see each other’s goals and hopes as our own. I will care for you when you are sick, as you would for me. We share our resources, invest together, and actively build our family’s future. (Older age-bracket, or simply more geared to cohabitating partners, which is not my case at the moment.)

E. If I have a good opportunity that would force me to move, I’d say “I’ll miss you” to a friend and “Do you think I should go/When can you come with me?” to an SO. I’d also be more expecting that an SO would try to move with me than a friend would. So, in my mind, I guess, an SO has a level of long-term commitment to work together towards common goals, where a friend, while maybe emotionally and physically intimate, doesn’t.

My personal example was (since I am not dealing with cohabitation, children, or pooling of resources at this point in my life): If I wanted to start a monogamous relationship with someone, but found I couldn’t without SOMEHOW breaking up with other people in my life…that’s a pretty nice indicator. Or, er, putting it in a different and less negative light, if I’m beginning to date someone and there is another person (or a set of other people) whose level of closeness and intimacy I feel I should inform this new potential partner about because it would/should/might affect their decision to date me or not, then that’s an indicator.

I guess the importance of labels is relevant in terms of how one’s relationships impact, er, one’s relationships. We don’t live alone, or in pairs, so what we do and whom we do it with affects things outside the “immediate” circle. Also, Linda/Speedy brought up a nice point in our discussion of this–labeling friendships. We both have decided to NOT label friendships (in terms of what kind they are, like best friend, better friend, close friend, yada yada)–people are friends and that’s it. Trying to hierarchize and tier-off friendships would be hard and not really productive, especially in a world where social circles shift, people move for college, and friendships can be established and/or carried on via the internet, or after being incommunicado for months (even years). Personally, I feel each individual relationship gets negotiated between the two people involved. There are friends whom I’d drive 100 miles to see, there are some whom I wouldn’t, and there are yet others whom it would depend on a multitude of other factors.

That’s a reason I don’t want people to gauge my love for them or my interest in our friendship by, say, what gifts I get them, or what random things I do for them, or what things I feel are appropriate to share. Sometimes I feel more inspired and creative, or have more time, or *know* a certain person REALLY wants X object, and so I get it for them..but it doesn’t “devalue” the other relationships I have. I think the non-zero-sum love model is applicable here as well, and that whatever happens in one relationship adds or detracts from THAT relationship, not the others. Anyway, I guess I’m not worried about labeling friendships because they don’t…affect our “official relationship status” or legal standing. Because that’s the biggest and most relevant, I guess, real-world and long-term application of all this theorizing = legal benefits and the difference between singlehood, domestic partnerships, and marriage. I’m not going to get into that now, but I just wanted to put it out there for those that may feel all this rambling is totally unecessary. 🙂

To wrap things up, I wanted to say that I’m in favor of using new terms or unique words/phrases to describe relationships. Kinda like what Katie/TLC do (or did). Calling a partner “kool-aid” (e.g. She’s my kool-aid!) or “licorice” or something of that nature is interesting. Using labels for people that are more descriptive, or personal, like…cuddle-buddies, cagemates, occasional lovers, sweeties etc. They’re more individualized categories than gf/bf/xf and such. The labels mean whatever the two people involved want them to mean. However, when translating that so other people can understand…it gets a little harder. That’s something one can deal with, though, somehow. Whatever. Analogies, anyone? I loves dem.

Ok. Blah. I’m done. Enough about relationships.

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