After my last breakup, I swore off monogamy. Again. I told my best friend at the time all about it.
"I just want to be free," I told her. "I don't want to report to anyone. I want to do whatever I want without hurting anyone's feelings."
(That last one is a tall order, single or not.)
She nodded along encouragingly. She didn't judge. I dated around and joyfully committed to no one at all. Because she was my best friend, I told her all about it. I mean all about it. That’s what you do with your girlfriends.
Until they become, you know, your Girlfriend.
Once she and I started dating, I wondered if I'd said too much. She knew the kind of partner I could be. She knew my qualms with monogamy. She knew my need to be "free." She knew the rather fatalistic way I look at relationships.
As friends, while laying in the park, I would demand to know how one person is meant to stay interesting over time. (The more I prattled on, I would imagine she wondered the same thing.) "How is someone supposed to meet every romantic and sexual need?" "Are we really supposed to wear blinders for the rest of our lives?" "Is that really more noble?" "Says who?"
I can’t tell you whether she agreed with me. I just remember that she laughed, that she didn't judge, that the conversation never stopped. She always wanted to hang out again. As an introvert, I often surprised myself by saying yes.
When we were just friends, I disclosed a litany of theories for my romantic failures. Maybe it’s that I’m easily bored or disappointed by people. Maybe I wanted to be saved. Maybe I'm scared of being fully known. Maybe my desire for attention is something like addiction. Maybe I’ve never observed the type of romantic relationship that I want for myself, so I have no model, nothing to replicate. Maybe I’m simply called by God to live alone in a cabin and date people for only as long as it's easy.
I mean, that would be weird, but God is weird sometimes.
Or maybe I’m lazy. (My mind always gets there eventually.) Maybe I should stop rolling my eyes at people who primly insist that “relationships are work." “You stay because you choose to," they insist, "not always because you always want to.”
Surely, my present-day partner doesn't need to know how much I really hate it when people say that.
The more I shared these ideas with her, these worries about myself, the closer we became. Yes, her temperament is entirely different from mine - and no, she doesn't spend nearly as much time thinking about herself - but drawn-out egocentric musings are fun for her to watch. She doesn't typically partake, but she happily observes. She responds tenderly, or humorously, or in some other creative way that leaves me feeling less screwed up for having had the thought.
This isn't me being romantic. Carl Rogers himself would confirm that our early conversations laying in the park had the necessary conditions for change. Transformative relationships, he says, are those in which a person bears some key and under-explored part of her soul to another. Rather than balk, the other offers in return the following three things: congruence (I am a real person, giving you my honest opinion); accurate empathy (I understand what you are saying); and unconditional positive regard (what you are saying is okay). Upon experiencing these (quite rare) conditions for change, the self-actualizing tendency is set in motion. When love and acceptance no longer feel conditional, thought Rogers, humans tend to naturally grow in positive ways.
With Aubrey, I began to unlearn the idea that, in order to receive love, I need to remain hidden. I have grown in positive ways.
In past relationships, I withheld many of my deepest worries about myself, about the relationship, about relationships in general. I have sometimes felt that I tricked people into dating me. I was myself, mostly, but I was also the person I guessed that they wanted. Perversely, I felt pride in my guesswork, as if there is value in pretending.
When I'm not pretending, I am chaotic, self-revealing, irreverent, creative, inconsistent, affirming, paranoid, fearful, fun. Aubrey is clever, impulsive, empathetic, receptive, warm, indulgent. She can and will take nearly everything too far. We fell for each other, not with some curated illusion of the type of partners we could be, but with the honest experience of the type of friends we were.
As friends, I shared with her my darkest theories about my innermost self - what if I'm broken? What if this is really just me? - and at the end of the day, I was still worth knowing. I was worth knowing more. I was already lovable.
Congruence, accurate empathy, and unconditional positive regard. These are the ingredients, this is the stuff of transformative relationships. If Carl Rogers is correct, she and I are already enough. If he is correct, we are poised to grow in positive ways.