I have a friend who once told me, “Relationships should be easy, Estella. Not like work. If my relationships were like work, I wouldn’t be in them.”
This person has never been in a lasting relationship.
Another friend said to me, “What’s so good about being in a Chinese relationship? Chinese relationships are…” the comments were mostly derogatory.
This person too has never been in a lasting relationship. By lasting, I mean something that goes on for a couple of years, preferably half a decade or more, where both sets of parents know of the existence of the relationship, as do friends, even mere acquaintances.
I had to add the half decade clause because there are some people, in their eagerness to have their relationship validated by the world, show off just about every partner, regardless of how long they’ve been together or how much further they intend to take the relationship.
For example, one of my friends goes around parading a succession of women, even as he drops elephant-dung-sized hints about wanting to be in a significant relationship with one particular woman. By significant, I mean he wants to have kids with her. But he thinks he’ll impress her by taking his current girlfriends to meet his family and friends first.
You can see the ridiculousness of all this, can’t you?
I may not be the world’s foremost authority on love and relationships but this much I know:
1) Everyone is an expert. Regardless of whether they’ve had a lasting relationship or not, everyone has an opinion on love. Don’t be afraid/perturbed/offended if their opinions are ill-matched to your reality because that’s just what they are: opinions. Everyone can have one; although for your own good, it might be best if you discounted most of them.
2) No 2 relationships are the same. Yes, there are similarities between relationships that endure and relationships that don’t. But what works well for one couple, might not work so well for another. Take for instance, religion. God-fearing people advocate that both man and wife centre their relationship on faith. If I did that, my husband and I would have rows until the end of the earth, because he has absolutely no interest in religion. Zilch. Fortunately for us, I believe faith to be a personal issue, best pursued alone.
3) Arguments are NOT the end of everything. A friend of mine locked her husband out of the house and burned all his clothes because he vexed her. Even though he’s no pushover, he sat outside patiently while this happened. I’m pleased to tell you that they are still married, their relationship spanning close to 3 decades.
By contrast, there’s this other couple that had no arguments. One day the husband decided to visit his mistress in the next state instead of attending his wife’s niece’s wedding. The wife just calmly turned to him and told him their marriage was over.
She didn’t want counselling, she didn’t want a second honeymoon, she just wanted to move on with her life.
4) We all have issues with the in-laws. People who say otherwise are telling BS. That’s because all families are different. Caucasians are more respectful of these differences whereas Asian mothers of boys tend expect their daughters-in-law to conform to their values, standards and mores because they did too upon marriage. Then there are some for whom, no girl is ever going to be good enough for their sons. Consciously or subconsciously, these mothers view the wives as usurpers of their place in their sons’ hearts.
Even though I have no mother-in-law, I still have problems with my in-laws because I constantly find myself subject to their Pygmalion Project. As anyone who’s had some sort of contact with me will know, the quickest way to get on my wrong side is to insist I obey.
5) You MUST talk to your partner. It’s not just about the big things, but the little things too. Share your day-to-day experiences, the many hours when you are away from each other. What I’m saying is include him or her in your life, otherwise, he or she will have more of a connection with colleagues, friends, even random strangers, than with you.
6) Have reasonable expectations. Just what is reasonable? Only you know the answer to this. Suffice to say, if you hanker after the life of a tai tai (known in the West as “ladies who lunch”) but are married to a regular Joe, then obviously it’s not gonna happen!
Take me as a case study: since my husband is a surgeon, I can’t expect to have as much “couple time” (actually any time for that matter) with him as someone whose spouse has a desk job. That’s what I tell the wives of newly married surgeons or those whose spouses aspire towards equally demanding careers. As my mother says, “You can either have the man, or you can have money. You can’t have both.” Few have both. Some have neither.
7) Know the things you should keep secret. Most of you, idealists, will probably protest against this. After all, doesn’t keeping secrets undo all your effort to build closeness through continued sharing?
Let’s put it this way. Would you really like to know what your husband thinks of you mothering, wifing etc? It’s all well and good if he thinks Mother Theresa couldn’t do a better job than you. Or that you’re the best thing since sliced bread. But what if he looks at your now grown kids and thinks they are all failures because you were a pushover with them? Would you like to know that? Or how he compares you physically to other women?
What I’m saying is share. But don’t feel like you have to share everything.
8) Couples that laugh together, stay together. Back to my friend who burned her husband’s clothes while he sat patiently outside. She also told him that her ancestors, cannibals, had eaten his. Upstanding guy that he is, he laughed her comments off.
Looking at them and my own relationship, I can tell that humour is all the more important as the years pass. If you can see the funny side of things together, then you can work through whatever rough patch you encounter. It’s when the laughter dies that you know the relationship is deteriorating swiftly, for sure.
9) Staying committed is a daily exercise. I borrow this from a friend who once told me, “Love may began as a feeling, but it is the decision to stay committed that keeps it going.”
The reason people change relationships the way they change their undies is because they are not cognisant of this fact. Back to my friend at the start of this post. He expects love to be easy (there’s already an unreasonable expectation right there), he expects there to be no work; meanwhile, anyone remotely observant, who’s ever witnessed a long marriage within their family, will be aware of how much work is involved with staying connected to another human being.
That’s all I have to say about love and relationships. Have you anything to add to this list?