Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Woes of the Heart

photo by: .sw_in_shift

Two of my (30+) Aussie friends face the same woes of the heart - how to deal with residual romantic feelings for someone other than their current partners - and have asked me for some counsel. I don't really know what to advise. I suspect that most people experience this kind of chaos over the course of life, probably repeatedly, and it's just another thing that's kept from us as youngsters. This secrecy means that when we, as young adults, come to face these challenges we feel guilty and alone, which, amongst many other things, then serves to endow our illegal love object with an unhelpful aura of enhanced meaning.

I can already sense comments (either written or mental) along the lines of "true, adult love is about working hard at it and not being selfish." Yeah, well, they're kinda valid comments, thank you, but, in these cases, and I probably didn't make this clear enough, we're not just talking about that cheap sizzle of newness, but also crucially important variables: being a little older than twenty and therefore more certain of your relationship needs (but conversely more fearful of giving the new relationship roulette wheel another spin).

So (and this is stream of consciousness advice, competely unplugged, so I hope you are still onboard: toot-toot!), I think it really boils down to whether your absolute needs are being met in your current relationship. I think you have to have an honest look at your relationship as it stands, why you are with the person (fear of being alone should not be a top answer!), and whether you are compatible. I spotted this site called Relationship Gym a while back when I was supporting a friend going through a break-up. You should have a look at it. It's all about identifying the person you want to be with by examing your respective needs, values and goals. I imagine the guy who runs the site as Frank T.J. Mackey (Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia), but that says more about me because actually he seems very good at his job (his approach has an in-built bias towards the current relationship) and he not a hater of women. And no, I would definitely not tell illegal love object. That would just cause a lot of trouble for a lot of people, most especially for you. If you're going to leave your current relationship, you have to be able to do it without the safety net (which will end up being a sticky web) of a new relationship.

Finally though, I am not 100% resolved on the whole issue of "you've made a commitment (of some sort) when you were a teenager/young adult and therefore should grin and bear it until you die." Even knowing what I know about human history, I feel obliged to suggest (flippantly) that these challenges are a particular function of the capricious, diposable world we leave it etc, etc, but I don't believe that. Plus, I am not sure whether worthwhile ideals like not being entitled, reckless and wasteful mean that you have to stick at something that is in constant tension with your needs (presuming your needs aren't fanciful) especially when children are not involved.

What would you advise?

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Meanwhile, over the past week, four of my guy friends (all post-grads) have asked me for reassurance that they're not "idiots", that they're capable of scholarly writing at this level, and that they did not peak too early in their academic careers...Sound familiar? Goes to show that, contrary to some findings in the academic literature, women are not necessarily more likely to vocalise the emotional consequences of their work. I have boy-men revealing all sorts of insecurities and crises about their academic lives to me. Admittedly their purges tend to be shorter than those of my lady friends (who also tend to be repeat clients). Maybe we need some more female researchers asking men about their emotional labour and its effects.

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