Acknowledging the differences

I was listening to a friend of mine who talked about how things were about to end with his girlfriend. It was clear that he and she lived in separate worlds from the beginning of their relationship, yet they loved each other dearly and tried to fix things up. It was time to raise the white flag and move on.

The difference wasn’t about their race, location, or other physical aspects. It was about their world view. One lived in the world of “the future” and the other lived in the world of “right here, right now.” Both hoped that their significant other switch to their side, but wasn’t willing to make the move himself or herself. (And it wouldn’t have been a practical move either.)

We carry this unexplainable conflict when it comes to relationships: Attraction starts because of our difference, but the same difference leads to breakup. We secretly (or openly) wish that the others change and become like us, but rarely that happens. I have heard my parents, who have been married for over 40 years, lament on how they were “disillusioned” that the other carried the same fault or bad habit or problematic nature or whatever all through these years.

We mirror each other’s behavior, and in that sense I believe a long-term relationship does and can create a pair of similar people. The problem is that we do not copy what we say. We copy what we do, and in many cases (including my past), we copy the very attitude of “I don’t want to change but I want you to change.” If we truly want the other to change we need to work our ass up and initiate the change ourselves. THAT will be copied.

So far, so good. But oh no, the session is not up yet and I cannot go back to daydreaming easily. The question is, the longer we spend our life, the better we know who we are, which leads to the more we love ourselves unconditionally, and thus the harder it becomes to change who we are. If a person at the age of 30 or above says “Yes I really want to become someone else” he or she might be taken as a delusional loser trapped in Peter Pan / Cinderella complex or someone without self-respect.

Is there a magic formula to make our relationship work without becoming someone else? Millions of people would say yes, and it comes in a word: acceptance. It does not necessarily mean that we do not change. It certainly does not mean that we obey. It just means that we acknowledge the reality, any reality as long as it is a reality, of who we are and who our partner are.

Every successful couple I have seen has mastered or is about to master the skill, or more likely the attitude, of acceptance. Whether their partner has changed or not takes a secondary or even tertiary role (next to changing themselves). And oftentimes, that very attitude of not asking to change leads to a dramatic shift inside the others. The man may not think that he has changed. Rather, he thinks he has “grown up,” and she also smiles and says “I’ve grown up too.”

I believe maturing ourselves up is the most effective way (and maybe the only way) to make the relationship work and the very first step begins with acknowledging who and where and what we are. It isn’t about the others. It is about us.