Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"The Perfect Relationship"

This summer I developed a personal theory of "the perfect relationship" that essentially challenges conventional conceptions of dating and relationships. My theory has been informed by scholarship regarding dating and relationships (various texts and manuscripts I've read throughout my academic preparation) as well as personal experiences (my own and those of my friends). It is necessary to include a disclaimer that I do not believe "the perfect relationship" exists or is even possible, which is why the word perfect is surrounded by parentheses through this blog post.

The perfect relationship does not exist somewhere “out there” contingent upon finding the “perfect” person. Similarly, finding the perfect “one” for you (if such a “one” even exists) does not guarantee a perfect relationship. Rather, the perfect relationship is not to be found, it is to be co-created.

Of course there are some fundamental elements that are necessary for the creation of a “perfect” relationship. The elements which I have identified at this point may be referred to as the four Cs and include: compatibility, chemistry, contentment, and commitment.

The first element is compatibility, which includes: personality, core values & beliefs, and lifestyles. I have learned from experience that (as disheartening as this may be) love is not enough. You can love someone with all you have but if you are not compatible it will not last.

The second prerequisite for the creation of a “perfect” relationship is chemistry. Although there is definitely a degree of chemistry present in all relationships (including friendships) I believe that chemistry distinguishes a friendship trajectory from a romantic one. For me, the chemistry is either there or it’s not. There are various types of chemistry (see previous blog) but there must be some romantic chemistry to spark the relationship.

The third element, contentment, indicates that each individual is content with who they are and where they are in life. If you aren’t content with yourself you can’t be content within a relationship (you’ll constantly be seeking something or someone else). A similar and closely related principle is if you don’t love yourself you can’t love someone else. I believe that love of oneself and contentment are intertwined and mutually reinforce one another.

The fourth fundamental element necessary for the creation of the “perfect” relationship is commitment. This means that BOTH individuals must be willing and able to commit to one another and to the relationship. Relationships require effort and often the conscious choice or decision to commit. Individuals must be willing to make the decision to commit to one another and to the relationship on a daily basis.

Throughout my dating history I have experienced various combinations of the above elements. Some relationships lacked long-term compatibility whereas others lacked the ability or willingness to commit. Regardless, each relationship ended because at least one of the four elements was lacking providing anecdotal evidence from my own dating history.

I am searching for "the perfect relationship." However, I use this term to indicate an enduring relationship that meets all of the above fundamental elements. Although this theory is currently a work in progress, a sermon series at church, which applies a Kingdom perspective to relationships, has served as an impetus for me to post this theory publicly and critique it utilizing a Kingdom paradigm (next blog).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Guarding Your Heart

A friend of mine blogged recently about guarding your heart (something she reflected upon after reading Proverbs 4:23) and asked what "guarding your heart" means. How do you go about doing this? From a Biblical sense I agree with one of the people who responded by saying that "You guard your heart by loving Christ above all else. He will then lead your heart and protect it for you." Essentially, the Biblical intention of "guarding your heart" aligns with a phrase I've heard from a few of my friends, "A woman's heart should be so lost in God that a man needs to seek Him to find her." Now please excuse the sexist language, from my perspective this applies equally to men as to women and extends beyond heterosexual relationships. As a woman of faith, this does resonate with me. However, I think it is equally important to consider a practical application of guarding your heart. Afterall, God gave us free choice and as a result of doing so we have agency in our own lives (Thank God!).

From a more practical sense, guarding your heart entails wisdom as opposed to being "blind" or "naive." In essence, the pragmatic or practical intention of "guarding your heart" is being "informed by insight from past experiences" and yet remaining "open and sensitive to the present." This quote is from a book entitled "On Caring" and was actually used to describe courage; however, it resonated with me and seemed to provide a practical description of guarding your heart. In fact, as I reflect further, it takes a substantial amount of courage to guard your heart, which may explain why the phrase is applicable to both phenomena. As those who have experienced a broken heart know, it takes a great deal of courage to "guard your heart" rather than build a wall around it.

On the last season of The Bachelorette, one of the potential bachelor's was known for telling the bachelorette that he would "guard and protect her heart." The thing is, I don't think anyone can guard your heart except you. Its a paradox to believe someone else is capable of protecting your heart. Just as no one else can truly mend your broken heart, no one else can protect it for you. From my perspective, the condition of your heart is your own responsibility. An expression that resonates with me in relation to being in love is: "being in love with someone is giving them the power to destroy you but trusting them not to." The inherent implication is that YOU decide to give the other person that power and YOU decide to trust them with it. The hope is that you do so wisely and intentionally, that you guard your heart in the process.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Minnesota Nice

This week was the annual conference for my field's primary organization NCFR (National Council on Family Relations). NCFR is headquartered here in Minneapolis, MN so the annual conference is held here every four years. The first NCFR conference I attended was four years ago in 2006 and was held here, in downtown Minneapolis. At the time, I had no idea I'd be living here the next time the conference was hosted in Minnesota. Over the past two years that I've been living here I've experienced & subsequently struggled with the phenomenon known as "Minnesota Nice." This term is worn as a badge of honor by Minnesotans. It is something they fully embrace and embody, as is evidenced by one of the signs in the Silent Auction room at the conference that read "It's Minnesota nice to bid on items." However, this is something that I have really struggled to "adjust" to.

