Friday, September 14, 2012

Why Ambigiuity is Necessary for a Good Relationship

One of the benefits of having a lot of experience in the dating field is that the ambiguity that often comes isn't much of a surprise. Of course, that still doesn't make it easy. You're out with someone, having a good time, but have no idea where things are going. There's a connection of some kind between you, but is it one of friendship? Just a nice acquaintance? Or is it something more? These kinds of questions can go on for awhile, as you get to know another person. And sometimes it doesn't matter what your initial intentions were around the relationship. Things can change, and what once was a nice friendship can become a lifelong partnership. Or the other way around. Or something else entirely.

Awhile back, I met a woman who I seemed to get along with really well. We met for coffee, had a long, enjoyable conversation on a wide variety of topics. We shared a lot of common interests and values, two positive signs. There was a lot of eye contact and attention paying, two more positive signs. And at the end, we agree to see each other again.

Now, one thing that did raise a flag was the combination of her schedule (working almost full time plus in school full time for another degree) and the fact that she had just moved, and made some other changes in her life that were, in part, tied to a past relationship. But that relationship had been done a good year by then, and I didn't get the feeling that she was still hung up about it.

Anyway, we went on another date a week later, and it was almost a replica of the first. Really enjoyable, but the whole thing looked and felt similar. The hug at the end was, in hindsight, a sign that she was indecisive or uninterested. It was a bit too quick, and kind of awkward on her end. Certainly that could have been about how she relates with people, only opening up physically with people she's close to, but it's something I have experienced before that became a sign of things to come.

We exchanged e-mails for a week and a half after this, and then met up for a third time. By this time, she had a pile of schoolwork coming due, and although we spent a good chuck of an afternoon together, she was kind of distracted with how much she had to do and also how busy she had become.

Turns out, that was the last time I saw her. We had planned to check our schedules to see what would work to get together again, and a few days later, I received an e-mail saying that she had overextended herself, needed to focus on schoolwork until the semester finished (in three weeks), but that she still wanted to try chatting in the meantime. I wrote back and offered to do so, although it felt like what I have come to call a "slow fade" - where someone who isn't sure what they think, or doesn't have a strong enough interest in the other slowly fades from the situation.

Perhaps situations like this are one reason why people are so into those "lightning bolt" relationships. You know, the ones that start out on fire, full of passion and attraction, but which 90% of the time go down in flames. The heat seems like love at first sight, and all the cravings we have to be loved, have intimate attention, and sex get satisfied, usually to an extreme in the short term. Because of this, red flags are missed, as well as what my friend Jake calls "pink flags," those subtle things that may or may not be trouble points in a long term relationship.

I have had a few of these lightning bolt experiences. None of them lasted more than a month or two, precisely because they were too much about heat, and not enough about the rest of what goes into a good relationship.

More and more, I'm understanding why so many people seem to equate "instant chemistry" with love and a good relationship. Because something clear and unmistakable is present. There's not all this ambiguity requiring patience and attention. But as unsexy as it is, that patience and attention are actually what's required of each of us in order to have long lasting, successful relationships.

If you can't learn to be comfortable with some ambiguity, you're going to suffer a lot.


  1. That's good that you noticed the slow fade and didn't just assume that she really was too busy. I worked full time and went to school full time while maintaining a new relationship. When school got busy many of our dates were after I had done homework or me doing homework at his place while he entertained himself. It's possible to fit romance into a busy schedule bt you have to be creative and commited to having the relationship.

  2. Earlier this year, I was in that exact scenario of working full-time, and attending classes full-time when I met my now boyfriend back in March. The chemistry was there from the start, but I soon realized if I didn't make myself available, he was going to believe that a) I wasn't interested or b) I was just too busy. It sounds silly, but after the spring semester was over I decided to focus on my personal life and in my relationship with him. Now that we are solid, he understands the importance of my finishing school, so next spring I'll be back to it, without the worry of whether or not he'll be by my side. He constantly asks if and when I plan to enroll. I like knowing that he reached a conclusion for himself in what's best for the both us for the long haul. I'm truly grateful to have such a wonderful person in my life. but yes, I had to make sacrifices to bring him into my life ...otherwise, we would both have missed out in our relationship.

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