As a child and through my teenage years, I loved playing video games. I would go rent a game from the local video store and spend hours after school, on weekends, and during my holidays playing through games until I could beat it with my hands tied behind my back. I remember being horrified if someone else played my saved game, lest they use my needed items or save over my highly strategised and meticulously planned game with their crappy effort. There were a few times my games got erased accidentally. Often I would have poured days on end into the game, so I would be devastated with a capital D. Yet, if I left that same game for a few months and came back to play it, I would think nothing of saving over it myself.
Let’s think about this for a moment. The exact same end result occurred in both of the above situations, so why was I so upset about the first situation, but blasé about the second?
The difference in emotion was the result of my mindset. I was having fun playing but I would spend so much of my time and energy on this one thing that I became overly attached to the outcome and became distressed whenever my desired outcome was threatened. In the second situation, my time and energy were no longer focussed on the game, so the emotional impact of saving over it was negligible.
By now you’re probably wondering what my closet nerdiness has to do with your relationships. The answer is plenty, actually.
What happens when you are in or desire to be in a relationship with someone? You pour your time and energy into them, either directly or in thought. You forge a connection in your mind and become identified with your desired outcome. In terms of goal-setting and positive thinking, it is admirable to have that level of focus and commitment, however, emotional dependency on a particular outcome is not intelligent, nor is it healthy for your emotional wellbeing.
Consider this common scenario: You message a friend, but she is busy when she gets your message and doesn’t have time to reply right then. Before either of you know it, a couple of days has passed. Your friend is going through her phone later and realises – crap! – she hasn’t replied to you yet! So she does it then. Meanwhile, you have been so busy with your own life that you haven’t given it a second thought until you get her reply. After all, we all know how busy life can get, she probably has a million and one things going on in her life too, right?
Generally, we don’t tend to stress unnecessarily if a friend fails to get back to us in a timely manner, or at all once in a while. You are not identified strongly with the outcome of a single message. You understand that people get busy and you realise that friendships fluctuate in intensity from time to time.
Now imagine that your partner or potential partner didn’t respond to you for a couple of days.
What makes our reaction to the aforementioned situation so different when we communicate with with partners or potential partners? The friend situation is like playing a video game to wind down and relax. It’s fun and while you enjoy it, you’re not basing part of your identity on the outcome. In the partner situation, most people are likely to be much more distressed because they identify part of themselves with their relationship instead of recognising it as a separate entity. We place so much emphasis on the outcome that our our identification with the result is much stronger.
Humans are emotional creatures. We have a basic need to feel that we’re okay and accepted by others. When this need is threatened, our self-esteem and sensitive little egos whip themselves into a tizz. This is especially true in the early stages of relationships when a strong bond of trust is yet to be established.
Attraction causes us to place a disproportionate amount of importance on one person and their reactions towards us. When we aren’t inflicted with attraction, their actions don’t impact us nearly so strongly since much less of our time and energy is being spent focussing on them.
A connection is really just choosing to place your focus and energy on something or someone. Enjoy your connections for the enrichment they bring to your life, but be mindful of basing your being on your connections. Basing your identity on your connections instead of who you are at your core is a sure-fire road to pain. Your relationships are not you. If all of your relationships were severed, you would still be you. You at your core are much more than your connections.
Relationships never end – they only change. New relationships materialise. Friendships deepen into love. Partners marry. Spouses divorce. You can love someone today and hate them tomorrow. Enjoy your relationships and connections for what they are. You can enjoy playing the game of life without identifying yourself and staking your self-worth on the outcome.
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