During a small group discussion a couple weeks ago, one of my classmates, who is an out of state student, was talking about how difficult it is to make friends here. This resonated with my own experiences. Another student in the class (who is originally from Peru but has lived in Minnesota for 20 years or so) articulated "Minnesota Nice" as passive aggressiveness. It seems to me that, "Minnesota Nice" is just a socially acceptable or sanctioned form of passive aggressiveness. Now I do not believe this is the intent of "Minnesota Nice." I believe this term has derived as a way to categorize behavior that is situated in the Scandinavian/Norwegian culture or ways of being that have greatly influenced Minnesota culture. From my limited understanding of and experience with this culture, it seems that conflict and confrontation are avoided at all cost. The underlying assumption of this value is that conflict and confrontation are always negative. However, I would argue that conflict and confrontation are necessary components of life and it is important that individuals be able to constructively engage in conflict. Cultural values that discourage conflict and confrontation, constrain individual's ability to develop the skills necessary to engage in conflict in meaningful and constructive ways.

Regardless, these cultural values have profoundly shaped Minnesotan's understanding of and approaches to conflict. From my perspective, this behavioral adaptation has resulted in a form of "passive aggressiveness." It seems as though people here do not understand that it is possible to disagree with someone or confront someone in a respectful, constructive manner. Instead people avoid confrontation or confront people in a manner that appears passive aggressive. All of this comes across as fake or inauthentic. As a result, I've had difficulty trusting people here. Many people have asked me whether I plan to stay in the area after I graduate. And honestly, I don't know. I love the cities. I love that it doesn't have a "big city feel" but still has all the advantages of a city. There's just so much to do here: comedy shows, Broadway musicals, art museums, a variety of college and professional sports teams and so much more. However, being so far away from my family and close friends has been really difficult. There have been many times I've felt very isolated and alone here. The truth is, that regardless of how much I love it here, if I don't feel as though I have family here (whether "real" or fictive) by the time I graduate, I don't know that I can stay here and be happy. If I happen to find my life partner here, I will be very content to live the rest of my life in the Twin Cities. But I believe that life is about relationships. Its about people. And all the advantages of living in a city mean very little if you don't have special people in your life to share them with.

I believe that critically reflecting on this phenomenon, Minnesota Nice, and tracing (what I believe to be) its origin to cultural values has helped me to gain a better understanding of this behavior and ultimately reframe some of my experiences.

*Disclaimer* For the ease of describing my experiences I attributed this phenomenon to all Minnesotans. I realize this is unfair and do not believe this applies to all Minnesotans. I also do not mean to imply that this is a defining feature of Minnesota culture. It is simply a trend I have noticed throughout my experiences living here and something that I've struggled with over the past couple years.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Suffering in Silence

I am a "suffer in silence" kind of person. I'm not going to "tweet" or update my facebook status to let everyone know when I'm struggling or hurting. Most of the time, I will struggle without people knowing that I'm struggling. Aside from my family (primarily my mom) and very select few people at certain moments in time, I do not often turn to others when I'm hurting. Over the past year or so I turned to blogging to help me process my thoughts and feelings by "embodying my thoughts in text." Doing so has been challenging as it is against my "nature" to expose my vulnerabilities and weaknesses to others. However, to my surprise, I have found that this self-reflective process, which makes my intimate thoughts and feelings public, has helped others. I have been so humbled knowing that my experiences, thoughts, feelings, and insights have benefited others. And in many ways, I've felt supported and validated by others, via their comments on my posts or private messages I've received. While I expected that the intentional process of self-reflection would be beneficial, I was not expecting how the responses from others would contribute to my well-being and healing process.

So I find myself at a familiar crossroads. My heart is aching; my mind is reeling; and I feel alone. It is times like these that being so far from my family and close friends is the most difficult. However, I am thankful for the distraction that being a doctoral student offers. I think I would have spent the entire weekend in bed if it weren't for my coursework. Tomorrow begins one of the most hectic and exhausting weeks of my semester (the national annual conference for my field is being held here). After a weekend of "sulking," this busy week is exactly what I need to force me to focus on something, anything else. Of course, tasty Bradstreet cocktails with a friend on Saturday won't hurt either! ;)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Invictus- "Unconquered"

While I was at home last week, one of the movies I watched was Invictus which is based on true events following Nelson Mandela's election as the South African president. Mandeal utilized the South African rugby team's success in the World Cup as a way to address lingering hostility between white and black South African's following the apartheid era. Aside from the fact it is a good movie, I became intrigued by the title of the movie which refers to a poem that Nelson Mandela used as comfort and inspiration during his years imprisoned at Robben Island. I have included the poem below and bolded the phrases that I find particularly salient.


Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

William Ernest Henley

This poem appears to be referring to locus of control, which refers to an individual's perception about the underlying main causes of events in his/her life. The poem reflects the life paradigm of an individual who exhibits internal locus of control. People with an internal locus of control tend to believe that they are in control of their life or "master of [their] fate." These people believe their life is the result of their own decisions and efforts and tend to seek life satisfaction and happiness from within. Individuals who operate from an external locus of control believe in fate and luck and seek life satisfaction and happiness in external circumstances and situations. These people tend to say or think "I'll be happy once I am making more money" or I'll be happy once I move" or "I'll be happy once I find a boyfriend/girlfriend."

As the above poem and Mandela's experience clearly illustrate, individuals cannot always control their life circumstances or situations; however, we can control the way we choose to perceive and respond to the situations we find ourselves in, which is eloquently articulated in the closing two lines of this poem. I believe this reflects a balanced locus of control, which is likely the healthiest approach. For those of you who are unsure what approach you employ, Discovery Health has a short 10 question Locus of Control and Attribution Style Test. I urge you to take the test, reflect on the results, and determine how your approach influences your life.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


I was watching Lipstick Jungle tonight and Natasha Bedingfield had a guest appearance in one of the episodes and sang "Soulmate." This song is beautiful and really resonates with me. I've included a YouTube video that includes the lyrics for those of you who are unfamiliar with the song.

While I love the song and definitely relate to the essence of the message, I also tend to "push back" against the term "soulmate." I do not believe that there is just one person out there for each of us. I know too many people who have lost their love early in life and I just don't believe that they are destined to be alone the rest of their lives. So, here is what I believe:

1.) I do not believe that there is one soulmate for every individual, but I do believe that there are only a limited number of individuals with the potential to be a particular individual's soulmate. Potential soulmates are compatible based on core values, beliefs, life experiences & expectations as well as the life paradigm each individual operates from.

2.) I believe another important component of a soulmate is the presence of chemistry between two individuals. I found this MSN article describing the 5 Kinds of Chemistry especially useful. In my own opinion, soulmates will share each of these types of chemistry. While I believe that chemistry provides the "natural" feeling or connection between two individuals I do not believe that means the relationship will be easy.

3.) I believe that finding a soulmate is the result of both fate and personal decisions, which both influence timing. For example, I ended up in Minnesota based on my decision to apply to the U of M's Phd program. However, the opportunities & experiences that led up to that decision are the culmination of both fate and personal decisions. Beyond that, being in a situation where I meet one particular individual (someone with the potential to be my soulmate) may be considered fate whereas my own decision to place myself in a situation where I could meet that individual is a choice.

Although I do believe that the term soulmate captures the essence of what I am ultimately searching for, I also believe that the assumptions and expectations that are typically associated with the term do not reflect my own beliefs (a selection of which have been presented here). While Natasha Bedingfield's song "Soulmate" resonates with me (as I'm sure it does with others) I felt the need to articulate my own beliefs about the loaded term.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Making Things Explicit...Avoiding the "Bad Call"

Within the course of my life in general and relationships specifically I prefer to make things explicit. I prefer to know where I stand with people. I have found that being authentic, honest, and explicit really facilitates this process. However, it is not easy to do this; I've been in very uncomfortable and at times awkward situations by attempting to identify and make explicit undercurrents. I have also learned that doing this does not always resolve the issue because if the person or people I'm interacting with avoid being honest and explicit (sometimes even to themselves) awkward undercurrents may remain.

I'd like to use a sports metaphor to further illustrate the benefit of being explicit within the context of friendships and relationships. Imagine you are watching a football game and the ref calls a face-mask penalty against your team. [For those of you who are unfamiliar with what a face-mask call is I have included a youtube video below of what it looks like. As you can see from the video it is illegal because it could really injure the player, ie. break his neck.] Upon replay, you can see that your team's player did not actually grab on to the face-mask but the player's hand was close to the face-mask. Most people choose to get upset with the ref for making a bad call. However, I appreciate the way my dad reframes the situation. He argues that if the player had made a fundamentally sound tackle (ie. hit them low and wrap up) his hand would not be anywhere near the face-mask which does not even give the ref an opportunity to make the "bad call."

When this is applied to friendships and relationships, being explicit about how you feel, what you think, etc. reduces the potential for misunderstandings. Being explicit means the other person does not have a reason to question or assume what is going on. As I was told many years ago, "when you assume you make an ass out of 'u' and 'me'." I have been in situations where misunderstandings and hurt feelings could have been avoided had both parties been honest and explicit. However, being honest and explicit can also, cause problems especially if you are interacting with a very sensitive person or people unwilling to critically reflect on the situation. Regardless, I firmly believe that making things explicit avoids the likelihood that you or your friend or partner will feel the need to question or make assumptions about your friendship or relationship. By making things explicit others aren't put in the situation where they even have the possibility to "make a bad call."