Monday, February 27, 2012

Face it: You Probably Love Drama as Much as the Next Person

When I was steeped in the brew of online dating, one phrase that was commonplace amongst the profiles was "No drama." Sometimes it was put as simple as that. Other times, the writer would go on and on about the lying, cheating, arguing, fussing, and fighting dudes they had dated in the past. I don't have enough experience reading mens' profiles to know if similar kinds of comments are frequent, but I don't think they are all that different from women on this issue.

Most of us, on some level, know that drama isn't helpful to our relationships. Too much of it is a major drain on our time and energy. It undermines trust. It sometimes leads to overt violence, and generally leads to misery, regardless of its form.

However, how many of you can honestly say you don't get sucked into relationship drama very much? How many of you feel good about how you handle the regular ups and downs of a relationship?

I'm guessing the numbers aren't very high.

Let's get more specific. Say you have been dating someone for awhile. You have gotten to know each other to the point where you think you "really know" the other person. You are even to the level where you can sometimes predict how they will act. How they might think about this or that. In fact, maybe it's more than sometimes. Maybe you usually know what's going to happen.

Every longer relationship I have ever been in has hit a place like this. I thought I knew most of what there was to know about my partner. And she often seemed to think the same.

What happens? A level of boredom and/or inertia would set in. It was often hard to tell the difference between one week and the next. One conversation and the next. The same themes would come up, get rehashed again and again.

One challenge during my first long term relationship, for example, was that I didn't get along very well with my girlfriend's best friend. We just didn't have much in common, and I often struggled to maintain any sort of conversation with her. Now, this wouldn't have been such an issue if it weren't for the fact that nearly every weekend I went to see my girlfriend, her best friend would call up, wanting to do something. Sometimes, I wondered if some jealousy was driving this, as well as a desire to help break us up. However, I hadn't learned yet how to effectively address conflict in a conversation with a partner, so I mostly kept my frustration to myself, until it eventually spilled over.

One Friday evening, my girlfriend and I were just finishing dinner when the phone rang. I hadn't seen her in a few weeks, and was thinking that it would be really great to just stay in, watch a movie, and make love. (Why the long gap between visits? We lived in different cities at that point, something that grew problematic fairly quickly.)

She picked up the phone. It was S, her best friend, wanting to play something closely resembling celebrity charades. I felt myself tensing up, knowing what was coming.

"Hey Nathan," my girlfriend called from the other room. "S. wants us to come over."


She keeps talking for another minute or so, before saying "What was that?"

"Oh, Christ, I guess so."

More conversation, and then "We don't have to ..."

"You know I hate that game!" (Actually, I pretty much hated her best friend at that point, but the game was a much easier, safer target.)

"What game?"

She starts talking again, reassuring S. that it will be ok.

"That damned celebrity game!"

"Come on," she said, covering the phone receiver, "I'll give you something good when we get back home."

"Every time I come over, we have to go over there. Every time!"

She goes back to the conversation with S., while I sit stewing in the other room.

After a few minutes, she walks in and says "I told her we would be over in 45 minutes. We have enough time to ..."

"Oh, forget it. Let's just go."

She sat down on her bed, and we sat in silence for about 15 or 20 minutes. Eventually, I reluctantly agreed to go, and we went.

I can imagine now how torn she probably felt, that time, and so many others. Wanting to please her best friend, and also me. Given that both of us could be pretty stubborn and difficult, experiences like that must have caused her a lot of grief.
And yet, it had also become so routine that I had come to expect it. The phone call. The invite to do something I didn't want to do. The sex bribe, or rushed sex before heading out. I knew that I wanted things to be different, but didn't know how to go about making them different. For a long time, I was too afraid of losing her. Eventually, though, I was simply too afraid of being alone, and having to start over on the relationship front.

I am not someone who seems to thrive on drama in some peculiar way. The kind of thing that happened in the example above has always felt torturous to me, something I tried to avoid even while doing it.

And yet sometimes, I have picked fights in an attempt to either change the situation or end the relationship. With the same girlfriend, towards the end of our time together, I chose to argue the merit of Christmas presents. She had asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and after I said nothing, I went on to stress how commercialized the holidays have gotten, and why I just didn't like it anymore. I actually hadn't like Christmas for years, and was, by that time, really feeling like our relationship needed to be done. But I couldn't quite end it. So we fought about presents instead.

Sometimes, I have engaged in internal dramas judging my partner or myself. She never listens to me. She's always late. I'm never good enough. I am always rejected in the end. In fact, during that argument over gifts, I actually felt like I didn't deserve anything. That I wasn't a good enough boyfriend to be getting a present from her.

The same lack of self-esteem that brought those thoughts to bear, was exactly what was behind my inability to speak candidly about how I felt whenever S. would call.

Drama operates differently for each of us.

What's below the drama?

A thwarted desire to grow is often there. For self growth. For growth in my partner. For growth and maturing of the relationship itself.

Grief. Sometimes, I realize that something isn't going to change. Or that it won't change anytime soon. Years ago, I was struggling with anger, and it became clear to both me and my girlfriend at the time that I would need to do a lot more work in order to be a more calm, less reactive partner.

Confusion. I have come to think that some of the drama we bring into our lives is completely tied to something we are confused about. Maybe we don't know what we want and so we up the ante. Or perhaps we do know what we want, but can't figure out how to get it.

These are a few core examples of what I have witnessed in myself after reflecting on relationship drama.

How about you? What do you think the drama you have experienced was about? As always, any comments or questions on anything in the post are welcome.


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