I’ve always struggled to value relationships that I knew wouldn’t last.
Here’s how I subconsciously conceived of short-term relationships. If I knew that I wouldn’t be able to spend time with person X after some point in time Y (with no foreseeable opportunity of being able to interact with them again), then, looking back after Y, wouldn’t the time spent with X prior to Y seem like a waste (i.e. there were better ways to spend it) since X would no longer be a part of my immediate life?
As a result, I have at times sabotaged relationships when the time of physical separation neared. I didn’t suddenly cut off all communication or anything extreme like that, but I would begin to spend less and less time with people, justifying myself with the feeling, “what’s the point?”
This pattern of thought seems to have resulted from a number of experiences growing up. When I graduated from Japanese elementary school in 6th grade, my parents gave me the option of going to Japanese middle school (where all my friends would be going) or homeschooling. I don’t really remember the reasons why, but I chose to be homeschooled. This cut me off from all but one close friend whose school attendance gradually declined, thereby allowing me to spend more time with him. The following year our family moved and I started attending an international school. During my first year I developed a friendship with an intimacy that I previously didn’t know was possible. Unfortunately, my friend had to move after just one year, and I haven’t seen him since. My parents ran a hostel for the international school I attended, so the people I was living with changed annually. This pattern was repeated in university, while living in a share house with friends, and in the guesthouse where I currently reside (where people come and go most frequently).
The common thread throughout these experiences was my relationships being forced to be broken up (at least to a certain degree), primarily due to physical separation. I understand that this is by no means a unique experience, but it seems to have affected me more than the average person (or perhaps I’ve just never heard anyone discussing this topic).
Through it all, I developed a dislike for short-term relationships and formed an image of an ideal relationship – one in which two people are never permanently separated. (This is by no means an impossibility; in fact, it is the norm in some societies, such as hunter-gatherer tribes.)
Buried beneath this mindset was an assumption that is most clearly manifest in the particular type of relationship called romance – how, at least in most cultures, any outcome other than marriage is generally viewed as negative. Translated into relationships in general, a relationship is considered a failure if it ever ends; if you don’t keep in touch, it wasn’t that great or important of a relationship in the first place.
This generates a compulsion to maintain relationships by any means possible, even artificially. Take the practice of skyping geographically distant friends, for example. This is a poor substitute for face-to-face interaction; it only includes a limited amount of auditory and visual information and requires that you to be in front of a screen in order to continue a conversation. You can’t play games, share a meal, take a walk, watch a movie, or any other activity you would do if you were actually together. All you can do is talk, much of which is merely an exchange of information.
That’s not to say that conversations have no value, of course. But can a relationship consisting of conversations alone be truly intimate? More to the point, can regular skyping maintain the level of intimacy that was once present between two people before they were physically separated?
I don’t think so. The reason intimacy is developed in the first place is not merely because hours are spent in deep conversation (although that may very well play a part in it). No, intimacy comes from doing life together. Charles Eisenstein put it best:
“Besides, real intimacy comes not from telling about yourself―your childhood, your relationships, your health problems, etc.―but from joint creativity, which brings out your true qualities, invites you to show that aspect of yourself needed for the task at hand. Later, when intimacy has developed, telling about oneself may come naturally―or it may not even be necessary.
Have you ever wondered why your childhood friendships were closer, more intimate, more bonded than those of adulthood? At least that’s how I remember mine. It wasn’t because we had heart-to-heart conversations about our feelings. With our childhood friends we felt a closeness that probably wasn’t communicated in words. We did things together and created things together.”
My focus on trying to create and maintain “ideal” relationships have caused me to undervalue transient relationships and be distracted from the now, my immediate circumstances, the people who are actually near me that I can interact with.